HIV data leak: US jury finds Mikhy Farrera-Brochez guilty of intending to extort Singapore govt

Farrera-Brochez speaks with media before attending court on Feb 18, 2019, in Winchester, Kentucky.
Farrera-Brochez speaks with media before attending court on Feb 18, 2019, in Winchester, Kentucky.PHOTO: ARDEN BARNES FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

LEXINGTON, Kentucky - American fraudster Mikhy Farrera-Brochez was found guilty of all three charges against him relating to stolen identification documents from Singapore by a jury in Kentucky on Tuesday (June 4).

The verdict, reached at the end of a 1 ½ day trial, means he is likely to get a jail term of between 18 and 24 months, his lawyer Adele Burt Brown told reporters.

The 34-year-old was convicted of intending to extort the Singapore government in two e-mails he sent on Jan 22 and Feb 18 this year, in which he threatened to further disseminate the Singapore HIV registry data in his possession if his husband was not released from jail and his other demands not met.

He was also found guilty of unlawfully and knowingly possessing the HIV database, which contained the personal identification details of more than 14,000 people, with the intent to violate federal law.

His lawyer argued that he did not intend to extort the government, but wanted to make people aware that the database had been breached. While he acknowledged leaking the database early this year, he said he was not behind its initial leak in 2016.

“He wanted to get the Singapore government to acknowledge that the data had not been kept secure,” said Ms Brown, adding that he had approached several officials in Singapore and the US about the registry but been rebuffed.

Farrera-Brochez told the court that he sent the two e-mails also because he wanted Singapore to shut down the registry, which he said discriminated against gay individuals.

 
 
 
 
 

“You don’t need to register them for scientific and health purposes,” he said, referring to Ministry of Health (MOH) communicable diseases director Vernon Lee’s earlier testimony on Monday that the HIV registry collected personal data of patients to understand the spread of the virus and target education efforts.

“You can collect their data anonymously. You don’t need their names to know their sexual practices,” Farrera-Brochez said, adding that he wanted to make people aware of the existence of the registry.

He also said that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from being beaten and gang-raped in jail in Singapore from 2016 to 2018.

“I’m a bit erratic, I can’t deny that even on my best days,” said Farrera-Brochez, who teared up as he told the court that he was lonely and missed his cats.

The Singapore Police Force and Singapore Prison Service said in February that his claims about being abused while in custody were “baseless allegations”.

Said Ms Brown: “It doesn’t make logical sense to release information about people to protect them, in my mind...but he did not mean to extort. He meant in his mind to do a good thing: to get Singapore to acknowledge that it had allowed a database.”

US prosecutors, who spent the day before making the case that Farrera-Brochez had deliberately smuggled the database out of Singapore and intended to extort the Singapore government, disagreed.

They also said there had been inconsistencies in his statements to the US court and to the Singapore authorities.

While being cross-examined, Farrera-Brochez also admitted that he faked his credentials to get hired at polytechnics in Singapore and did not have a degree in special education.

Said US prosecutor Dmitriy Slavin in his closing argument: “When you have an issue with something a government has done, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing it... Mikhy Farrera-Brochez chose extortion.

“He chose to use the private medical information of thousands of people, who had nothing to do with anything, as his bargaining chip.”

Mr Slavin added: “He wanted things. He was willing to put at risk the personal confidential information of thousands of people to get it.”

Farrera-Brochez, who did not respond while the verdict was read, was remanded and will be sentenced on Sept 27. He faces a maximum jail term of nine years and a fine of US$750,000 (S$1 million) for all three charges in total.

The court will decide whether he must forfeit his electronic devices used to commit the crimes.

Singapore’s MOH also has an ongoing civil lawsuit against him in Kentucky, to compel him to delete and return the stolen HIV registry data.