Roughly 20 months ago, news got out the FBI and Justice Department were investigating the St. Louis Cardinals for hacking into the internal database of the Houston Astros. Former Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa was sentenced to 46 months in prison last July for what amounted to 12 counts of corporate espionage.
Over the weekend new details about the case emerged after a federal judge unsealed court documents. It turns out Correa’s hacking was far more extensive than originally believed. David Barron and Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle have the details:
According to the documents, portions of which remained redacted, Correa intruded into the Astros’ “Ground Control” database 48 times and accessed the accounts of five Astros employees. For 2 1/2 years, beginning in January 2012, Correa had unfettered access to the e-mail account of Sig Mejdal, the Astros’ director of decision sciences and a former Cardinals employee. Correa worked in St. Louis as an analyst under Mejdal, who came to Houston after the 2011 season with Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, also a former Cardinals executive.
“(Correa) knew what projects the Astros’ analytics department was researching, what concepts were promising and what ideas to avoid,” said one of the documents, signed by Michael Chu, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case against Correa. “He had access to everything that Sig Mejdal … read and wrote.”
Correa originally claimed he accessed Houston’s database to see whether the Astros had stolen any information from the Cardinals. Considering he accessed the database 48 times over two and a half years, I’d say that goes beyond poking your head in to see whether some information had been stolen.
In additional Mejdal, Correa also accessed the database using the accounts of Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, analyst Colin Wyers, and several minor league players. He also attempted to use the accounts of former manager Bo Porter and pitching coach Brent Strom. Luhnow worked in the St. Louis front office from 2003-11.
“As we have previously stated, we did not have any of the Cardinals’ proprietary information in Ground Control or our database,” said Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe to the Houston Chronicle. “What these documents confirm is that Mr. Correa was illegally accessing Ground Control in order to assist in evaluating players that the Cardinals wanted.”
The court documents also show Correa accessed the Astros’ database prior to the amateur draft to review the team’s scouting reports and preference lists. He viewed the club’s latest reports on left-hander Marco Gonzales, who the Cardinals selected with the 19th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
“Ultimately, Correa was not intruding to see if the Astros took any information — rather, he was keenly focused on information that coincided with the work he was doing for the Cardinals,” (prosecutor Michael) Chu concluded.
Chu wrote that even if Correa hid his activity from his Cardinals colleagues, “his access to the Astros’ information was still invaluable. Before he proposed an idea, he could quietly check what another analytics-minded organization thought. He also could supplement his own ideas with the ideas of the Astros’ analytics department because he knew what projects the Astros’ analytics department was researching, what concepts they found promising, what ideas they had discarded.”
Based on the unsealed court documents, Correa’s hacking into the Astros’ database was systematic over a period of more than two years, and that’s why he was sentenced to prison. This isn’t a matter of gamesmanship. Correa wasn’t stealing signs on the field. This is the executive of one private company hacking into a another’s information to gain an advantage. It’s espionage.
The Cardinals are waiting to be disciplined by MLB — earlier this month Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said “it might be sooner than later, but I don’t know” — and since this is an unprecedented situation, it’s unclear what the punishment may be. A fine? Loss of draft picks? Who knows. It’s possible the Astros may be compensated in some way too. We should find out soon enough.