‘Office Space’ movie inspired employee to steal $302,278, police say
Castro, 28, is now charged with two counts of felony theft and one count of felony identity theft in King County Superior Court.
By Jonathan Edwards, Washington Post
Ermenildo “Ernie” Castro watched the movie “Office Space” and thought, “I could do that,” according to court documents.
And so the software engineer, much like the disaffected tech workers in the 1999 cult classic, allegedly injected malicious computer code into his employer’s information-technology system. For months, that code rerouted a portion of the shipping charges on tens of thousands of customers’ purchases, sending money to an account controlled by Castro instead of the online retailer he worked for, Seattle police wrote in court documents.
Castro, 28, is now charged with two counts of felony theft and one count of felony identity theft in King County Superior Court. Prosecutors allege Castro set up three separate computer schemes, ultimately stealing $302,278.52 from Zulily.
Neither Castro nor Zulily responded to requests for comment on Tuesday. Court records don’t list an attorney for Castro. He’s scheduled to be arraigned on Jan. 26.
Castro started working for the company in 2018 as a software engineer on the “Shopping Experience” team and, for more than three years, wrote computer code to improve the checkout process on the company’s website, a Seattle Police Department detective wrote in an affidavit.
Then, at the end of February, Castro changed the code to enrich himself, the affidavit states: When tens of thousands of sales were made, shipping fees were sent to an account he personally controlled. That scheme, which affected “a small percentage of Zulily customer check-outs,” netted him over $110,000, according to court documents.
But Zulily’s fraud team noticed the missing money, the detective said. As investigators looked into what happened, Castro allegedly tried a variation on his first scheme. This time, he wrote code that charged customers double the normal shipping costs, sending half to Zulily and half to his own account, the affidavit states. Castro is accused of stealing more than $151,000 that way.
Police said records revealed that, between Feb. 24 and June 15, Castro siphoned more than $263,000 in some 31,000 transactions.
Meanwhile, Castro was allegedly working another con. On May 27, he started emailing a woman he would later say he’d met on the dating app Tinder and had been seeing for a month, the affidavit states. In the emails, police say, the woman sent Castro links to online shopping carts filled with Zulily merchandise she wanted. Castro allegedly replied to confirm he’d purchased the items she’d identified in what police described as “a ‘wish list’ of sorts.”
But he was cutting prices so he could buy them for pennies on the dollar, the affidavit states. Overall, he paid about $254 for nearly 1,300 items worth more than $41,000, according to the affidavit.
The company put Castro on administrative leave June 3 and fired him six days later.
After getting fired, Castro returned his company laptop. As part of its investigation, Zulily copied and analyzed the contents of the hard drive, ultimately relaying its findings to law enforcement.
Steve Carney, the company’s director of cybersecurity, reported that he’d found a document on the laptop titled “OfficeSpace project,” which allegedly laid out the scheme to steal the shipping fees.
On June 21, Seattle police arrested and interviewed Castro, who confirmed he named his project after the movie, according to court documents. During the interview, police allege he also admitted to ordering more than 1,000 items but said he did so as part of his job, which entailed testing Zulily’s ordering system. He told investigators he lowered the prices because he’d had to use his personal credit card to make the purchases and didn’t want to rack up a huge bill. Castro allegedly told police he never meant for his test orders to go through but forgot to cancel them before they shipped.
Castro also allegedly admitted to changing Zulily’s computer code to deliver shipping fees from the company’s account to his own. But, he told police, Zulily knew about the changes, which were also attempts to ensure the company’s website was working as it should, court documents state.
Still, he admitted to having received more than $100,000 and said it could have been upward of $260,000, the affidavit states. When police asked him where the money was, he allegedly told them he no longer had it.
“He clarified that he had used the money to invest in stock options, particularly GameStop stock options,” the detective said in the affidavit, “and reiterated that all the money was now gone.”
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