MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota man who admitted to stealing identification information from soldiers in his former Army unit at North Carolina's Fort Bragg, then selling it so false identities could be created for militia members, was sentenced Friday to two years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz also sentenced Keith Michael Novak, 25, to three years of supervised release, saying Novak's crime was more serious than a typical identity theft case because, among other things, he used his military access "to victimize his fellow soldiers."
Novak, who prosecutors say was leading an anti-government militia group in Minnesota at the time of his December arrest, pleaded guilty in April to one count of identity theft. In a letter read in court Friday by his attorney, Novak said he meant no harm and he apologized for the "terrible mistake" that has hurt people he cares about.
Prosecutors say Novak stole names, Social Security numbers and security clearance levels of roughly 400 members of his former Army unit and sold the information of 98 people to others so they could create false IDs for militia members in case they "ever wanted to disappear and become someone else."
Novak believed he was selling the information to Utah-based militia members. They were really undercover FBI agents. His attorney, Anders Folk, argued that since the IDs weren't used criminally, Novak should receive a lesser punishment.
But Schiltz said Novak was just as culpable.
Folk asked for a sentence ranging from six months to one year in prison, saying his client had struggles growing up, and was changed by combat.
"It is clear that whatever Mr. Novak experienced in Iraq had a profound effect on him," Folk said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter asked for 37 months, saying Novak's "betrayal" took time and planning. Winter also said he was baffled by Novak's claim that his military experience and disillusionment with the government triggered the crime.
"The people he stabbed in the back were the people he was serving with," Winter said.
Folk said he will talk with his client before deciding whether to appeal.
Novak was an active duty soldier and intelligence analyst with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg from 2009 to 2012 and served in Iraq in 2010, according to court documents. He later joined the Minnesota National Guard and served as a human intelligence analyst.
According to an FBI affidavit and prior court testimony, Novak met undercover FBI employees at a National Guard training camp in Utah in January 2013. The investigation began after he allegedly talked about blowing up a National Security Agency facility. He later shared the identification information with them, and was also accused of stealing flak jackets from the 82nd Airborne.
An affidavit also gave some details about Novak's militia activities — alleging he attended military-style training in rural Minnesota, slept with guns and threatened violence against authorities if arrested.
Because he wasn't prosecuted for anything beyond identity theft, Schiltz said those allegations weren't considered in his sentencing.