Mikhy Farrera-Brochez said he'd rather put a bullet in his head than turn over S'pore HIV database: FBI witness

Mikhy Farrera-Brochez, 34, faces three charges in the US related to stolen identification documents from Singapore.
Mikhy Farrera-Brochez, 34, faces three charges in the US related to stolen identification documents from Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - Mikhy Farrera-Brochez, the American at the centre of the Singapore HIV database leak, first asked his mother to download files, which could have included data from the HIV Registry, from a server he owned in Singapore back in 2016, three years before the leak became known to the public.

His mother Teresa King, who testified on Monday (June 3) on the first day of Farrera-Brochez's trial before a Kentucky jury, said she did not look at the files she downloaded from Kentucky because her son told her not to.

"He said it meant his life or death. He really needed me to download this," said Ms King, a retired educator who lives in Kentucky. "He got really angry at me."

Her testimony shed some light on how Farrera-Brochez could have gotten the stolen database out from Singapore to Kentucky, where he sent e-mails three years later to Singapore officials threatening to release the database if they did not meet his requests.

Farrera-Brochez, 34, faces three charges in the United States related to stolen identification documents from Singapore. He is accused of sending two e-mails on Jan 22 and Feb 18 this year with the intent to extort the Singapore Government, and of knowingly possessing the stolen documents in violation of federal law.

The Singapore authorities first became aware that Farrera-Brochez had accessed the database in 2016, when he gave them the names and details of 75 individuals on the HIV Registry, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament in February this year.

On Monday, Ministry of Health (MOH) communicable diseases director Vernon Lee testified in Kentucky that following a police investigation in 2016, the ministry had no reason to believe that Farrera-Brochez had kept any part of the database. The version he had accessed appeared to be from 2012, said Dr Lee.

 
 
 

The resurfacing of the stolen data in 2019 "was the first time we knew he had the entire database of thousands of records. It was a complete shock to us", Dr Lee told the 12-member jury.

Ms King recounted how her son contacted her again in the middle of 2018 from the Philippines, after he had been deported from Singapore after serving a prison sentence for drug and fraud-related crimes.

She agreed to e-mail him the files, she said, "because he would stop berating me and being mean".

The mother and son did not look at each other throughout the entire trial.

In a series of phone calls, e-mails and text messages which she later resorted to blocking, Farrera-Brochez asked her to send the files she had earlier downloaded. But she could not find them and said she did not do so.

"I didn't want anything to do with anything," added Ms King, who was later heard crying as she left the courtroom.

US prosecutors said that an e-mail containing a screenshot of the HIV Registry data had been sent from one of Ms King's e-mail accounts to another, and that Farrera-Brochez had access to both accounts.

During the trial, US prosecutors sought to prove that Farrera-Brochez knowingly sent messages from one country to another with a wrongful threat to extort something of value from the Singapore Government.

The court was played a recording Farrera-Brochez made of a phone call with FBI special agent Chelsea Holliday, during which he said: "I am willing to cooperate but they are going to have to release my husband."

In the same call, he also asked for the restoration of the medical licence of his partner Ler Teck Siang, who was convicted of drug and fraud crimes, and the return of his cats.

MOH's Dr Lee testified that Farrera-Brochez's leak of the database had caused shock, fear and anxiety among the thousands of HIV patients on the registry as the ministry worked to contact them in the wake of the leak.

"Some were depressed, even suicidal because of this," he said, adding that the leak adversely affected the trust that patients had in MOH to safeguard their data. "If the data is published, who knows what others might use the data for."

HOW FARRERA-BROCHEZ WAS BROUGHT IN

During Monday's hearing, which lasted 5½ hours, the jury heard from seven witnesses, including five law enforcement officers who were involved in the case.

The FBI's Ms Holliday said she had tried multiple times to get Farrera-Brochez in for an interview in January after investigators were alerted to the HIV database leak from their colleague working in Singapore.

"He said he'd rather put a bullet in his head than turn over the database," she said as she recounted earlier phone conversations with Farrera-Brochez.

 
 
 

When her phone calls to him stopped going through on Feb 21, Ms Holliday said she was afraid he could have harmed himself and contacted Ms King for help in locating her son.

Ms King gave the agent a possible location for her son over an hour's drive away and a Kentucky state police officer found him near there at a barn just off a highway, where he appeared to have been living out of his car, and detained him.

Ms Holliday testified that copies of the HIV database had been found on seven of the 11 devices seized from Farrera-Brochez. She also found an active link to a spreadsheet stored on the Google Drive cloud service, which contained the database information.

If found guilty of the first two charges, he may be jailed for up to two years and fined up to US$250,000 (S$342,000) per charge. If convicted of the third charge, he may be jailed for up to five years and fined up to US$250,000.

The trial continues on Tuesday, when Farrera-Brochez is scheduled to testify. It is expected to conclude on the same day.