The mayor of West New York, New Jersey, was arrested together with his son on Thursday, for allegedly hacking into a website that criticized him and his administration.
Felix Roque, 55, of Hudson County, and Joseph Roque, 22, of Passaic County, were charged with gaining unauthorized access to computer systems, causing damage to protected computers and conspiracy to commit those crimes, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey said on Thursday.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Felix Roque and his son, on 2 February 2012 the two men began to conspire to hack into and disable a website called www.recallroque.com.
The website had been set up anonymously by a Hudson County resident and government official earlier that month and had received contributions from a number of people, identified in the complaint as victims.
For the next two days, Joseph Roque allegedly researched hacking tutorials online and attempted to learn the identity of the website's owner by sending him messages and posing as a person interested in contributing to the website.
On 8 February, Joseph Roque managed to reset the password for the email account associated with the recallroque.com domain name and took screenshots of the email messages found inside, an FBI agent who investigated the case said in a sworn affidavit. Some of the messages exposed the identities of people who had sent information to the website, he said.
Joseph Roque then allegedly performed a password reset for the Go Daddy account used to administer recallroque.com. This allowed him to cancel the domain name and effectively disable the website, the FBI agent said in the affidavit.
Over the course of the following days, Mayor Roque allegedly used the information gathered by his son to call or email the website's contributors with the intention of intimidating them.
During a meeting with the website's owner on 17 February, which was being recorded by the latter at the request of law enforcement, Mayor Roque attempted to conceal the hacking activity by suggesting that he had a friend at the CIA who provided him with the information.
"It's incredibly disappointing that resources have to be diverted from protecting the US against cyber intrusions targeting critical infrastructure, federally funded research and military technology, to address a public official intruding into computer systems to further a political agenda," FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward, who led the FBI team that investigated this case, said.
The conspiracy and unauthorised computer access charges each carry a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to US$250,000. The charge of causing damage to protected computers is punishable by one year in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Ironically, even though he now stands charged with hacking into a website that was trying to organise a petition to recall him from office, Felix Roque has lead a recall effort himself in 2009 against the former West New York mayor, Silverio Vega.