A computer expert faces a lengthy jail term for being caught hacking into an online poker site and stealing 400 billion virtual chips valued at £7.4 million ($12m).
The scam was uncovered when the owners of the poker website, the Zynga Corporation discovered their chips going missing. They alerted police, who traced the online transactions back to the 29 year old UK computer expert Ashley Mitchell, of Paignton, Devon. In 2009, Mitchell gained access to the website’s server as an administrator which enabled him to access the supply of chips and then transfer them out to his own computer.
Hearing the case at the Crown Court in Exeter, Judge Phillip Wassall heard how Mitchell then set up a series of bogus Facebook accounts where he sold the chips at far below their true value via a website that he had created called “seekout.” The computer expert only managed to make just over £50,000 from the sale of those chips before he was caught. Had he managed to sell all of the chips that he stole, it would have earned him in the region of £184,000.
Mitchell pleaded guilty to the theft and was told by the judge to expect a lengthy jail term due mainly to the fact that he was already serving a suspended sentence given for another computer related crime in 2008. In that instance, Mitchell, who was at the time working for the local council in Torbay, Devon, accessed the council’s computer and awarded himself housing benefits to the value of £3,498 that he was not legally entitled to.
The defendant also faces four additional counts that include converting criminal property, which are the poker chips he stole, pertaining to the Proceeds of Crime Act. He amassed around £10,000 for this throughout the summer of 2009.
Mitchell had since set up a successful Facebook gambling application, Gambino Poker which now nets him an annual six figure income. The poker app is completely legal and was created in April 2010. Mitchell’s defence lawyer, Ben Darby has asked of the Judge that this be considered and that he allow the defendant to pay back the £184,000 value of the poker chips that he stole over two years, in place of a jail sentence. He added that Mitchell had been obsessed by online poker which he had become addicted to, often playing around the clock. He had already lost around £3,000 before orchestrating the elaborate scam.
The Judge informed Mitchell that he would not be awarded bail because if he was allowed his freedom, he could commit further computer crimes. Instead the Judge ordered that he be remanded in custody until he is due for sentencing next month.