29-year-old IT businessman Ashley Mitchell plead guilty to stealing $12 million worth of Zynga Poker
chips in a British court yesterday, and is now facing a substantial jail term.
Mitchell appeared at Exeter Crown Court in Devon, England and admitted to accessing the developer's servers some time between June 30, 2009 and September 7, 2009, stealing 400 billion virtual chips for Zynga Poker
, then selling a portion of them for £53,000 ($86,000).
"The defendant sold around one third of the 400 billion poker chips, and looking at the auction history where one can purchase such items, he was selling them for around £430 ($695) per billion," said prosecutor Gareth Evans, according to a report
from local newspaper Herald Express.
Sold legitimately through Zynga, the full amount of chips would have brought in some $12 million. The prosecutor estimated that if Mitchell sold all of the virtual chips on the black market, he would have made a fraction of that, around £184,000 ($297,000).
Evans admitted that valuing virtual currency can be difficult and that the company was not actually deprived of tangible goods, but he said that the theft could still affect the developer by indirectly causing legitimate online gamers to stop playing Zynga Poker
or its other games.
Mitchell plead guilty to four charges of converting criminal property and a fifth charge for violating the Computer Misuse Act ("unauthorized access with intent to commit or facilitate commission of further offenses").
He was previously convicted in 2008 for hacking into his former employer's website and changing his personal information to receive £3,498 ($5,600). Mitchell was given a 40-week suspended sentence by the court then -- which he is in breach of with these Zynga charges.
The hacker was remanded in custody and now faces a substantial jail term for the latest offenses. Defense solicitor Ben Derby argued that Mitchell committed the crimes during a time when he was "wrestling with a gambling addiction", having spent £3,000 ($4,800) on online games .