DOCUMENT: College, Crime

Google Worker Busted By FBI For Cyberstalking

Feds: Man sought to extort naked pics from woman


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Breast Study Stalker

OCTOBER 24--A Google worker has been arrested by the FBI for allegedly threatening to distribute naked photos of a Texas college student unless the woman e-mailed him additional explicit photos and videos, The Smoking Gun has learned.

Nicholas Rotundo, 23, was busted earlier this month for cyberstalking the collegian, who was warned that her photos would be uploaded to a revenge porn site if she did not cooperate. Rotundo was subsequently named in a three-count felony indictment.

Rotundo, investigators allege, extracted the naked photos from the victim by posing as a researcher conducting a “breast perception study” for which she was purportedly to be paid $8500. A search of one of Rotundo’s Gmail accounts yielded “nude photographs of multiple females” and evidence that he victimized two other women in the online scam, according to a sealed criminal complaint obtained by TSG.

Pictured above, Rotundo works at Google’s Mountain View, California headquarters, where he is an Internal Technology resident. The two-year program teaches how to “support and scale Google’s technology from our corporate infrastructure to end users,” and can result in a permanent position with the tech giant.

Rotundo began working for Google following his May 2013 graduation from the University of Texas at Dallas, where he studied management information systems and computer science. As alleged in the U.S. District Court complaint, Rotundo began cyberstalking the woman, a University of Texas at Dallas student, in June 2013, the month he started his Google residency.

In a series of e-mails sent to the victim, Rotundo claimed to be conducting a “breast perception study,” a research project that “involved the public’s perception of different breast types.” Candidates, he initially wrote, were “required to submit nude photographs of their breasts in order to be considered for participation in the study,” which paid $4500. The sender’s name on the e-mails from [email protected] was “Women Study.”

The complaint does not indicate why Rotundo allegedly chose the victim (or how he obtained her e-mail address). But FBI Agent Jason Ibrahim reported that the woman had “signed up to participate in various studies through the UTD website,” indicating that Rotundo may have somehow become aware of this and targeted her.

The original “breast perception” pitch sought a “full-body nude photograph” and assorted images of the woman’s breasts. The June 4 e-mail claimed that the student, who is identified as “CC” in court filings, had been identified through a computer algorithm “as a good potential candidate for a paid research study.”

When the victim failed to respond to the original solicitation, she received a second e-mail on June 28 from the “Women Study” account. This time, the researcher offered $6000 for “accepted submissions.” The message concluded, “We hope that you will consider this offer and help our research greatly.”

In a third e-mail, sent on December 19, the woman was told she “will be compensated in the amount of $8,500 for your submissions because of the need to finish the study.”

The next day, the victim e-mailed four naked photos of herself to the  [email protected] account. Later that day, she received an e-mail thanking her for the submission. Agent Ibrahim noted that, “The e-mail concluded by saying ‘Feel free to still submit and our system will automatically combine your e-mails.’” Over the following ten days, the woman received several e-mails from the Gmail account “which essentially requested that CC retake and resubmit two of her four photographic submissions,” according to the complaint.

Five weeks after sending the naked photos, “CC” received an ominous e-mail from a new address, [email protected]. The sender, “John Smarting,” claimed to have “stumbled across” her naked photos, images that he claimed, “I would hate for anybody else to see.”

Attached to the January 26 e-mail was one of the nude images, which “Smarting” said he forwarded “for reference.” Referring to a distinctive piece of jewelry seen in the photo, “Smarting” stated, “Wearing that necklace really hurt plausible deniability.”

“Smarting” made an offer to “CC”: In return for him not disseminating the images, she had to provide five new pictures and “1 video, at least one minute long, of you masturbating.” Along with photos of “your feet” and “your ass,” Smarting directed “CC” to provide “1 in-focus, high-resolution photo of your pussy, with something inserted (finger ok).” While he already had some naked photos of “CC” in hand, “Smarting” told her, “I’m gonna need you to help me fill out the set.”

He closed the January 26 e-mail by claiming, “Again, if you send all of this, I swear to it that no photo or video will surface and you will not be contacted again. Thanks.” “Smarting” bookended that sentence with smiley face emoticons.

In a subsequent e-mail, “Smarting” cautioned “CC” about contacting the authorities, saying that, “I cover my tracks better than that.” He added that any IP address “used to access this account or any system for that matter is not mine.” By providing the new naked photos, “Smarting” wrote, “this will all be behind you forever.” The images, he added, were “an easy price for that comfort.”

Despite the admonition from “Smarting,” the woman contacted campus police. Investigators used a series of subpoenas issued to Google, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable, to connect Rotundo to the two suspect Gmail accounts. Remarkably, despite his boast, the technology wiz did nothing to cover his tracks.

Records show that the e-mail accounts were each accessed on scores of occasions from a static IP address subscribed to by “Google Nick Rotundo.” The account address was Rotundo’s San Jose apartment, which is 12 miles south of the Googleplex in Mountain View. In addition, a log-in to [email protected] account from which “Smarting” corresponded--was traced to a Manhattan hotel across the street from Google’s New York office.

Business records provided to the FBI revealed that a “Nick Rotundo” was registered at the Maritime Hotel on the day the Gmail account was accessed. Hotel documents listed Rotundo’s employer as Google and his e-mail address as [email protected].

After Rotundo was identified, investigators showed the victim a photo of the suspect. “CC stated that she recognized Rotundo,” Agent Ibrahim reported.

An FBI search of the [email protected] account turned up a photo of Rotundo, an e-mail addressed to him from a porn web site, and nude photos of “CC.” Additionally, other e-mails contained attachments “with the keystroke activity of two female victims as well as periodic photographs of those two victims taken  surreptitiously via the web cameras of their laptops.” In subsequent law enforcement interviews, the two victims both said that they had once provided their computers to Rotundo “after he had agreed to fix issues they were having with their laptops.”

Last month, federal investigators charge, Rotundo--using the “John Smarting” account--again contacted “CC.” Referring to the recent release of naked photos of assorted female celebrities, “Smarting” wrote, “With all the recent leaks, maybe it’s time for another…You know what to do.” In a September 15 e-mail, he warned that she had 24 hours “to send all of the aforementioned pics or you might find something you don’t like” on Pink Meth, a notorious revenge porn web site.

FBI agents arrested Rotundo on October 4. He was indicted four days later by a federal grand jury in Texas on two cyberstalking charges related to his contacts with “CC.” Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. A third felony charge, for computer intrusion, appears to relate to Rotundo’s alleged transmission of a malicious program or code to the computer of another female victim. That count carries a maximum one-year prison term.

Rotundo spent four days in custody before being freed on a $4500 unsecured bond. He was arraigned this week before a federal magistrate, who scheduled a pretrial conference for December 15. As part of his release conditions, Rotundo has been prohibited from “using the Internet in any way.”

Rotundo’s arrest has likely ended his Google career in its infancy. With his travel now limited by court order, the Texas native will be absent from gatherings of The Geek Club, a San Jose-based Meetup group he joined earlier this year. “I like computers, electronics, and video/analog games. Other hobbies include beer brewing and cooking,” Rotundo wrote in his Meetup profile. “I'm down to talk about pretty much anything. I fix things for a living.” (11 pages)