Photo: Michael Sias
Aaron Swartz’s legal team and family are justifiably outraged at federal prosecutors, a man prosecuted by one of the same attorneys said.Swartz’s former lawyer said this week that Assistant United States Attorney Stephen Heymann knew the 26-year-old was suicidal but was “heedless” in pursuing him.
Swartz’s family has said the same, claiming he was “killed by the government.”
Now Stephen Watt, who pleaded guilty to computer crimes in 2008 after being prosecuted by Heymann, is also coming out swinging against the prosecutor. Heymann cared more about his record than justice, Watt says.
“Prosecutors seem to be more driven by racking up points and winning than they do by actually visiting justice upon people,” Watt told Business Insider. “The problem is the system that rewards prosecutors for having immense tallies of victories against defendants.”
Watt, a former Morgan Stanley software engineer, was accused of creating a software program for his friend Albert Gonzalez, who then used the program to steal millions of credit card numbers from retailer TJ Maxx, Wired reported in 2009.
Prosecutors accused Watt of participating in a criminal conspiracy meant to defraud hundreds of people.
Watt says he created the program and handed it off to Gonzalez without knowing how it would be used. But he didn’t think he could win his case, so he pleaded guilty and was ordered to spend two years behind bars and pay millions in restitution.
Watt says Heymann wanted to impose even harsher penalties, including the maximum prison sentence he could have received for his crimes.
The prosecutor even claimed Watt had psychopathic tendencies and was trying to bring down the entire financial system, Watt told Business Insider.
Those accusations came after Watt admitted to liking the movie “Fight Club,” according to Watt.
“I think that he had a very bombastic manner of describing the crime and the alleged calculating manners of the co-defendants,” Watt said.
Gonzalez, the main defendant in the case, was sentenced in 2010 to 20 years and one day in prison.
Watt ultimately spent his two-year prison sentence at a remote facility in Seattle, even though a judge recommended he serve his time closer to home — a punishment Watt says “very likely came at the hands of the prosecutor as well.”
Watt said that Heymann’s actions were probably a “contributing factor” in Swartz’s suicide, noting that another man he prosecuted also killed himself.
Jonathan James, one of the men accused alongside Watt, killed himself in 2008, less than two weeks after federal agents raided his house, Wired reported in 2009.
“I have no faith in the ‘justice’ system,” James wrote in a suicide note, adding that he was innocent but was worried federal officials would make him a scapegoat.
We’ve reached out to Heymann about the accusations but have yet to hear back.
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