Maria begged her son to see a psychologist."No," Albert told her."I am not crazy.""You don't have to be crazy to go to a psychologist," his mother pleaded, but Albert was unmoved.By the time he graduated high school, in 1999, Albert had already hacked into the websites of NASA and the government of India — cyberfeats that had prompted visits by Miami detectives and the FBI, who warned him to cut it out.At this point, Albert wasn't trying to cash in on his skills as a hacker; he simply relished the intellectual puzzle of network security, the powerful rush of picking the locks of high-tech vaults.They were in the midst of pulling off the biggest cybercrime ever perpetrated: hacking into the databases of some 250 companies — including Barnes & Noble, Office Max, 7-Eleven, Boston Market, Sports Authority and DSW — and stealing 170 million credit-card numbers. "Thank God," Albert pronounced, his eyes widening with relief and excitement.But unless Albert could get Stephen to focus, the whole thing was in danger of falling apart."Now that I've got you here, I need you to do it, or it's never gonna happen," Albert urged. Together, the three friends had just succeeded at putting some finishing touches on a vast criminal enterprise, one that U. Attorney General Michael Mukasey would call "the single largest and most complex identity-theft case ever charged in this country."Only 25 years old, with little more than a high school education, Albert had created the perfect bubble, a hermetically sealed moral universe in which he made the rules and controlled all the variables — and the only code that mattered was the loyalty of his inner circle.
For the past three days, the three friends had barely bothered leaving their hotel, as a dozen club kids in town for Winter Music Conference, the annual festival that draws DJs and ravers from all over the world, flocked to their luxury suite to partake of the drug smorgasbord laid out on the coffee table.
Patrick Toey, 22, Albert's most loyal foot soldier, was lazing around the suite, staring at the Miami seascape through the two-story picture windows, letting his thoughts drift."Listen, I need you to do this now," Albert was saying in a firm voice as he set his laptop on the desk in the master bedroom upstairs. The task at hand seemed impossible, given their chemical impairment, but Stephen was notorious among hackers for his ability to dash off intricate code that could blast through even the most secure computer networks.
For weeks, he had been badgering Stephen, known in hacker circles as the "Unix Terrorist," to refine a crucial bit of code for him. Finally, after 10 minutes of following Stephen's directions, Patrick hit the "return" button and declared the program functional.
He even set up computers for other families in his working-class neighborhood of Miami, where most of the residents, like Albert's father, were first-generation immigrants from Cuba.
But Albert's fascination soon turned into a fixation.