‘Extremely rational’ Anonymous hacktivist Matt DeHart avoids 70-year prison term with child porn plea deal

, the former U.S. airman and Anonymous hacktivist who made a failed asylum bid in — claiming torture over his access to secret U.S. government documents — has accepted a plea deal in a Tennessee court, avoiding a possible 70-year prison term but admitting to having explicit photos of under-aged teenagers.

DeHart, 30, long claimed wrongful prosecution, accusing the U.S. government of using child pornography as a ruse to probe his activist activities.
His plea sees him accepting a seven-and-a-half year sentence on reduced charges and for fleeing to Canada before his trial. He will also be credited with time served pending trial.

“It’s the difference between him getting out [of prison] as a young man or him getting out as a middle-aged man or an old man. It’s an extremely rational choice,” said Tor Ekeland, DeHart’s New York-based lawyer.

“Looking at the fact there’s a 93 per cent conviction rate in federal criminal trials, we looked at a deal,” said Ekeland. “So he can be out in four-and-a-half years as opposed to 70 years.”

DeHart is a former member of the U.S. Air National Guard, training in the secretive drone program at the same time he was involved in Anonymous, the global hacktivist group.

He fled to Canada in 2013 ahead of a criminal trial on charges he said were laid as leverage to further a probe into Anonymous and his operation of a dark web Internet server used to leak a classified U.S. government document, likely destined to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks referred to DeHart as an “alleged WikiLeaks middleman.”

Philip Cheung for National PostPhilip Cheung for National PostPeople rally outside the United States Consulate General in Toronto to support Matt DeHart.

While in U.S. custody, he claims he was tortured by authorities between interrogations about national security and espionage matters.

His asylum claim was rejected in Canada and in March he was deported to the United States, where he was immediately re-arrested.

Court records show the U.S. government was on the verge of making an official extradition request for DeHart at the time of his removal.

RelatedHacker, creeper, soldier, spy: The bizarre story of Matt DeHartMatt DeHart, the alleged Anonymous hacker, deported to U.S. after Canada refused to grant him asylum

DeHart’s lawyers earlier asked for the charges to be dismissed based on vindictive prosecution, claiming the national security probe was behind old and ignored allegations. District Judge Aleta Trauger asked the government to make “objective, on-the-record explanations” for their case and prosecutor Carran Daughtrey withdrew as prosecutor to become a witness. The motion was denied.

That led to serious discussions between DeHart, his lawyers and his parents, Paul and Leann, who had claimed asylum in Canada with him in 2013.

“We respect the authority of the court and are mindful that what we say publicly could potentially impact Matt’s sentencing,” said Paul DeHart in an interview.

“Besides, there are no words adequate to capture the emotions of this week. Leann and I are inspired by Matt’s resilience, his courage, and most of all his faith. We stand as a family united in support of our son through whatever he must endure.”

Philip Cheung for National Post Philip Cheung for National Post People rally outside the United States Consulate General in Toronto to support Matt DeHart.

DeHart agreed to plead guilty to two charges of receiving child pornography and a charge of failing to appear as ordered in court. He was originally charged with more serious charges of production and transportation of child pornography, all withdrawn under the deal.

The plea agreement filed in court says DeHart admits that when he was 21, he met two teen boys online while playing the game World of Warcraft; he claimed to be the 17-year-old son of a Mafia figure. In 2008, he also pretended to be a girl and persuaded the boys, aged 16 and 14, to send him sexually explicit images of themselves.

The agreement says an analysis of computer equipment seized from DeHart found sexually explicit images of the victims on his hard drives.

Indiana Air National GuardIndiana Air National GuardMatt DeHart as a military recruit in 2008.

DeHart and U.S. prosecutors submitted a joint sentencing request of seven-and-a-half years in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release: six years for porn offenses and 18 months for fleeing to Canada.

Sentencing is set for Feb. 22, 2016. A judge is not obligated to accept the deal.

After exposure in a lengthy series by the National Post raising questions about DeHart’s treatment and prosecution, he was named as a beneficiary of the Courage Foundation, an international group supporting whistleblowers.

DeHart joined two previous beneficiaries: Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency analyst who leaked documents revealing large-scale global surveillance, and Jeremy Hammond, serving 10 years in a U.S. prison after hacked email from security think-tank Stratfor was published by WikiLeaks.

On Thursday, the foundation expressed concern over the deal, saying DeHart was “cornered into taking a plea agreement.

“Matt could fight the charges in court but he has already endured substantial abuse and the judge has sided with the government at nearly every turn.

“The government is likely agreeing to this deal in order to be done with Matt DeHart’s case, to prevent a drawn-out trial in which Matt’s political activity, the files he unearthed and the treatment he endured could come to light.”

Prosecutors did not respond to phone messages and emails before deadline Friday.

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