Stephen Heymann

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Stephen Heymann
Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts
Personal details

Stephen P. Heymann is an attorney who formerly served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. He is no longer with the U.S. Attorney's office.[citation needed] He headed U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz's Internet and Computer Crimes Unit.[1][2][3][4] Heymann is infamously known for his role in the United States v. Swartz federal criminal case which directly led to the suicide of activist Aaron Swartz.[5]


Heymann is the son of former United States Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann,[2][4] with whom Ortiz worked on judicial reform in Guatemala.[4]

According to the National Law Journal,[when?] "Heymann[clarification needed] has long been recognized as a national expert in electronic crimes, prosecuting cutting-edge cases."[2]


Heymann was a career federal prosecutor.[when?][2][6]

He was formerly[when?] a Special Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice's Organized Crime Strike Force, Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division of the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's Office.[1][7] He headed[when?] that office's Internet and Computer Crimes Unit, one of the first offices of its kind in the U.S.[6][needs update]

NASA computer hack[edit]

In 1995-1996, Heymann supported lead prosecutor Jacqueline E. Ross and worked with investigators[8] in the lead-up to the arrest, prosecution and conviction[9][10] of Julio César "Griton" Ardita, an Argentine man accused of hacking into NASA and Department of Defense computers.[2][11] The court-ordered wiretap that made it possible to identify and prosecute Ardita was the first of its kind.[8][9][10][11]

From his apartment in Buenos Aires, Ardita accessed a computer network at Harvard.[11] He stole passwords as Harvard users accessed other networks.[11] By the time he was caught, Ardita had hacked into the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA Ames Research Center, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the Naval Command Control and Ocean Surveillance Center.[8][11]

Heymann said investigators worked with Harvard so they could track an intruder without violating users' privacy.[8] He said the compromised Harvard network comprised 16,500 accounts and 13,000 users, sending out about 60,000 email messages daily.[8] Investigators, he explained used a high-speed computer to sift through messages, focusing on 10 to 15 keywords that matched the suspect's profile.[8] According to Heymann, investigators believed there were only two instances in which they had read a complete message that did not come from Ardita.[8]

In a press release after the warrant for Ardita's arrest was announced, Attorney General Janet Reno said, "This case demonstrates that the real threat to computer privacy comes from unscrupulous intruders, not government investigators", going on to praise the creation of procedures that focused on the intruder's unlawful activities.[9] "This is doing it the right way," she said. "We are using a traditional court order and new technology to defeat a criminal, while protecting individual rights and Constitutional principles that are important to all Americans."[9] At her weekly press conference, she elaborated: "This is an example of how the Fourth Amendment and a court order can be used to protect rights while adapting to modern technology."[8]

The case was complicated by the fact that Ardita resided in Argentina, where the charged felonies were not extraditable offenses.[8] Two years after the warrant issued, Ardita voluntarily traveled to the U.S., pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to three years probation and a fine of $5,000.[11]

TJX identity theft[edit]

Heymann led the investigation of computer hacker Albert Gonzalez-associates Jonathan James, Stephen Watt and Damon Toey for computer intrusion and identity theft from the TJX Companies[12][13][14] and from retailers like BJ's, DSW, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority and Forever 21.[14]

Watt and Toey were convicted.[15] James, an alleged "unindicted co-conspirator,"[12] was never prosecuted in the case, having committed suicide[15] two weeks after the U.S. Secret Service raided his house.[12] Gonzalez was never charged in the TJX case.[12]

Heartland Payment Systems[edit]

Heymann was instrumental in successfully prosecuting Gonzalez for the theft of data from 130 million transactions at Heartland Payment Systems.[13] He was honored with the Attorney General's Distinguished Service Award[2][16] by Attorney General Eric Holder for his work on "the largest and most successful identity theft and hacking investigation and prosecution ever conducted in the United States."[2][17]

Aaron Swartz[edit]

Heymann's conduct in the prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz is widely considered to be inconsistent with professional ethics.[18][19] A White House web site petition to fire him for his handling of the case garnered more than 25,000 signatures in less than a month.[6][20] One attorney for Swartz accused Heymann of using the case to gain publicity for himself.[21] Two others submitted a complaint to the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility, accusing Heymann of prosecutorial misconduct and alleging the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence and undermined Swartz's right to a fair trial.[19][22]

Swartz killed himself before his trial.[18] According to attorney Andy Good, Swartz's initial attorney, "I told Heymann the kid was a suicide risk. His reaction was a standard reaction in that office, not unique to Steve. He said, 'Fine, we’ll lock him up.' I’m not saying they made Aaron kill himself. Aaron might have done this anyway. I’m saying they were aware of the risk, and they were heedless."[23][24]

Ortiz has defended the prosecution: "We thought the case was reasonably handled and we would not have done things differently. We're going to continue doing the work of the office and of following our mission."[25][26] Testifying before the House Oversight Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder called the case "a good use of prosecutorial discretion."[27]


  1. ^ a b "Serial arsonist sentenced to 15 years". U.S. Attorney’s Office – District of Massachusetts. U.S. Dept of Justice. December 17, 2012. Archived from the original on January 14, 2013. Retrieved February 22, 2013. The [arson] case was prosecuted by … Ortiz's Major Crimes Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen P. Heymann of Ortiz's Internet and Computer Crimes Unit.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Scarcella, Mike (January 16, 2013). "Hacking defendant's suicide spurs debate over prosecutors". The National Law Journal. Retrieved January 27, 2013. Partially archived (1 of 3 pages) from the original on February 16, 2013.
  3. ^ US Department of Justice. "US Attorney's Office - District of Massachusetts - 1Divisions". Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Day, Michael (January 15, 2013). "Aaron Swartz's Unbending Prosecutors Insisted on Prison Time". Daily Beast. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
  5. ^ "Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann: accountability for prosecutorial abuse | Glenn Greenwald". the Guardian. January 16, 2013. Retrieved July 20, 2022.
  6. ^ a b c Greenberg, Andy White House Owes Response To Petition To Fire Prosecutor Of Aaron Swartz And Other Hackers, Forbes, February 11, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2013.
  7. ^ Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University (June 26, 2003). "Panelist Biographies: October 10 Workshop for the First Circuit Judicial Conference". Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i First Internet Wiretap Leads to a Suspect, New York Times, March 31, 1996. Retrieved March 23, 2013.
  9. ^ a b c d[bare URL plain text file]
  10. ^ a b "Argentine Computer Hacker Agrees to Waive Extradition and Returns to Plead Guilty to Felony Charges in Boston".
  11. ^ a b c d e f Stutz, Michael (December 5, 1997). "Argentine Hacker Pleads Guilty". Wired. Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2016.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  12. ^ a b c d Zetter, Kim (June 18, 2009). "TJX Hacker Was Awash in Cash; His Penniless Coder Faces Prison". Wired. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  13. ^ a b Verini, James (November 10, 2010). "The Great Cyberheist". The New York Times. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  14. ^ a b Vijayan, Jaikumar, Man accused in TJX data breach pleads guilty, Computerworld, September 12, 2008, Retrieved March 23, 2013.
  15. ^ a b Rogers, Abby, Ex-Con Shares How Hard It Is To Be Targeted By One Of Aaron Swartz's Prosecutors, Business Insider, January 19, 2013. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  16. ^ Carter, Zach, Ryan Grim and Ryan J. Reilly, Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney, Under Fire Over Suicide Of Internet Pioneer Aaron Swartz, The Huffington Post, January 14, 2013. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  17. ^ Attorney General Holder Recognizes DOJ Employees and Others for Their Service at Annual Awards Ceremony, 27 October 2010, DOJ Press Release. Retrieved January 27, 2013.
  18. ^ a b Ricadela, Aaron; Dan Hart (January 13, 2013). "Web Activist's Family Blames MIT, Prosecutors in Death". Bloomberg Businessweek. Archived from the original on January 16, 2013. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  19. ^ a b Grim, Ryan; Ryan J. Reilly (March 13, 2013). "Aaron Swartz Lawyers Accuse Prosecutor Stephen Heymann Of Misconduct". The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 15, 2013.
  20. ^ "Fire Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann". White House Petitions. The White House. January 12, 2013. Archived from the original on February 18, 2013. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  21. ^ Reilly, Ryan J.; Gerry Smith; Zach Carter (January 14, 2013). "Aaron Swartz's Lawyer: Prosecutor Stephen Heymann Wanted 'Juicy' Case For Publicity". The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  22. ^ A copy of the January 28, 2013 letter to the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility In Re: U.S. v. Swartz. posted by The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  23. ^ "On humanity, a big failure in Aaron Swartz case - the Boston Globe". The Boston Globe.
  24. ^ Silverglate, Harvey (January 23, 2013). "The Swartz suicide and the sick culture of the DOJ". Mass Lawyers' Weekly. Archived from the original on January 29, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2013.
  25. ^ Thomson, Iain, Swartz suicide won't change computer crime policy, says prosecutor, The Register, January 22, 2013. Retrieved January 29, 2013
  26. ^ Cassidy, Chris and Christine McConville, Ortiz says suicide will not change handling of cases, The Boston Herald, January 21, 2013. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
  27. ^ Masnick, Mike (March 7, 2013). "Holder: DOJ Used Discretion In Bullying Swartz, Press Lacked Discretion In Quoting Facts". TechDirt. Retrieved December 25, 2016.