Hacking group Team-Xecuter was a thorn in the side of major gaming companies for many years.
The group offered hardware and software solutions that allowed people to install and play unofficial games and pirated copies on various consoles, including the popular Nintendo Switch.
For many years Nintendo attempted to stop the group but failed to do so. This eventually prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to step in and following a thorough investigation, three members of the group were indicted in 2020.
The criminal prosecution effectively shut down the group but only one member, Gary Bowser, was detained. The Canadian was arrested in the Dominican Republic and deported to the US soon after.
Bowser is perhaps best known through his nickname GaryOPA, the operator and a frequent writer on the website “MaxConsole,” which regularly reviewed Team-Xecuter hardware and other hacking tools.
According to the indictment, Bowser was more than just a writer. The Government views him as part of the Team-Xecuter conspiracy. Among other things, he allegedly advertised and trafficked circumvention devices, while maintaining regular contact with resellers throughout the world.
Bowser initially denied any wrongdoing but, after a few months, he pleaded guilty and signed a plea agreement with the U.S. Government. In addition, he also admitted guilt in a civil lawsuit filed by Nintendo, where he agreed to pay $10 million in restitution.
After the guilty plea, the scale of the sentence is the only question remaining in the criminal case. This week, both the prosecution and defense submitted their sentencing recommendations to the Washington federal court.
U.S. Seeks Five-Year Prison Sentence
According to U.S. Attorney Nicholas Brown, a five-year prison sentence is warranted in this case. This severe punishment is justified for various reasons, including the scope of the damages attributed to Team-Xecutor in the gaming industry.
“Team Xecuter’s products targeted several companies over the course of almost a decade, resulting in tens of millions of dollars of loss. Defendant Gary Bowser played a critical role in the marketing, sale, and distribution of the products that caused that loss,” the U.S. Attorney writes.
The U.S. also believes that Mr. Bowser is a potential recidivist and that a significant sentence is needed to make sure that he doesn’t pick up his old line of work when he’s released.
Sending a Message
At the same time, the five-year sentence should serve as a warning to others who are tempted to continue the work of Team-Xecuter. This includes those who have thus far remained out of sight.
“A five-year sentence will put potential recruits on notice that engaging in this type of criminal conduct will subject them to significant prison sentences.” the U.S. Attorney writes.
Interestingly, the U.S. Attorney points to several news articles that covered this case. This is to illustrate that the industry is watching the case closely, and perhaps prospective criminals are too.
“There can be no question that any sentence imposed in this case will be widely disseminated within the video gaming community, as this case is being watched closely
by the industry.”
The overall message in the sentencing recommendation is that Mr. Bowser should serve as an example. While he might not have been the leader of the group, he was a crucial part of it and should be punished accordingly.
Defense Asks for a 19-Month Sentence
Mr. Bowser’s lawyers see things in a different light and are asking the federal court to limit the sentence to 19 months of which 16 have already been served.
The defense admits that Team-Xecutor was a criminal operation that caused a lot of damage. However, they argue that Mr. Bowser was used by other members of the group who reaped most of the benefits.
“Mr. Bowser was used by Max Louarn. Unlike his co-defendants, Mr. Bowser used his real identity on the website. He took all the risk, and reaped the smallest profit,” the defense writes.
To illustrate this point the defense argues that the Team-Xecuter group reportedly generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue, while Mr. Bowser was paid ‘only’ $500 to $1000 a month.
Based on these and other arguments, Mr. Bowser’s lawyers hope that the court will agree to a 19-month sentence instead. Given the circumstances, that’s already quite a significant sentence, they argue.
The court will now review the sentencing recommendations from both sides. It is expected to reach a final decision in the near future.