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Haverford student, 22, who hacked the IRS for Donald Trump's tax returns, pleads guilty

Sam Wood, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Science & Technology News

A Haverford College student who used a campus computer to attempt to hack into an IRS database to obtain Donald Trump's tax returns days before the 2016 presidential election pleaded guilty Tuesday to two misdemeanor crimes in federal court.

Justin Hiemstra, 22, who finished his studies in May but will not get his degree until he completes a study-abroad program next May, told Judge Cynthia Rufe that he did not know what he would have done with the tax returns if he and classmate Andrew Harris had succeeded in obtaining them on Nov. 2, 2016.

"It was a time when Donald Trump's tax returns were of interest," said Hiemstra, a Fulbright Scholar who speaks fluent Russian.

"I don't think that has changed," Rufe responded.

Hiemstra, a native of St. Paul Park, Minn., pleaded guilty to accessing a computer without authorization and attempting to access a computer without authorization to obtain government information. The maximum sentence he faces for both crimes is two years in prison, two years of supervised release, and a $200,000 fine.

Rufe tentatively set a sentencing hearing for Dec. 16, but said she may reschedule it to allow Hiemstra to complete a Boren Scholarship program studying math and Russian in Kazakhstan. The U.S. Defense Department-funded program will begin Aug. 21 and end May 13, said Hiemstra's lawyer, Michael van der Veen.

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"My client is an intelligent, inquisitive, and idealistic young guy," van der Veen told reporters after the hearing. "He thought that he could get the tax returns that were promised to him by the candidate."

Hiemstra, who is free on bail, should be sentenced to a diversion program instead of prison, van der Veen said. "He's a really nice young guy who had an error in judgment without very much forethought."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony J. Wzorek declined to say what sentence he would seek. He said Trump and everyone else deserves to have their privacy protected.

"If your tax returns were being accessed, or mine were, it's just as important as Donald Trump's tax returns. You file your tax returns, you assume they're going to be kept private, they are kept private by the IRS. When people try to break into the website to obtain those tax returns it violates everybody's rights," Wzorek said after the hearing.

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