Man accused in hospital computer hack wages hunger strike
Martin Gottesfeld claims the hospital hacking was to protest the treatment of a teenage patient caught up in a custody fight
By Denise Lavoie
BOSTON — The man who acknowledges he attacked the computer network at world-renowned Boston children's hospital two years ago, costing it hundreds of thousands of dollars, is unapologetic and now waging a hunger strike in prison as he awaits trial.
Martin Gottesfeld claims the hospital hacking was to protest the treatment of a teenage patient caught up in a custody fight between Massachusetts and her parents. He said his three-week-old hunger strike is to bring attention to two more causes: the treatment of troubled youth in institutions and "political prosecutions" by prosecutors he considers overzealous, including U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Massachusetts.
Gottesfeld wants the presidential candidates to pledge to protect children who've been sent to residential treatment centers, psychiatric hospitals and other institutions. He also said people shouldn't be prosecuted for crimes he considers harmless, citing the case of Aaron Swartz, who was accused of using MIT's computer network to download millions of articles from a scholarly archive with the intent of making them freely available on the internet. Swartz took his own life in 2013 while awaiting trial.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Gottesfeld said he will not eat again until these demands are met. However, he acknowledges that he occasionally has consumed chicken broth, Gatorade and soft drinks. Still, he said his weight has dropped from 204 pounds to 182.
"I love my life and I love my wife, and I want to get back to both of them very badly, but this cause is more important than any one individual. And the suffering of these children must stop, and the persecution of these advocates also must stop," he said from the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where he is being held before trial.
Gottesfeld is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in U.S. District Court on charges of conspiracy and intentionally causing damage to protected computers.
He said he orchestrated the attack on Children's and a related attack on the Wayside Youth & Family Support Network, a Framingham residential treatment facility, to protest the treatment of Justina Pelletier, a Connecticut teenager who was at the center of a custody dispute following conflicting medical diagnoses.
Tufts Medical Center in Boston had treated Justina for mitochondrial disease, a disorder that affects cellular energy production. Boston Children's Hospital later diagnosed her problems as psychiatric.
After the girl's parents rejected that diagnosis and tried to take her back to Tufts, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families took custody of her, touching off a bitter dispute. A judge ruled the parents failed "to provide for Justina's necessary and proper physical, mental and emotional development."
The case drew national media attention, and various groups cited it as an example of governmental interference with parental rights.
Gottesfeld, 32, of Somerville, was arrested in February after he and his wife were rescued in their motorboat off the coast of Cuba by a Disney cruise ship. Prosecutors said Gottesfeld was attempting to flee the country.
Prosecutors allege he posted a YouTube video on behalf of the hacking group Anonymous that included a computer-generated voice stating, "To the Boston Children's Hospital — why do you employee people that clearly do not put patients first?" The video called for the firing of a physician who treated Pelletier and said, "Test us, and you shall fail."
The indictment alleges the attack knocked the hospital's website out of service and disabled its fundraising portal. The hospital said it spent more than $300,000 addressing the hacking and lost another $300,000 in donations.
Gottesfeld acknowledged launching the attack, but said he did it to defend Pelletier.
"I haven't hurt anybody. There's no allegation that any patients were harmed by anything that I did," Gottesfeld said.
"Boston Children's denies any allegations of maltreatment," said hospital spokesman Rob Graham, who declined additional comment due to patient privacy laws and the criminal case.
A spokesperson for Wayside, where Justina was transferred after leaving the hospital, declined to comment.
Ortiz's spokeswoman, Christina DiIorio-Sterling, said prosecutors are aware of Gottesfeld's hunger strike. She said if prosecutors believe a defendant's health or safety is in jeopardy, "we would bring the matter to the attention of the court, which could issue an order if appropriate."