WILKES-BARRE — A blogger and critic of City Hall said a man he helped catch in an FBI sting selling hacked emails of Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton was a “Kids for Cash” victim.
Mark Robbins of Forty Fort said that he did not know whom he was dealing with until they met in January at a local McDonald’s, where $500 was handed over for a disc containing the emails.
The man was stopped by FBI agents that night as he and Robbins parted ways in the restaurant lot on the Sans Souci Parkway, Robbins said. The Times Leader has been provided the name of the suspected hacker, but will not identify him because no charges have been filed.
Robbins this week said the hacking case was an open investigation.
City spokeswoman Liza Prokop said, “We can neither confirm nor deny anything about the hacking.”
FBI spokeswoman Carrie Adamowski also said the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.
Robbins said the man told him he was one of the juveniles sent away to detention centers by former Judge Mark Ciavarella, who adhered to a “zero-tolerance” policy for offenses major and minor.
Ciavarella and former Judge Michael Conahan are serving lengthy federal prison sentences for participating in a more than $2 million kickback scheme involving the construction of two juvenile detention centers and the placement of youths in the facilities in Pittston Township and Butler County.
Robbins said the hacker reached out to him last year because of his blog, WB Truth. The man provided some hacked emails to Robbins, who said he immediately emailed Leighton and Police Chief Gerard Dessoye and also contacted the FBI.
Robbins added he brought his close friend and fellow City Hall watchdog Frank Sorick into the loop as well. Sorick bumped into Leighton and alerted him to the hacked emails. The samples were then sent to Dessoye.
Robbins declined to provide any of the emails.
Robbins said he was contacted and visited by FBI agents who told him to “keep (the man) on the line and at some point there would be sting.”
Doing as instructed, Robbins said the hacker arranged for a dead drop of a disc of emails under a railroad trestle in South Wilkes-Barre. Sorick retrieved the disc and delivered it to Robbins.
“Every single email I got from him I forwarded to the FBI,” Robbins said.
About five weeks after the initial email, the FBI was ready for the sting and agents equipped Robbins with a recording device and photocopied the bills he would use as payment, he said. A pre-meeting email from the hacker included a clothing description so Robbins would recognize him.
Robbins said he met with the hacker who identified himself. “He said he learned his skills while in juvenile detention. He said he had a lot of time on his hands,” Robbins recalled of their conversation.
The money was exchanged for a disc. They walked outside where Robbins went to his car and the man headed on foot to his home in Wilkes-Barre. Robbins said he watched several FBI agents walk quickly toward the man and stop him.