Guilty plea in hacking of former Wilkes-Barre mayor’s emails

By Jerry Lynott - [email protected]
Bodnar -

An area man caught in a federal sting nearly four years ago agreed to plead guilty to hacking the emails of former Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton and selling them.

Justin Bodnar signed the agreement on July 27 that was filed Monday in federal court in Scranton.

Bodnar, who also was featured in the “Kids for Cash” film about the juvenile justice scandal involving two former Luzerne County judges, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years probation for his plea to unauthorized access to a protected computer. He has been free on his own recognizance since he was indicted in December 2016.

No date has been set for his sentencing by U.S. District Judge James Munley in U.S. District Court for the Middle District Pennsylvania, Scranton.

The case dates back to January and February 2012 when, according to an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on Dec. 20, 2016, Bodnar hacked the computers of his former employer. The hack damaged the computer systems of the businesses owned by individuals only identified as “M.S.” and “C.S.”

Federal authorities dropped that charge in return for Bodnar’s guilty plea to hacking the emails of an individual only identified as “T.L.” between June 13, 2013, and Christmas day of that year. The indictment said Bodnar hacked the emails for private financial gain.

Attempts to reach Bodnar were unsuccessful.

Leighton did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

A critic of the former mayor worked with federal authorities on the investigation.

In June 2014, former area resident Mark Robbins and blogger of “WB Truth” spoke to the Times Leader about his role. He said the emails contained “personal chit-chat” of Leighton.

According to Robbins: He was contacted by someone in 2013 and provided with hacked emails. The hacker reached out to Robbins because of his blog. Robbins then informed Leighton, former Wilkes-Barre City Police Department Chief Gerry Dessoye and the FBI. They told Robbins to stay in touch with the hacker.

The anonymous hacker arranged to leave a disk containing more emails for pickup under a railroad trestle in South Wilkes-Barre. A friend of Robbins, former city resident Frank Sorick, retrieved the disk and Robbins forwarded the emails to the FBI.

In January 2014, the FBI set up a sting involving Robbins and outfitted him with a recording device and $500 in cash to buy additional emails from the hacker. The FBI photocopied the bills for identification. Robbins agreed to meet the hacker at the McDonald’s on the Sans Souci Parkway.

In an email the hacker described the clothing he would be wearing for their meeting. It was not until they met that the hacker identified himself as one of the juveniles featured in the “Kids for Cash” film.

The film released in 2014 told the story of juveniles incarcerated as part of the scandal involving former judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan. The former judges were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for their involvement in a more than $2 million kickback scheme involving the construction of two private, for-profit juvenile detention center and the placement of youths in the facilities located in Pittston Township and Butler County.

The hacker, who was an adult at the time of the meeting, said he learned his skills while detained as a juvenile. Robbins paid the hacker for a disk of emails with the money provided by the FBI. As they left the restaurant and parted ways, FBI agents approached the hacker and stopped him.

Ex-WB mayor’s email’s were illegally accessed

By Jerry Lynott

[email protected]

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.