HIV data leak: American Mikhy Farrera-Brochez jailed for two years

The court convicted Mikhy Farrera Brochez in June of two counts of extortion in two e-mails sent on Jan 22 and Feb 18.
The court convicted Mikhy Farrera Brochez in June of two counts of extortion in two e-mails sent on Jan 22 and Feb 18.PHOTO: ST FILE

Upon release, Farrera-Brochez has to abide by strict conditions to prevent further leaks

American Mikhy Farrera-Brochez was sentenced to two years' jail on Friday by the Kentucky federal court for using a stolen HIV database from Singapore to extort from the Singapore Government.

Upon his release from prison, Farrera-Brochez, 34, will be on supervised release with strict conditions to ensure that he does not further leak the database - containing the personal identification details of more than 14,000 people - from Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH).

These conditions include having to attend and complete mental health evaluation and counselling programmes as directed by his probation officer, according to court documents.

He must also allow his electronic communications, data storage devices and computers to be searched by a probation officer, and may not use the Internet or any e-mail system without approval. He must also give his probation officer his e-mail account passwords.

He will not be allowed to contact victims or witnesses in the case, including his mother Teresa King, without prior approval.

The court convicted Farrera-Brochez in June of two counts of extortion in two e-mails sent on Jan 22 and Feb 18. He was also convicted of unlawfully and knowingly possessing the HIV database.

Farrera-Brochez pleaded not guilty to all three charges.

The former polytechnic lecturer from Kentucky was also ordered to forfeit to the federal government the electronic devices and Google accounts that he had used in his crimes. His devices were seized by the authorities when he was arrested in February.

But Singapore's MOH is seeking legal action in the United States to find out if he has squirrelled away the stolen data elsewhere.

In a statement after the sentencing on Friday, the Eastern District of Kentucky's prosecution office said Farrera-Brochez had access to MOH's database, which listed the private identifying data and medical information of thousands of people living with HIV in Singapore, including more than 50 US citizens.

He sent the database to his mother in Kentucky, and retrieved it when he returned there last year after serving his jail sentence in Singapore for drug and fraud-related charges.

 
 
 

He sent an e-mail on Jan 22 this year to Singapore government officials, threatening to further disseminate the database if his demands were not met, and included links to online copies of the database.

His second e-mail on Feb 18 included similar threats.

During the trial in June, his lawyer argued that Farrera-Brochez did not intend to extort from the Singapore Government, but had wanted to raise awareness of the HIV registry's existence and breach.

Farrera-Brochez acknowledged leaking the database early this year, but said he was not behind its initial leak in 2016.

US attorney Robert Duncan Jr said in a statement that Farrera-Brochez's conduct was serious and significant, affecting thousands of people across the world.

He said: "The defendant unlawfully obtained the private, personal identifying information of more than 14,000 people, including American citizens, and used this information in an attempt to extort the government of a foreign nation.

"Without the hard work of law enforcement personnel, the defendant could have caused significant additional harm by publishing this personal and private information."

A separate civil lawsuit by MOH in Kentucky to compel Farrera-Brochez to delete and return the stolen HIV registry data is ongoing.

MOH is seeking to find out what confidential information he possesses, how he came to possess it, whether he has fully complied with the court order to delete the data and whether others might still possess the information, according to court documents.

But Farrera-Brochez on Monday refused to testify under oath to MOH's lawyers in the Kentucky jail, despite the court giving the green light to the deposition. The court is now compelling him to do so.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 29, 2019, with the headline 'American jailed for two years'. Print Edition | Subscribe