[Techtaffy Newsdesk]

A New York man pleaded guilty to conspiring to willfully reproduce and distribute copies of copyrighted works without permission, including infringing copies of movies before they were commercially released on DVD, says the Department of Justice.

Gregory A. Cherwonik, 53, of Canandaigua, N.Y., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement.  The plea was entered before U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in the Eastern District of Virginia.  Mr. Cherwonik faces up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised release. Mr. Cherwonik was indicted on April 18, 2012, along with three other members of the IMAGiNE Group. The IMAGine Group is an organized online piracy group seeking to become the premier group to first release Internet copies of new movies only showing in theaters, says the Justice Department.

According to court documents,  Mr. Cherwonik admitted that he helped to create a new website for the IMAGiNE Group hosted on a computer server located in France.  Mr. Cherwonik ordered receivers and recording devices for the purpose of secretly using them in movie theaters to capture the audio sound tracks of copyrighted movies (referred to as “capping”).  After obtaining, editing and filtering audio sound tracks and uploading them to servers utilized by the IMAGiNE Group, his co-conspirators used software to synchronize the audio file with an illegally obtained video file of a movie to create a completed movie file suitable for sharing over the Internet among members of the IMAGiNE Group and others.

A co-defendant, Sean Lovelady, pleaded guilty on May 8, 2012, to one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement.   Another co-defendant, Willie Lambert, pleaded guilty to the same charge on June 22, 2012.   Charges remain pending against co-defendant Jeramiah Perkins. He is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The investigation of the case and the arrests were conducted by agents with ICE-HSI.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Krask of the Eastern District of Virginia and Senior Counsel John H. Zacharia of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division are prosecuting the case.  Significant assistance was provided by the CCIPS Cyber Crime Laboratory and the Office of International Affairs in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

This investigation was supported by the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington.