Hacker Claims FBI Threatened Prison If He Didn’t Work For Them

A 28-year-old hacker named Fidel Salinas is currently serving a six-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of computer fraud and abuse. What’s interesting is that only a few months before, he was faced with 44 felony charges of hacking and cyber stalking. All of his felony charges were later dismissed, and now that his case is dealt with, he feels he can tell his side of the story.

FBI Approaches Salinas

In January of 2012, police executed a search warrant and raided Salinas’ home for allegedly attempting to hack the Hidalgo County official website. He was arrested, with all of his computer equipment seized and later released on bail. Salinas says that in May of 2013, the FBI told him to come and retrieve his seized equipment. However, when Salinas and his wife arrived, he claims to have been put in a room and questioned for six hours, while his wife, who was pregnant at the time, was left to wait in the lobby.

During his interrogation, Salinas claims that they asked him to use his skills to gather information on Mexican drug cartels, and government officials who had taken bribes from the cartels. In an interview with Wired, Salinas recited the following account with and agent.

Agent: “We think you can help us. You can help us stop some of this corruption and stop the cartels.”

Salinas: “I’m not going to snitch,”

They insisted that they weren’t asking him to inform on his friends or Anonymous associates.

Agent: “Think of it like this, you have a superpower, and you should use your superpower to help us help people.”

Salinas refused to cooperate.

Four months later, the first charge was brought upon him. Six months after that, prosecutors filed a superseding indictment, adding 13 more counts. And a month later, 30 more counts were brought before him, making it a total of 44 felony charges, 18 of which were for cyberstalking an unnamed victim. Each of those charges were based on a single instance of Salinas submitting junk text in a contact form on the victim’s website.

All of the felony charges were dismissed, and Salinas ended up only being charged with a misdemeanor. After being charged, Salinas says that the FBI did not contact him again, but he believes that the charges were meant to change his mind about their request for information on the cartel.

“The message was clear,” Said Tor Ekeland, a lawyer who took the case pro bono last year, “If he had agreed to help them, they would have dropped the charges in a second.” Ekeland believes this is a case where his client was threatened by the FBI and scare tactics were used.

In a statement, The Department of Justice spokesperson pointed out that “at no point during the case did the defense ever present any testimony or evidence to show that any of the defendant’s hacking attempts had been made at the behest of the government or at the request of any alleged victim.” Ekeland responded by saying Salinas refrained from testifying about these claims because there wasn’t a trail. Fearing that this story would scuttle their plea deal, Ekeland advised Salinas not to go public with the story until after his sentencing.

To be clear, these allegations against the FBI are just that – allegations. None of what Salinas can be proven since there was no lawyer present for his interrogation. Of course, the FBI denies all claims against themselves, but this wouldn’t be the first time they’ve pushed the limits of their power. One thing is for sure though, if Salinas’ claims are true, and he was targeted after being asked to cooperate, this is a case were the FBI is recruiting by indictment, essentially threatening people to work for them or go to jail.

Images from Shutterstock.

A UNC Chapel Hill graduate, blockchain enthusiast and analyst. I have a background in programming and IT, strong studies in econ, stats and game theory. I'm interested in online privacy and privacy laws.