U.S. Attorney on Swartz’s suicide: ‘This office’s conduct was appropriate’
In an effort to ward off accusations that her office’s actions led to the suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz last night released a statement defending her prosecution team and extending “heartfelt sympathy” to Swartz’s friends and family.
The 26-year-old co-founder of Reddit and Internet sharing activist, hanged himself Friday in his New York apartment. His family speculated that federal authorities and MIT were partially to blame for his suicide.
During a news conference Thursday about raids on an alleged Dorchester drug ring, an emotional Ortiz told reporters she was “terribly upset.”
When asked whether she would have handled the case differently considering the tragic outcome, Ortiz pointed to her own “human nature,” and said the situation has made her “think and pause and review.”
He faced up to 35 years in prison and a fine of $1 million if convicted of the wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information and recklessly damaging a protected computer charges against him, but Ortiz said her team was going to recommend six months in prison.
It was alleged that Swartz broke into a restricted computer wiring closet in a basement at MIT in order to download a major portion of archived digitized academic journals on to his computer. Prosecutors alleged he intended to share the journals, which are bought by Universities for as much as $50,000.
Ortiz said that her office never intended to seek maximum penalties under the law.
Read Ortiz’s entire statement below:
As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, and I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy to everyone who knew and loved this young man. I know that there is little I can say to abate the anger felt by those who believe that this office’s prosecution of Mr. Swartz was unwarranted and somehow led to the tragic result of him taking his own life.
I must, however, make clear that this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case. The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably. The prosecutors recognized that there was no evidence against Mr. Swartz indicating that he committed his acts for personal financial gain, and they recognized that his conduct – while a violation of the law – did not warrant the severe punishments authorized by Congress and called for by the Sentencing Guidelines in appropriate cases. That is why in the discussions with his counsel about a resolution of the case this office sought an appropriate sentence that matched the alleged conduct – a sentence that we would recommend to the judge of six months in a low security setting. While at the same time, his defense counsel would have been free to recommend a sentence of probation. Ultimately, any sentence imposed would have been up to the judge. At no time did this office ever seek – or ever tell Mr. Swartz’s attorneys that it intended to seek – maximum penalties under the law.
As federal prosecutors, our mission includes protecting the use of computers and the Internet by enforcing the law as fairly and responsibly as possible. We strive to do our best to fulfill this mission every day.