UK citizen extradited to US pleads guilty to 2020 Twitter hack

British citizen Joseph James O'Connor is lead by Spanish police officers as he leaves a court in Estepona

(Reuters) - A citizen of the United Kingdom who was extradited to New York from Spain last month has pleaded guilty to cyberstalking and computer hacking schemes, including the 2020 hack of the social media site Twitter, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.

Joseph James O'Connor, 23, was charged in both North Dakota and New York. The North Dakota case was transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

O'Connor pleaded guilty to charges including conspiring to commit computer intrusions, to commit wire fraud and to commit money laundering.

O'Connor, who was extradited to the U.S. on April 26, will also forfeit more than $794,000 and pay restitution to victims, prosecutors said. He faces a maximum of 77 years in prison at sentencing on June 23.

"O’Connor’s criminal activities were flagrant and malicious, and his conduct impacted multiple people’s lives. He harassed, threatened, and extorted his victims, causing substantial emotional harm,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite said in a statement.

Prosecutors said the schemes included gaining unauthorized access to social media accounts on Twitter in July 2020 as well as a TikTok account in August 2020. Along with his co-conspirators, O'Connor stole at least $794,000 worth of cryptocurrency.

The July 2020 Twitter attack hijacked a variety of verified accounts, including those of then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk, who now owns Twitter.

The accounts of former President Barack Obama, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Benjamin Netanyahu, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg and Kanye West were also hit.

The alleged hacker used the accounts to solicit digital currency, prompting Twitter to prevent some verified accounts from publishing messages for several hours until security could be restored.

(Reporting by Tyler Clifford in New York; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Matthew Lewis)