Sixteen suspected members of "Anonymous" were arrested this morning in states across the country, from California to New York, in a federal raid on the notorious hacking group.
The arrests Tuesday, first reported by FoxNews.com, are part of an ongoing investigation into Anonymous, which has claimed responsibility for numerous cyberattacks against a variety of websites, including Visa and Mastercard.
The Department of Justice, in announcing the arrests and more than 35 search warrants in the case, said the case stemmed from an alleged cyberattack on the website PayPal over its action against controversial group WikiLeaks, one of the inspirations for the hacker group Anonymous.
Fourteen of the arrests were identified in the same indictment out of California, while two separate criminal complaints filed out of courts in Newark, N.J., and Tampa, Fla., name the two other alleged hackers. All are believed to have been involved in carrying out nationwide coordinated distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on multiple high-profile, billion-dollar companies.
"In retribution for PayPal’s termination of WikiLeaks’ donation account, a group calling itself Anonymous coordinated and executed distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against PayPal’s computer servers using an open source computer program the group makes available for free download on the Internet," the Justice Department said in a news release.
The department identified the suspects in the California indictment as Christopher Wayne Cooper, 23, aka “Anthrophobic;” Joshua John Covelli, 26, aka “Absolem” and “Toxic;” Keith Wilson Downey, 26; Mercedes Renee Haefer, 20, aka “No” and “MMMM;” Donald Husband, 29, aka “Ananon;” Vincent Charles Kershaw, 27, aka “Trivette,” “Triv” and “Reaper;” Ethan Miles, 33; James C. Murphy, 36; Drew Alan Phillips, 26, aka “Drew010;” Jeffrey Puglisi, 28, aka “Jeffer,” “Jefferp” and “Ji;” Daniel Sullivan, 22; Tracy Ann Valenzuela, 42; and Christopher Quang Vo, 22. One individual’s name has been withheld by the court.
They are charged with various counts of conspiracy and intentional damage to a protected computer, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Each count of conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Also Tuesday, Scott Matthew Arciszewski, 21, was arrested in Florida on charges of intentional damage to a protected computer for allegedly accessing without authorization the Tampa Bay InfraGard website and uploaded three files.
And Lance Moore, 21, of Las Cruces, N.M., was arrested on the New Jersey indictment, which accuses him of stealing confidential business information stored on AT&T’s servers and posting it on a file-sharing site. He is charged with one count of accessing a protected computer without authorization.
U.S. law enforcement officials also told FoxNews.com that the arrest of a 16-year-old hacker in London, who goes by the online user name Tflow, was related to the raids in the U.S.
Some of the arrests were out of the San Francisco field office, sources said. Earlier in the day, the FBI executed search warrants at the New York homes -- two in Long Island, N.Y., and one in Brooklyn, N.Y. -- of three suspected members of Anonymous, FoxNews.com reported.
More than 10 FBI agents arrived at the Baldwin, N.Y., home of Giordani Jordan with a search warrant for computers and computer-related accessories, removing at least one laptop from the premises.
The Anonymous group is a loose collection of cybersavvy activists inspired by WikiLeaks and its flamboyant head Julian Assange to fight for "Internet freedom" -- along the way defacing websites, shutting down servers, and scrawling messages across screens web-wide.
The Anonymous vigilante group recently turned its efforts to the Arizona police department, posting personal information of law officers and hacking and defacing websites in response, the group claims, to the state's controversial SB1070 immigration law.
While Anonymous is largely a politically motivated organization, splinter group LulzSec -- which dominated headlines in the spring for a similar streak of cyberattacks -- was largely in it for the thrills.
The metropolitan police in London arrested the first alleged member of the LulzSec group on June 20, a 19-year-old teen named Ryan Cleary. Subsequent sweeps through Italy and Switzerland in early July led to the arrests of 15 more people -- all between the ages of 15 and 28 years old.
The two groups are responsible for a broad spate of digital break-ins targeting governments and large corporations, including Japanese technology giant Sony, the U.S. Senate, telecommunications giant AT&T, Fox.com, and other government and private entities.