Nude Pics Payback: Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera and the Strange Economics of Who Got What
The government recommends a man who hacked the email accounts of celebrities pay restitution. A white collar lawyer explains how the dollar figures were determined.
The U.S. government has recommended that Christopher Chaney, who pleaded guilty to nine counts of computer hacking, should serve 71 months in prison for crimes that included hacking the e-mail accounts of many celebrities.
In sentencing recommendations, prosecutors also asked the judge to order Chaney to pay restitution of $76,767.35 to The Secret Life of the American Teenager actress Renee Olstead, $66,179.46 to Scarlett Johansson and $7,500 to Christina Aguilera.
Since those dollar figures are so specific, The Hollywood Reporter got to wondering how this was determined. The DOJ says it can't comment, but THR talked with Ellyn Garofalo, a partner who practices white collar criminal law at Liner Grode, about why Olstead is getting more for her hacked nude photos than Johansson is for hers.
It's not a subjective evaluation of the worth of their respective beauty, says Garofalo. Well, not exactly.
"You don't look at it and say here's the value [of those photos]," the attorney says. "What restitution is, is the loss or the intended loss. If I rob $100 from a bank, I have to pay $100 back."
In the absence of a loss, prosecutors look at what was gained.
"What must have have happened here is that [Chaney] sold the photographs," she says. "The restitution amount is the amount he sold or contracted to sell."
In other words, the marketplace's evaluation of the worth of an Olstead nude pic versus a Johansson one set the amount.
But the problem here is that there hasn't been much indication that Chaney actually sold the photos. He's denied doing so in interviews, and he really hasn't held much back in detailing his illicit activities. Plus, in making the case for Chaney's punishment, prosecutors don't mention any sales, a detail they might have included had it happened. After all, the government reports all sorts of other stuff, including his recent boasts to GQ.
So maybe Chaney didn't get $66,179.46 for selling nude photos of Johansson.
Government papers recommending the sentence offer another possible derivation of the dollar figures.
"With respect to financial harm ... only a few of the victims’ financial harm has been reported to law enforcement," prosecutors wrote.
Garofalo says its possible that the dollar figures come from the celebrities themselves. Perhaps it indicates what they spent in legal fees as they attempted to scrub the Internet of the nude photos.
In the end, the money is really just a small part of this case. The prosecutors say that because financial restitution isn't really possible, it's one of the reasons why they are seeking a stiff prison term.
"While an upward departure [of financial restitution] might be appropriate ... given the risk of substantial loss beyond the loss determined ... as more of defendant’s victims report losses or more victims’ photographs get posted to the Internet, the government requests that the court account for this factor by imposing a high-end sentence."