Two grand juries in California indicted Jerome T. Heckenkamp, 21, and he appeared before a U.S. magistrate in New Mexico on Wednesday. He was ordered held until another hearing on Thursday. It could not be immediately determined if he was represented by an attorney.
The indictment includes seven counts of unauthorized computer access, eight counts of intercepting electronic communications and one count of witness-tampering. The indictment alleges that Heckenkamp targeted eBay Inc., E-Trade Group, Lycos, Exodus Communications Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. and Cygnus Support Solutions in 1999, before he was a Los Alamos employee.
Heckenkamp began working at Los Alamos in June and the FBI notified the lab of its findings about a month later.
A lab official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said Heckenkamp had no access to sensitive or privileged information. He was a probationary employee who worked in the lab's computing and network areas, the lab official said.
"There's no evidence he even tried to access (secure lab) areas," the official added.
Before becoming an employee at Los Alamos, Heckenkamp was a student at the University of Wisconsin, the lab official said.
The 15 hacking and electronic interception counts can carry up to five years' imprisonment per count, and the witness-tampering count can carry a maximum 10-year term. Each count also carries a potential $250,000 fine, or twice the gross loss to the victims, whichever is greater, prosecutors said Wednesday. He was arrested in Los Alamos on Tuesday, prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, the loss to the companies was a minimum of $5,000 for each of four companies, or a total of $20,000. It gave no estimate for the other companies nor did it explain the losses.
Albuquerque FBI supervisory agent Doug Beldon referred inquiries to the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco. The University of California operates Los Alamos National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Jacobs said late Wednesday that he could not comment on the case beyond what was in the indictment.
The witness-tampering count alleges Heckenkamp tried to get a witness to withhold evidence in testifying.