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Fla. man pleads not guilty to celeb hacking

Christopher Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, Fla., leaves federal court in Los Angeles Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011.
AP Photo/Reed Saxon

LOS ANGELES - A U.S. man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to hacking into the email accounts of celebrities such as Christina Aguilera, Mila Kunis and Scarlett Johansson, whose nude photos eventually landed on the Internet.

Christopher Chaney, 35, made his first court appearance in California, where he's been indicted on 26 counts, including unauthorized access to a computer and wiretapping. If convicted, he faces up to 121 years in prison.

Chaney was arrested as part of a yearlong investigation of celebrity hacking that authorities called "Operation Hackerazzi."

There were more than 50 victims. Some nude photos taken by Johansson herself were posted on the Internet. Chaney offered some material to celebrity blog sites, but there wasn't any evidence that he profited from his scheme, authorities said.

Chaney is accused of mining through publicly available data to figure out password and security questions for celebrity accounts. He hijacked a forwarding feature so that a copy of every email a celebrity received was sent to an account he controlled, according to court documents.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Walsh denied prosecutors' request to remand Chaney to custody but modified his bond to $110,000, and he will wear an electronic monitoring device upon his return to his home in Florida.

A trial has been scheduled for Dec. 27.

A search warrant unsealed and obtained by The Associated Press said Chaney's computer hard drive contained numerous private celebrity photos as well as a document that compiled their extensive personal data.

In arguing for a higher bond and time behind bars, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Feldman said that even after FBI agents seized the computer in February, he continued his hacking scheme against an actress for six months. She declined to reveal the celebrity's name.

"We have great concern that he can't stop himself," Feldman said. "We think detention would."

Chaney said he managed to hack into Johansson's email account to send one of her acquaintances an email containing a nude photo of her in exchange for a photo, authorities said.

Johansson told Vanity Fair for its December issue that the photos were meant for Ryan Reynolds, who is now her ex-husband.

"There's nothing wrong with that. It's not like I was shooting a porno," the actress told the magazine.

Chaney has apologized for his actions.

"I think he has a crystal clear view of what is at stake," his attorney, Christopher Chestnut, said during Tuesday's hearing.

The warrant also said Chaney may have stalked a Connecticut woman online for the past 12 years. The document contends there is probable cause that Chaney violated federal charges of stalking and unauthorized access to a computer.

Federal prosecutors also said a second woman has stepped forward and made similar accusations that Chaney stalked her online. They declined to comment further.

Chaney told the AP the new allegations are completely false.

"I can't accept responsibility for things I didn't do," Chaney said.

Chestnut said the new allegations amount to nothing more than a publicity stunt designed to damage his client's reputation.

"The amount of time, money and energy the authorities have spent pursuing a man who didn't sell anything or profit in any way from this alleged activity is truly remarkable, given everything we are going through in this country," Chestnut said.

No other charges have been filed against Chaney.