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Third Darkode defendant pleads guilty in federal phone scam case

| Monday, Aug. 24, 2015, 6:07 p.m.

A third defendant in an online hacking scheme that spammed millions of cellphones pleaded guilty in Pittsburgh federal court Monday.

The three are among 70 people targeted by a Pittsburgh-led international investigation into Darkode, an online market where criminals meet to buy and sell viruses, hacking methods, stolen identities and other items. Seven people are charged in Pittsburgh federal court with participating in five criminal schemes connected to Darkode.

Dewayne Watts, 28, of Hernando, Fla., said he pleaded guilty to a federal law prohibiting the hacking of computers to send out unsolicited emails because, “it was in my best interest, basically.”

U.S. District Judge Maurice Cohill scheduled Watts' sentencing for Dec. 1.

Watts' role in the conspiracy was to draft the short text messages that were sent in an attempt to get victims to follow links to a website that gathered their email addresses, said Assistant U.S. Attorney James Kitchen.

One such message, sent Dec. 27, 2012, said “Your entry placed 8 out 10!” and directed the recipient to go to a website and enter a prize code.

Watts registered the domain names used in the messages by providing domain name registries with false information and using prepaid credit cards to hide the conspirators' identities, prosecutors say.

The scheme relied on a constant supply of new domains to get around cellular companies' filters that block domains once they've been identified as spam sources.

The other two defendants pleaded guilty last week:

Naveed Ahmed, 27, of Tampa admitted to writing a program that took lists of cellphone numbers, identified their carriers and then attached the correct email domain to the phone number so they could be used to send out the spam messages.

Phillip R. Fleitz, 31, of Indianapolis admitted to using computer servers in China to scan for and infect Internet routers in other countries. The infected routers made up a “botnet” that generated and sent out millions of electronic messages to customers of cellphone carriers such as Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.

Cohill has scheduled the sentencings of Ahmed and Fleitz for Nov. 24.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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