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Washington man charged in conspiracy involving Florida journalist, Fox News leaks

Using the alias "EyewitnessZunes," Marco Gaudino allegedly worked with Tim Burke to break into computer services associated with news outlets.

Using the alias "EyewitnessZunes," Marco Gaudino allegedly worked with Tim Burke to break into computer services associated with news outlets.

Marco Gaudino of Washington is accused of conspiring with Florida journalist Timothy Burke to break into online services. (Photo via social media)
Marco Gaudino of Washington is accused of conspiring with Florida journalist Timothy Burke to break into online services. (Photo via social media)

A Washington state man has been criminally charged for allegedly conspiring with a Florida journalist to compromise online-based servers that contained raw video footage and other materials.

On Friday, federal prosecutors in Florida charged Marco Gaudino, 24, with a single count of conspiracy after he alleged traded private messages on Twitter with former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke that contained user credentials to access various web services used by the National Basketball Association (NBA), CBS News, the Fox News Channel and other media and entertainment companies.

Burke was the subject of intense media coverage last May when his Tampa Bay home was raided by federal law enforcement agents as part of an investigation into the leaking of various unedited video clips associated with some Fox News programs. Burke and his attorneys later acknowledged he was the source of some controversial videos that were published by Vice News and Media Matters for America that showed former Fox News host Tucker Carlson criticizing the network, as well as an unaired clip from an interview with Kanye “Ye” West in which he makes numerous anti-Semitic remarks.

Burke’s attorneys contend that a source passed along demo credentials to at least one website that, when accessed, automatically downloaded a list of web address that allowed Burke to watch and record unencrypted live video transmissions. But federal prosecutors say Burke and his co-conspirator, now named, scoured the Internet looking for credentials in order to break into protected computer systems that were used by news organizations.

Sources familiar with the investigation say Gaudino used the Twitter handle “EyewitnessZunes” to communicate with Burke for months. The two men followed each other on the social platform in late 2021, and began exchanging messages privately a short time later.

In some messages reviewed by The Desk, Gaudino furnished Burke with a username and password that allowed him to access an online server associated with the NBA. Using a process called file transfer protocol and a computer program called Cyberduck, Burke downloaded numerous large files over the course of several weeks before his access was cut off, the messages show.

Later, Gaudino and Burke discovered online credentials that were accidentally posted to the website of a CBS News Radio affiliate in Tennessee. The credentials gave both men access to a website operated by LiveU, which offers a cloud-based service called Matrix that allows broadcasters like CBS and Fox to transmit live video over the Internet.

In letters and court filings, attorneys representing Burke say the radio station invited their listeners to use those credentials. But the president of the radio station in question disputed this when contacted by The Desk last December, saying they would never intentionally direct listeners to use credentials belonging to another media organization.

Burke was ultimately charged with over a dozen counts of conspiracy, unauthorized access to a protected computer and unlawful electronic interception. He was arrested in February and entered a plea of “not guilty” earlier this month.

Federal law enforcement agents executed a search warrant on Gaudino’s home last summer, which he shares with his family in the Seattle suburb of Auburn. He has cooperated with investigators, and will plead guilty next week to a single conspiracy count, according to a source familiar with the matter.

As part of the plea deal, Gaudino has agreed to continue cooperating with federal authorities, which could include testifying against Burke if his case proceeds to trial, the source affirmed. In exchange, prosecutors are expected to recommend a lenient sentence, which may help Gaudino avoid prison time, the source affirmed.

Burke, on the other hand, continues to fight his case, with his attorneys characterizing his actions as “good digital journalism.” Supporters say Burke is being prosecuted for embarrassing Fox News, and have characterized the case against him as political.

But two law enforcement sources who have worked closely on Burke’s case reject that premise, saying Burke’s actions go beyond Fox News and that he and Gaudino victimized a number of organizations, including CBS, the NBA and LiveU.

Those companies have already spent hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars responding to the computer intrusions and subsequent leaks of videos, some of which were published by Burke on his social media accounts, the sources say.

Prosecutors were initially willing to cut Burke a similar plea deal that Gaudino ultimately accepted, though it would have included a sizable restitution payment and the forfeiture of $1,500 — the amount Burke allegedly received for selling the video clips of Tucker Carlson and Kanye West.

But any thought of offering Burke a lenient plea deal evaporated when his legal team appended themselves to a legal motion filed by the Tampa Bay Times seeking the release of a law enforcement affidavit in support of the May raid on Burke’s home. Burke’s legal team supported the request, but tacked on an additional one demanding the return of computers, phones and other items seized from Burke’s home and a backyard guest house where he operates a makeshift production facility. (A judge denied Burke’s request to have the seized items returned. Burke appealed the outcome, and the appeal is still pending.)

Prosecutors were further aggrieved by news interviews involving Burke and his attorneys, which sources described as intentional misrepresentations of the law enforcement investigation in an effort to drum up public support and encourage donations to his Burke’s legal defense fund.

That effort paid off for Burke in the short term, with dozens of news organizations and journalism advocacy groups signing a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland last October that expressed concern over the lack of transparency involving the raid on Burke’s home. The co-signers included Nexstar Media Group, Gray Television and the E. W. Scripps Company, which operate a number of CBS and Fox affiliates across the country.

Some news organizations began walking back their support for Burke after he was charged in February. Officials with Scripps and Gray Television told The Desk that their letter was merely about the raid on Burke’s home, and not about his current legal situation.

Privately, broadcasters and press freedom groups have been encouraged by some of the alleged victims in the case to stop making public statements supporting Burke, according to numerous sources who spoke with The Desk.

In one recent informal conversation, an executive for LiveU pointed out that ongoing public support for Burke could be viewed as siding against CBS News and Fox News Media, two of the alleged victims in the criminal case, who are also clients of their service, one source said.

Nexstar, Scripps and Gray have no plans to append their name to future letters sent by press freedom groups on the matter, according to sources at all three companies.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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