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Co-conspirator in Fox News leaks case to plead guilty next week

Marco Gaudino, 24, allegedly worked with Florida journalist Timothy Burke to break into computer systems used by news organizations.

Marco Gaudino, 24, allegedly worked with Florida journalist Timothy Burke to break into computer systems used by news organizations.

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 resident who allegedly helped a Florida journalist break into computer systems used by leading news organizations will plead guilty to a single felony count of conspiracy on Monday, The Desk has learned.

The admission by Marco Gaudino, 24, of Auburn is part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that could see him testify against former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke over the misappropriation of passwords used by the National Basketball League (NBA) and CBS News, the latter of which gave Burke access to unedited footage of certain programs aired on the Fox News Channel.

Gaudino was charged on April 12, with his arraignment tentatively scheduled for this past Monday, according to court records reviewed by The Desk. The arraignment was delayed to next Monday at the request of his public defender, court records showed, with his change of plea hearing scheduled for Monday.

While Gaudino was arrested in Washington, his case will be heard in Tampa Bay, where Burke resides. His change of plea is scheduled to be heard before Judge Sean Flynn, who oversaw a separate but related legal matter involving Burke and the Tampa Bay Times newspaper last year.

Prosecutors say — and Gaudino is expected to admit next week — that the Washington resident used the Twitter (now X) handle “EyewitnessZunes” to communicate with Burke between late 2021 and May of last year.

In private messages, Gaudino exchange numerous passwords with Burke, which allowed him to access computer servers associated with the NBA and a cloud-based video transmission service called LiveU that was used by CBS News and Fox News.

In the case of the NBA password, the messages show the person prosecutors identify as Burke using the credentials to download large volumes of data through a program called CyberDuck. His access was apparently cut off a few weeks later.

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, and Burke was able to figure out the location of certain unencrypted video feeds that included live transmission of Fox News Channel programs.

From there, Burke was able to watch and record an interview between former Fox News host and rapper Kanye “Ye” West that was scheduled to air on Fox News at a later date. The raw transmission revealed Ye made numerous hateful and anti-Semitic remarks, which Fox News ultimately did not air.

The transmissions also included pre-interview footage showing Carlson disparaging Fox News executives and a streaming service called Fox Nation, where he licensed an interview program produced from his home.

Carlson and Fox News “parted ways” last April, nearly two weeks after the network settled a defamation case with Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million.

Prosecutors say Burke not only illegally obtained the Fox News clips, but sold them for profit. Burke has acknowledged being the source of certain Fox News materials that were published by Media Matters for America as part of their reporting called “Fox Leaks,” and separately provided the clip of Ye’s remarks to the now-shuttered Vice News.

Court records filed by prosecutors claim Burke received around $1,500 in exchange for the Fox News clips, though it was not clear which news organizations paid him.

Federal authorities raided Burke’s home last May as part of a broad investigation into the interception and unlawful redistribution of Fox News material. Shortly after the raid, the Tampa Bay Times filed a motion seeking to unseal the search warrant and a related FBI affidavit in support of the action.

Burke joined the legal challenge, going one step further to demand the return of computers, phones, notebooks and other items seized by the FBI. That request was largely denied.

In letters sent to federal prosecutors and filed in court, Burke’s attorneys argued that their client was being targeted for committing acts of journalism, and downplayed his trespass into computer systems as illegal.

The attorneys claimed Burke used “demo” credentials that were posted by a radio station — a password that ultimately gave him access to the LiveU system — and that LiveU automatically downloaded a list of unencrypted web addresses when he logged in.

Burke’s attorneys went on to say that the radio station invited its listeners to use the username and password to listen to live broadcasts, something an executive with the radio station denied when contacted by The Desk last December.

Additionally, sources familiar with the LiveU system Burke accessed called Matrix said the service does not perform the way Burke and his attorneys describe — specifically, that the service does not automatically download a list of passwords to a person’s computer when they log in.

A source familiar with the case who spoke with The Desk over an encrypted email system earlier this year said there was evidence showing Burke took advantage of a vulnerability in LiveU’s systems to uncover the way the service facilitated the transfer of live video feeds between news organizations. That vulnerability involved the way LiveU incorporated JavaScript Object Notation, or JSON, a data tagging and delivery protocol that is commonly used by websites.

Once Burke figured out LiveU’s standard naming convention, he amassed hundreds of web addresses that allowed him to view raw video transmissions used by virtually all of LiveU’s broadcast clients, including Carlson’s production company and Fox News Media, the source said.

In February, Burke was indicted by a federal grand jury on more than a dozen criminal counts, including conspiracy, computer hacking and unlawful electronic interception. He has entered a plea of not guilty and was released on his own recognizance. A federal judge has restricted Burke’s ability to travel beyond Florida, and ordered him to undergo substance abuse screening and a mental health evaluation.

Gaudino has agreed to provide cooperation to federal investigators in their case against Burke, according to a plea agreement reached with prosecutors earlier this month. As part of his cooperation, Gaudino could testify against Burke if the journalist’s case proceeds to trial.

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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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