US Attorney’s husband causes backlash on Twitter with posts on hacker’s suicide
US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, already under fire after the suicide of a prominent computer hacker that her office was prosecuting, came under more criticism Tuesday when her husband rushed to her defense on Twitter with critical postings against the 26-year-old man’s family.
In one tweet posted late Monday, on the eve of Aaron Swartz’s funeral, Thomas J. Dolan, an IBM executive who married Ortiz in July 2011, wrote: “Truly incredible that in their own son’s obit they blame others for his death and make no mention of the 6-month offer.”
Dolan was referring to a purported offer by prosecutors to recommend a six-month prison term for Swartz -- who faced up to 35 years under federal law -- if he agreed to plead guilty to felony charges for using MIT’s computer network to download massive numbers of scholarly articles without paying for them.
The tweets drew profanity-laced vitriol on Twitter against Dolan and Ortiz, with calls for her to resign and him to be fired.
“That was so morally devoid. Bad call,” one of the tweets said. “Absolutely despicable,” said another, and, “Wow – @tomjdolan gets the award for Most Tin-Eared Guy on Twitter. ... I get it’s his wife, but … .”
By Tuesday afternoon, Dolan had abruptly deleted his Twitter account. At the same, Swartz’s father -- according to the Chicago Sun Times and Associated Press -- was telling mourners at his funeral in a Chicago suburb that his son “was killed by the government.”
Ortiz maintained her silence on the Swartz case, and declined to comment on the posts by her husband, who could not be reached. A spokeswoman for Ortiz said Tuesday, “We want to respect the family’s privacy today and we don’t think it’s appropriate to be discussing this right now.”
Swartz, a computer prodigy-turned-cyber activist helped create Reddit and RSS, a groundbreaking technical advancement in how online content is distributed.
He committed suicide in his New York apartment on Friday after his lawyers said federal prosecutors in Ortiz’s office said they would not agree to a plea deal unless it called for Swartz to plead guilty to felony charges and serve four to six months in prison. Swartz had rejected the plea offer, according to his lawyer, and was slated to stand trial in April.
John Summers, of Cambridge, a friend of Swartz and editor of The Baffler magazine, said he was disgusted by Dolan’s tweets and the government’s handling of the case, and called on Ortiz to offer a public apology.
“I don’t know what world Carmen Ortiz and her husband are living in, but they are not living in our world,” Summers said.
Swartz never profited from the material he downloaded and was “financially ruined’’ by the federal case, and still needed $100,000 for his defense, Summers said.
“He was looking at entering federal prison and being branded a felon which would change his life for doing something that is at best the equivalent of trespassing,” he said.
Swartz was indicted in July 2011 on charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer. He was accused of using MIT’s computer network while he was a fellow at Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics to download academic articles normally provided to subscribers in limited quantities.
During the funeral service, Robert Swartz said his son was “hounded by the government,” the Sun Times reported. “He was killed by the government, and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles.”
In defending his wife on Twitter, Dolan was responding to Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corp. and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who posted an official statement from Swartz’s family on Saturday, which was included in Swartz’s obituary.
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy,” the family wrote. “It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims.”
In an e-mail to the Globe, Kapor said he posted the link to the obit “because I thought his suicide was a tragedy and the people who went after him did so with very poor judgment.”
Kapor, who has more than 67,000 followers, said he does not know Dolan.
After defending his wife with his reply to Kapor’s tweet, Dolan did not respond the attacks sent his way.Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com