A New York City police detective from Bronxville allegedly took his sleuthing too far, paying hackers thousands of dollars to gain unauthorized access to dozens of personal email accounts -- including those belonging to 19 current NYPD officers, federal officials said.
FBI agents arrested Edwin Vargas, 42, Tuesday outside his home and charged him with one count each of computer hacking and conspiracy to commit computer hacking, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara said in a statement. Vargas faces up to a year in prison on each count if convicted.
Between March 2011 and October 2012, Vargas, an NYPD detective in the Bronx, paid illicit email hacking services about $4,050 through a PayPal account for login credentials for 43 personal email accounts and one cellphone involving 30 individuals, authorities said. Of those, 19 are current NYPD officers, one is retired from the NYPD and another is a member of the department's administrative staff, officials said.
In June 2012, Vargas used the information to access at least one current officer's personal email account, officials said, and between July and September 2012 accessed an online cellphone account belonging to another NYPD victim.
He also went on a restricted federal database in November 2011 to gain information about at least two of his NYPD victims, an FBI agent said in court documents.
An examination of the hard drive on Vargas' NYPD computer found what appear to be the passwords for at least 20 email accounts, along with phone numbers, home addresses and vehicle information corresponding to those addresses, authorities said.
It was not immediately clear what motivated Vargas' alleged hacking-related activities.
"When law enforcement officers break the laws they are sworn to uphold, they do a disservice to their fellow officers, to the department, and to the public they serve, and it will not be tolerated," Bharara said in the statement.
Email hacking services usually charge $50 to $250 per account hacked, according to court documents. A customer seeking unauthorized access to an account typically sends the service the email address of the intended victim, and the service responds with proof that the account successfully has been hacked, such as a screen shot of the home page of the victim's email account. The customer then pays a fee in return for the login credentials.
Vargas was being held Tuesday pending an appearance in federal court in Manhattan before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn. He has been suspended from the NYPD, a department official said Tuesday, declining to release further details.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rosemary Nidiry is the lead prosecutor. Attorney information for Vargas was not immediately available.