A New Jersey mayor has been arrested along with his son on charges they conspired to hack a Website calling for the mayor's ouster as part of a campaign to target the mayor's critics.
Felix Roque, mayor of the Hudson County town of West New York, and his son Joseph Roque were arrested Thursday for gaining unauthorized access to computers in furtherance of causing damage to protected computers, causing damage to protected computers, and conspiracy to commit those crimes. West New York is directly across the Hudson River from midtown Manhattan.
According to the FBI, in early February 2012, a Hudson County resident and public official anonymously created and moderated the Recall Roque Website, and posted commentary and criticism of the mayor and his administration. On Feb. 6, Mayor Roque and his son allegedly conspired to hack into the site and take it down, as well as to identify, intimidate and harass anyone they discovered was involved with it.
By the late afternoon of Feb. 8, 2012, Joseph Roque had successfully hacked into various online accounts used in connection with the recall Website and used that access to disable it, authorities said.
In this case, the elected leader of West New York and his son allegedly hacked into computers to intimidate constituents who were simply using the Internet to exercise their constitutional rights to criticize the government, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said, in a statement. We will continue to investigate and prosecute those who illegally hack into computers and disable Websites with the goal of suppressing the exercise of that right.
According to the criminal complaint, the younger Roque contacted domain registrar Go Daddy and reset the password of the site's creator. Then on Feb. 8, he allegedly cancelled the domain name. Phone records show that the father and son were in contact during the time this was going on, authorities said.
Afterwards, the elder Roque is accused of using email messages he had access to in order to identify the people behind the site, and called a Hudson County government official claiming to have proof that the official was behind the site. The official in question has been identified by The Jersey Journal newspaper as Hudson County Freeholder Jose Munoz.
Over the course of several days, Mayor Roque called the site's creator as well as other people linked to the site on the phone in a campaign of harassment and intimidation, authorities alleged. In addition, he is accused in the complaint of asking other public officials to work with him to retaliate against them.
The conspiracy charge and the charge of gaining unauthorized access to a computer in furtherance of causing damage to protected computers are each punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The charge of causing damage to protected computers carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.