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28 Aug 2003

Computer virus blamed as man cleared of tax evasion and fradulent returns

Gavel According to media reports, an accountant from Hoover, Alabama, has been acquitted of nine counts of tax evasion and filing fraudulent personal and business state income tax returns after a jury accepted his story of computer virus attack.

Prosecutors at Montgomery County Circuit Court had accused Eugene Pitts, a 44-year-old auditor, of under-reporting income between 1997 and 1999. His accounting firm, Pitts, Daniels & Co., grossed more than $1 million during those years, but the numbers on Pitts' tax returns for the period did not reflect this.

Pitts accepted that there were errors in the figures on his tax returns, but blamed an unnamed computer virus for the inaccuracies. State prosecutors noted that the alleged virus apparently did not affect the tax returns of clients prepared on the same computer. The jury took three hours to find Mr Pitts innocent on all charges.

Had he been found guilty, Pitts could have faced a maximum sentence of 33 years in prison and up to $900,000 in fines.

"Without knowing the name of the virus which infected Mr Pitts' computer, it is difficult to describe how it might have affected his tax returns and not those of his clients. It is certainly curious that only his records were targeted by the virus," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos Anti-Virus. "However, there is one thing he is clearly guilty of - not keeping his computer protected with the latest anti-virus software, and failing to follow safe computing guidelines. There can be no excuse for any professional not to defend his customers' and his own data against this kind of virus damage."

Sophos recently reported how a British man was acquitted of child pornography charges after successfully arguing the material may have been placed on his computer by a Trojan horse.

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