Mikhy Farrera-Brochez sentenced to two years' jail over Singapore HIV patient data leak

A February 2019 photo shows Mikhy Farrera Brochez (centre) being escorted out of the Clark County District Court house in Winchester, Kentucky. PHOTO: ARDEN BARNES FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

NEW YORK - American Mikhy Farrera-Brochez was sentenced on Friday (Sept 27) to two years in jail for using a stolen HIV database from Singapore to extort from the Singapore Government.

A Kentucky federal court had earlier in June convicted Farrera-Brochez, 34, of two counts of extortion in two e-mails sent on Jan 22 and Feb 18 this year.

He was also convicted of unlawfully and knowingly possessing the HIV database, which contained the personal identification details of more than 14,000 people, and had pleaded not guilty to all three charges.

The former polytechnic lecturer from Kentucky was also ordered to forfeit the electronic devices and Google accounts that he used in his crimes to the federal government.

His devices were seized by the authorities when he was arrested in February this year, but Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) is seeking legal action in the US to find out if Farrera-Brochez has squirrelled away the stolen data elsewhere.

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

He sent the database to his mother in Kentucky, and retrieved it when he returned to Kentucky in 2018 after serving his jail sentence in Singapore for drug and fraud-related charges.

He sent an e-mail on Jan 22 to Singapore government officials, threatening to further disseminate the HIV 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 he did not intend to extort the Singapore government but had wanted to raise awareness of the HIV registry's existence and breach. He acknowledged leaking the database early this year, but he said he was not behind its initial leak in 2016.

Farrera-Brochez will be on supervised release for three years upon release from prison with strict conditions to ensure he does not further leak the database.

These 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 may also not contact victims or witnesses in the case, including his mother Teresa King, without prior approval.

US Attorney Robert M. 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 Singapore's MOH in Kentucky to compel him 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 (Sept 23) refused to testify under oath to MOH's lawyers in the Kentucky jail where he is being detained, despite the court giving the green light to the deposition. The court is now compelling him to do so.

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