SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — A former official with Mexico’s Attorney General Office earlier this week pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell and use private computer-hacking tools in both Mexico and the U.S. in order to monitor political and business rivals.
According to court documents, beginning in or about January 2016, Julio Santamaria began working for a consortium of U.S. and Mexican companies, including a firm called Elite By Carga, for which he brokered the sale of interception and surveillance tools to spy on private citizens and Mexican politicians.
The technology was developed for law enforcement.
Prior to working for this company, Santamaria was employed by Mexico’s Procuraduría General de la República, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office until 2018.
Santamaria admitted selling the technology to private citizens and Mexican politicians
According to U.S. federal prosecutors, Santamaria admitted to “knowing that, in some cases, their Mexican government clients intended to use the interception equipment for political purposes, rather than for legitimate law enforcement purposes.”
In one case, he “knowingly arranged for a Mexican mayor to gain unauthorized access to a political rival’s Twitter, Hotmail, and iCloud accounts.”
“Today’s guilty plea helps stem the proliferation of digital tools used for repression and advances the digital security of both U.S. and Mexican citizens,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman last Tuesday.
The owner of the company, Carlos Guerrero, and others involved with the firm have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and have been sentenced to three years probation according to the U.S. Attorney in San Diego.
As part of his plea deal, Guerrero admitted selling spyware to lawmakers in the Mexican states of Baja California and Durango so they could keep tabs on adversaries, human rights activists and journalists.
As for Santamaria, prosecutors say he also marketed phone-signal jamming devices that could intercept Wi-Fi signals, cellphone calls and hack WhatsApp messages.
Santamaria is facing five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced sometime in May.