Gonzalez Pleads Not Guilty To New Jersey Charges

Albert Gonzalez, the man who U.S. federal authorities have accused of masterminding the cyber attacks of more than a dozen of the nation's largest retail chains, pled not guilty Tuesday (Oct. 13) to charges from a New Jersey retail breach indictment.

Gonzalez was whisked from his federal prison cell at the Central Falls Detection Center in Rhode Island to face U.S. District Court Judge Jerome Simandle in Camden, New Jersey. (Yes, I know. "He was forced to spend hours in Camden. Hasn't the man been punished enough?" Hey, I'll make the New Jersey jokes around here. At least he was spared a trip to the federal courthouse in Newark. When you're indicted in Jersey, you count your blessings.)

Having had just about all of his money confiscated by the feds, Gonzalez could no longer pay his attorney and was assigned a federal public defender, Christopher O’Malley, who said he was only told of the case the day of the plea. Judge Simandle set pretrial motions due from Gonzalez on December 11, with the government's reply due January 8, 2010. A trial date has been scheduled for January 25, 2010.

As a practical matter, though, it's highly unlikely that this case will ever get to trial. First, there are quite a few major retailers named as victims in the New Jersey case—including Hannaford and 7-Eleven, along with processor Heartland—in addition to at least two more major retail chains that the feds have yet to publicly identify. (StorefrontBacktalk has identified one of the unidentified New Jersey chains as J.C. Penney and Target as one of the unidentified chains in the Boston indictment, based on information from officials involved in those cases.)

Both chains would really rather not have to testify, a concern shared by federal officials, who would prefer to have as few of their investigative techniques as possible discussed publicly.

Gonzalez himself has already pled guilty to similar charges in New York and Boston and he was in extensive plea negotiations with Newark, which seems to indicate a willingness to consider pleading guilty. Indeed, with the years of prison already awaiting him in connection with the Boston and New York guilty pleas, it's unclear how much more punishment federal officials truly think they could get by forcing the New Jersey case to go to trial.

With both sides having a strong incentive to settle this case, it's quite unlikely it will get to trial. Then again, with Gonzalez's day-to-day existence now consisting of being in federal prison, a lengthy courtroom trial might prove a welcome diversion, and there's always the chance of a jury acquittal. Either way, we'll be tracking this case closely.