Accused Capital One Hacker’s Volatile History Put Before Judge

By Erik Larson | August 22, 2019

Federal prosecutors in Seattle have pieced together a string of disturbing social-media posts and police complaints to portray the accused Capital One Financial Corp. hacker as an unhinged danger to society who should remain locked up while awaiting trial.

It’s a characterization disputed by Paige A. Thompson’s lawyers, who asked a judge on Tuesday to cancel a bail hearing set for later this week and immediately release her to a halfway house, with GPS monitoring.

Thompson, 33, was arrested last month and charged with stealing personal data on more than 100 million people from Capital One. She has a long history of dangerous behavior that includes threats to kill others and to commit “suicide by cop,” prosecutors said in their request last week to keep her in jail.

“In today’s America, it is easy enough to obtain firearms, and there is every reason to be concerned that Thompson, who repeatedly has threatened to kill, would obtain the means to carry out, and carry out, her threats — particularly when confronted with the alternative of near-certain conviction and imprisonment,” the prosecutors said.

The U.S. bolstered its case with a claim that Thompson broke into servers of more than 30 other companies, educational institutions and other entities, and that investigators are still sifting through “multiple terabytes” of data to see what kind of information was stolen. The government said it expects to add an additional charge as victims are identified and notified.

The Capital One theft “was only one part of her criminal conduct,” the U.S. said.

Thompson’s federal public defender, Mohammad Ali Hamoudi, said the government hadn’t provided any evidence that Thompson has tried to dodge police or avoid court appearances after those earlier run-ins.

“Rather than establish that these incidents prove Ms. Thompson is a serious risk of flight, the government has established that she cooperates with law enforcement, does not flee, and has no means to leave the jurisdiction,” Hamoudi said in the filing.

Hamoudi argued Thompson is suffering greater harm in custody because she is transgender, and that she’d be better off in a halfway house with appropriate clinical care than confined to a jail where suicides are known to occur. He cited the recent suicide of sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein as one example.

Capital One’s lawyers didn’t weigh in on the matter and its press office didn’t respond to requests for comment on Thompson’s detention.

Prosecutors argued that if Thompson — a former employee of Inc. — were set free, she could sell any stolen data she may have secretly stashed away and that hasn’t been found by federal agents, including data from the other entities she allegedly hacked. They also said she has the skills to carry out other hacks.

Prosecutors didn’t identify any of the other companies or entities whose servers were allegedly breached. Several companies, including UniCredit SpA and Ford Motor Co. said they were investigating whether they were involved in the breach. The prosecutors focused mostly on the many examples of Thompson’s allegedly dangerous behavior.

Earlier this month, the U.S. claimed Thompson had once threatened a social media company that prosecutors didn’t identify. The U.S. said police were called to Thompson’s house in May after she contacted an acquaintance at the company. She threatened to travel to its California campus and to “shoot up” the office, prosecutors said.

The U.S. said Thompson had access to an “arsenal” of firearms that authorities found in Thompson’s home that allegedly belonged to her roommate, Park Quan. The stash, much of which was seized because Quan is a convicted felon, included ammunition, explosive material, assault rifles and a sniper rifle, the U.S. said.

But when police followed up to investigate the threat against the company, they concluded Thompson “had no monetary or transportation means to come to California,” Hamoudi responded.

Police Report

In March, police were called to Thompson’s house after she became violent with four housemates and threatened to use a fake gun to commit “suicide by cop,” the U.S. said. And in social-media posts in June, Thompson allegedly said she had “nothing to lose” and threatened to kill police officers, the U.S. said.

That allegation was challenged by a person involved in the incident, who said the report didn’t accurately reflect what happened, and that Thompson never made serious threats about “suicide by cop,” Hamoudi wrote.

“I know what Ms. Thompson will and won’t do, and she will not harm others,” Hamoudi quoted the person involved — Diane Eakes — as saying. “Ms. Thompson pushes people away and that is what she was trying to do.”

The case is U.S. v. Thompson, 2:19-mj-00344, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington (Seattle).

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