BOSTON – A man who acknowledges he attacked the computer network at world-renowned Boston Children’s Hospital two years ago, costing it hundreds of thousands of dollars, is waging a hunger strike in prison as he awaits trial.
Martin Gottesfeld said his 3-week-old hunger strike was meant to bring attention to the treatment of troubled youths in institutions and the “political prosecutions” by prosecutors he considers overzealous, including U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Massachusetts.
In U.S. District Court on Wednesday, Gottesfeld pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and intentionally causing damage to protected computers. After the hearing, as he got up from his chair, he fell to the floor. A nurse was called, a wheelchair was brought in and spectators were cleared from the courtroom.
Gottesfeld’s wife, Dana Gottesfeld, said it was the 23rd day of his hunger strike. His attorney, Tor Ekeland, said his fall may have been the result of weakness from his hunger strike and the leg shackles he wore in court.
Dana Gottesfeld said her husband is fighting for what he believes are human rights violations inside institutions that treat troubled teenagers, including drug rehabilitation facilities, hospital psychiatric wards, residential treatment centres and boot camps.
Gottesfeld has said he orchestrated the attack on the hospital and a related attack on the Wayside Youth & Family Support Network, a Framingham residential treatment facility, to protest the treatment of Connecticut teenager Justina Pelletier.
Justina was at the centre of a custody dispute following conflicting medical diagnoses. Tufts Medical Center in Boston had treated her for mitochondrial disease, a disorder that affects cellular energy production. Boston Children’s Hospital later diagnosed her problems as psychiatric.
After her parents rejected that diagnosis and tried to take her back to Tufts, the state Department of Children and Families took custody of her, touching off a bitter dispute.
The case drew national media attention, and various groups cited it as an example of governmental interference with parental rights.
Gottesfeld said in a telephone interview Monday he won’t eat again until his demands are met, though he acknowledged he occasionally has consumed chicken broth, Gatorade and soft drinks.
“I love my life, and I love my wife, and I want to get back to both of them very badly, but this cause is more important than any one individual,” he said from a jail in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where he’s being held before trial. “And the suffering of these children must stop, and the persecution of these advocates also must stop.”
Gottesfeld wants the presidential candidates to pledge to protect institutionalized children.
He also said people shouldn’t be prosecuted for crimes he considers harmless, citing the case of Aaron Swartz, who was accused of using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s computer network to download millions of articles from a scholarly archive with the intent of making them freely available on the internet. Swartz killed himself in 2013 while awaiting trial.
Gottesfeld, who is 32 and is from Somerville, just northwest of Boston, was arrested in February after he and his wife were rescued in their motorboat off the coast of Cuba by a Disney cruise ship. Prosecutors said Gottesfeld was attempting to flee the country.
The indictment against Gottesfeld alleges the attack knocked the hospital’s website out of service and disabled its fundraising portal. The hospital said it spent more than $300,000 addressing the hacking and lost another $300,000 in donations.
Gottesfeld acknowledged launching the attack but said he did it to defend Pelletier and children like her.
“I haven’t hurt anybody,” he said. “There’s no allegation that any patients were harmed by anything that I did.”
Hospital spokesman Rob Graham said the hospital “denies any allegations of maltreatment.” He wouldn’t comment further due to patient privacy laws and the criminal case.
A representative of Wayside, where Justina was transferred after leaving the hospital, declined to comment.
Ortiz’s spokeswoman, Christina DiIorio-Sterling, said prosecutors are aware of Gottesfeld’s hunger strike. She said if prosecutors believe a defendant’s health or safety is in jeopardy “we would bring the matter to the attention of the court, which could issue an order if appropriate.”