January 8, 2016 / 5:58 PM / 3 years ago

Ex-St. Louis Cardinals scouting chief admits computer breach

(Reuters) - A former scouting director for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team pleaded guilty on Friday to criminal charges over a breach of the computer network of the rival Houston Astros, prosecutors said.

Chris Correa, 35, of St. Louis, was fired by the Cardinals last year after his arrest. He pleaded guilty to five counts of unauthorized access of a protected computer. Each count carries a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

The parties agreed that the potential loss for the intrusions was about $1.7 million, federal officials said.

“Unauthorized computer intrusion is not to be taken lightly,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas said in a statement.

“Whether it’s preserving the sanctity of America’s pastime or protecting trade secrets, those that unlawfully gain proprietary information by accessing computers without authorization must be held accountable for their illegal actions,” Magidson said.

The Astros and the Cardinals declined to comment.

Major League Baseball said in a statement it expected federal officials to eventually share results of their probe and the league would then determine whether further actions were necessary. No other employees of the Cardinals have been charged, prosecutors said.

In June, there were reports that the FBI and the Justice Department were probing the Cardinals for possibly breaking into the Astros’ proprietary database network.

St. Louis personnel were suspected of hacking into the Astros’ system to undermine the work of Houston General Manager Jeff Luhnow, who left the Cardinals to work for the Astros after the 2011 season.

Luhnow created the same type of computer system in Houston as he had in St. Louis.

The Astros and the Cardinals, like many teams, measure and analyze in-game activities to look for advantages. Correa provided analytical support to Cardinals’ baseball operations.

The Astros operated a private online database called “Ground Control” to house a wide variety of confidential data, including scouting reports, trade discussions, statistics and contract information, U.S. officials said.

The Astros also provided e-mail accounts to their employees. The database and email accounts could be accessed online via password-protected accounts.

As part of his plea agreement, Correa admitted that from March 2013 through at least March 2014, he illicitly entered the database and email accounts of others in order to gain access to Astros’ proprietary information, federal officials said.

Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales and Ben Klayman; Editing by Dan Grebler and Grant McCool

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