Exclusive: Mitnick To Plead Guilty

The 'Free Kevin' movement may have to wait a bit longer-- hacker Kevin Mitnick is set to plead guilty to criminal hacking charges.

Hacker Kevin Mitnick will plead guilty to computer-related crimes after more than four years in prison awaiting trial, according to CyberCrime sources.

The plea is contained in a court document, or "notice", jointly filed by Mitnick's attorney and federal prosecutors, sources said. The notice itself was filed under seal and "in camera"-- meaning the subject matter will be discussed privately between the parties in chambers before U.S. Federal Court Judge Mariana Pfaelzer.

The timing for that meeting will depend on Pfaelzer's schedule and could be as early as Friday.

Assistant U.S. attorney David Schindler confirmed a notice was filed, but would not comment on whether it was a plea agreement. Mitnick's attorney, Donald Randolph, did not respond to ZDNet's CyberCrime inquiries on Wednesday.

Sources said the plea agreement will place a cap on Mitnick's sentence. Taking into consideration time already served, he could be released by the end of the year.

This plea agreement does not involve co-defendant Louis DePayne, set to be tried alongside Mitnick next month. The proposed plea agreement does, however, call into question DePayne's status-- suggesting that he may also resolve his prior to trial. DePayne's attorney, Richard Sherman, was declined to comment Wednesday night.

Mitnick, 35, has been imprisoned in the Metropolitan Detention Centre, Los Angeles for more than four years awaiting trial on computer-related fraud charges. The 25-count federal indictment issued against Mitnick accuses him of using computers to steal millions of dollars in software, and tens of thousands of credit card numbers. Following the September 1996 indictment, Mitnick pleaded "not guilty" to all counts.

Mitnick pleaded guilty twice before to similar computer crimes, in 1989 and 1996.

In 1989, Mitnick was convicted for stealing computer programs and breaking into corporate networks, and served eight months of a one-year sentence. In April 1996, he pleaded guilty to possession of 15 or more unauthorised access devices (cloned cellular telephone numbers), and for violating supervised release, and was sentenced to 22-months in federal prison.

Based in part on his prior two convictions, Mitnick has been detained without bond since February 1995. The hacker's imprisonment without a bail hearing, combined with his prison restrictions, has generated a backlash among Mitnick supporters. Some critics have protested Mitnick's treatment by attacking Web sites and posting political messages-- the most recent earlier this month to a Monica Lewinsky Web site, and the most notable of which shutdown the New York Times' Web site for approximately 9 hours last September.

Mitnick supporters have also criticised the government for delaying the trial. However, the delays can also be attributed in part to the defence. Over the last four years, Mitnick has been represented by three different attorneys-- who, in combination, have filed a half-dozen motions requested additional information. Mitnick's attorneys have argued government attorneys have stalled efforts by unreasonably withholding information requested by the defense.

ZDTV's CyberCrime Bureau -- which includes former prosecutor Luke Reiter, litigator Alex Wellen, and reformed hacker Kevin Poulsen -- will continue to bring you coverage.