So-called topsites, the servers where masses of copyright-infringing content are stored, began shutting down globally as it became clear that law enforcement action was underway.
Within hours, the US Department of Justice announced that three key members of the piracy groups known as SPARKS, GECKOS, DRONES and SPRINTER had been indicted, charged with a range of offenses connected to movie and TV show piracy.
As reports of wider arrests filtered in from law enforcement entities in Europe, the status of the indicted trio was clarified in the United States. George Bridi, 50, a citizen of Great Britain, had been detained in Cyprus on an INTERPOL Red Notice. Norway resident Umar Ahmad (aka ‘Artist’), 39, was still at large. Jonatan Correa (aka ‘Raid’), 36, had been arrested on US soil in Olathe, Kansas, and placed into custody.
Jonatan Correa (aka ‘Raid’)
The USDOJ alleges that Correa was involved in the ‘Sparks Conspiracy’ (the collective name for the prosecution) from around January 2011 through to August 2020. This differs from the charges against Bridi and Ahmad, whose ‘conspiracy’ charges run from January 2011 to January 2020. The reasons for this remain unclear.
All three are charged with causing “tens of millions of dollars” in losses to film production studios. According to a superseding indictment, Correa and the others fraudulently obtained copies of discs containing movies and TV shows in advance of their official release dates.
It is further claimed that Correa remotely accessed a computer belonging to a co-conspirator in Westchester County in order to “illegally record and reproduce” copyrighted TV shows. At this stage, the identity of this alleged co-conspirator is being kept under wraps by the authorities.
While Correa’s co-defendants face additional charges including wire fraud and transporting stolen property, Correa faces a single charge of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement.
Correa Arrested, Quickly Released, Pleads Not Guilty
After being arrested in Kansas on August 25 at 07:00, court records reveal that Correa was presented before the Kansas district court on August 26 and released the very same day.
Other documents that might offer additional information persistently return a “not found” error on records portal PACER, while access to others is simply denied. However, additional detail is available relating to Correa’s status and plea.
Records indicate that Correa was released on bail with a $75,000 bond, secured by cash or property. His release comes with pre-trial supervision conditions, including that he must surrender all travel documents and submit to a ban on all new travel document applications.
In addition, Correa has agreed to participate in a drug testing and treatment program and is forbidden from possessing firearms, other weapons, or any “destructive devices”. He is further ordered to abstain from contact with co-defendants and witnesses, with conditions.
“Defendant shall have no contact with any co-defendant, witnesses known to Defendant, or any other members of the Sparks Group without the presence of counsel,” a bail document reads, adding that Correa must not engage in any of the conduct alleged in his charging document either.
Perhaps most importantly of all, exactly one week ago on September 1, 2020, Correa appeared remotely before United States Magistrate Judge James L. Cott and was arraigned on the superseding indictment. Correa pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
Whether that position will change later down the line remains to be seen but right now, his alleged co-conspirators don’t yet appear to be in US custody.
Alleged Co-Conspirators Bridi and Ahmad
According to the most recent official information, Ahmad (Artist) is reportedly still at large, perhaps in Norway, while Bridi is located some 5,500 miles away from New York on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.
Since the unsealing of his indictment and from the filings made available to date, Ahmad hasn’t been mentioned in court documents. In respect of Bridi, however, the US Government has requested and obtained multiple certified copies of his indictment and arrest warrant for the “purposes of extraditing the defendant to the United States.”
When that will take place is unknown but at least as far as Correa’s cases is concerned, Acting United States Attorney Audrey Strauss told the court last week that the parties are currently in discussion over discovery and a pre-trial disposition. A conference has been set for October 26, 2020, for these discussions to continue.
As previously reported, the action against SPARKS has negatively affect pirated releases from The Scene, with a steep decline observed in volumes of content being made available.