Schindler heads toward life post-Mitnick

David Schindler prosecuted the most high-profile hackers of the decade, and also took down a prominent U.S. governor. Now he's moving on.

Assistant US Attorney David Schindler's drab 11th-floor office at the federal courthouse belies his status as the man who put the most notorious hackers of the '90s behind bars.

In the middle of the cramped space sits a brown desk stacked neatly with documents. Chalky beige blinds hide the view (though all he'd see is cars crawling along down below on Highway 101). Dull yellow, government-issued file cabinets line the walls. But a closer look at the Post-it notes tacked to those file cabinets reveals that this office isn't your ordinary bureaucratic digs: Scribbled on the notes in big black marker are such names as Symington and Mitnick.

That's Symington, as in Fife Symington, the former Arizona governor convicted of bank fraud charges two years ago. And Mitnick, as in Kevin Mitnick, the now-jailed hacker whose antics landed him on the FBI's most-wanted list. Because of his work on those cases and others, Schindler's about to get a plush new office.

This month, Schindler, 37, is leaving his life as a prosecutor and settling into a swank new workplace as partner at the law firm of Latham & Watkins. Behind him, he leaves a legacy that includes not only bringing down a governor, but also locking up the most high-profile hackers yet to hit the computer industry.

At Latham's offices, housed in a sleek glass building that towers over the rest of downtown L.A., Schindler will tackle intellectual property, internal investigation, and other computer-related cases. Schindler says he's leaving because after 10 years in the federal prosecutor's office, "it was time to do something different. It sort of got to the point where I realized I wanted some new challenges and a change of venue."

The wrap-up of the first phase of the Symington trial (the conviction has been overturned on appeal, and the case is still moving through the courts), followed by the end of the Mitnick case in August, marked a sort of graduation for Schindler. "It was a turning point, and there were a lot of offers," he said. Which isn't surprising, considering Schindler's prominence as a prosecutor of cyber criminals. Schindler began tracking hackers back when they were nearly mythical figures, straight out of movies such as War Games.

This was before the spread of the Web enticed a bevy of hackers to break into a new government site every week, before hundreds of wannabe hackers known as "script kiddiez" piggybacked on the skills of others to wreak havoc online. Schindler was first introduced to the hacker world in 1990, when he was assigned to supervise the investigation of Kevin Poulsen, an L.A. hacker who had been on the run from authorities in Northern California, and then started committing crimes in Southern California.

Following Poulsen's capture in Los Angeles, Schindler negotiated a plea bargain that included a 51-month sentence for rigging local radio station contests to win prizes like Porsches and vacations. Schindler then went on to handle the cases of hackers such as Mitnick, sentenced to 46 months in prison for stealing code from tech companies including Sun Microsystems Inc.; and Justin Petersen, sentenced to 41 months for conspiring to wire $150,000 (£91,460) from a California bank.

Under plea bargains with Schindler, the trio served jail terms longer than any prior hackers had seen.

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