US attorney’s husband stirs Twitter storm on Swartz case

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz maintained her silence on the Aaron Swartz case and declined to comment on the posts by her husband, who could not be reached.

Globe Staff/File

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz maintained her silence on the Aaron Swartz case and declined to comment on the posts by her husband, who could not be reached.

US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, already under fire after the suicide of a prominent computer hacker that her office was prosecuting, came under more criticism Tuesday when her husband rushed to her ­defense on Twitter with postings critical of the 26-year-old man’s family.

In one tweet posted late Monday, on the eve of Aaron Swartz’s funeral, Thomas J. Dolan, an IBM executive who married Ortiz in July 2011, wrote: “Truly incredible that in their own son’s obit they blame others for his death and make no mention of the 6-month offer.”


Dolan was referring to a purported ­offer by prosecutors to recommend a six-month prison term for Swartz, who faced up to 35 years if he agreed to plead guilty to felony charges for using MIT’s computer network to download massive numbers of scholarly articles.

The tweets drew profanity-laced vitriol on Twitter against Dolan and Ortiz, with calls for her to resign and him to be fired.

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“That was so morally devoid. Bad call,” one of the tweets said. “Absolutely despicable,” said another.

And another said: “Wow — @tomjdolan gets the award for Most Tin-Eared Guy on Twitter. . . . I get it’s his wife, but . . . .”

By Tuesday afternoon, Dolan had abruptly deleted his Twitter account. At the same time, Swartz’s father, according to the Chicago Sun Times and Associated Press, was telling mourners at his funeral in a Chicago suburb that his son “was killed by the government.”


Ortiz maintained her silence on the Swartz case and declined to comment on the posts by her husband, who could not be reached. A spokeswoman for Ortiz said Tuesday, “We want to respect the family’s privacy ­today and we don’t think it’s appro­priate to be discussing this right now.”

Swartz, a computer prodigy-turned-cyberactivist who ­acknowledged battling depression, helped create Reddit and RSS, a groundbreaking technical advancement in how online content is distributed.

He committed suicide in his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment Friday after his lawyers contended that federal prosecutors in ­Ortiz’s office said they would not agree to a plea deal unless it called for Swartz to plead guilty to felony charges and serve four to six months in prison. Swartz had rejected the plea offer, his lawyer said, and was slated to stand trial in April.

John Summers of ­Cambridge, a friend of Swartz and editor of The Baffler magazine, said he was disgusted by Dolan’s tweets and the government’s handling of the case and called on Ortiz to offer a public apology.

“I don’t know what world Carmen Ortiz and her husband are living in, but they are not living in our world,” he said.

Swartz never profited from the material he downloaded, was “financially ruined’’ by the federal case, and still needed $100,000 for his defense, said Summers.

“He was looking at entering federal prison and being branded a felon, which would change his life for doing something that is at best the equivalent of trespassing,” he said.

‘Truly incredible that in their own son’s obit they blame others for his death and make no mention of the 6-month offer.’

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During a press conference Tuesday on an unrelated event, Governor Deval Patrick said he did not want to comment on whether an investigation of ­Ortiz was warranted because he did not know enough about the case against Swartz.

“I only know what I’ve read in newspaper and see on the news,” Patrick said. “I can only imagine that his family and friends are devastated, and I send them my condolences.”

Swartz was indicted in July 2011 on charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtain­ing information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer. He was accused of using MIT’s computer network while he was a fellow at ­Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra ­Center for Ethics to download academic articles normally provided to subscribers in limited quantities from an online ­archive system provided by ­JSTOR.

During the funeral service, Robert Swartz said his son was “hounded by the government,” the Sun Times reported. “He was killed by the government, and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles.”

In defending his wife on Twitter, Dolan was responding to Mitch Kapor, founder of ­Lotus Development Corp. and cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who posted a link to Swartz’s obituary on Saturday that included a statment from the young man’s family.

“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy,” the family wrote. “It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying poten­tially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims.”

In an e-mail to the Globe, Kapor said he posted the link to the obit “because I thought his suicide was a tragedy and the people who went after him did so with very poor judgment.”

Kapor said he does not know Dolan.

After defending his wife with his reply to Kapor’s tweet, Dolan did not respond to the ­attacks sent his way.

Akilah Johnson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Shelley Murphy can be reached at
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