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Calendar >  Gray Hat Hacker – Thomas Calabrese

Gray Hat Hacker – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  August 20, 2022  /  8 Comments

C:\Users\Tom\Desktop\TOMS FILES TO SAVE\documents 1\GRAY HAT AUDITOR PHOTO.jpg

Government of the People

Thomas Calabrese–Cordino’s was a small family restaurant in Vista, California. It specialized in Italian cuisine and was owned and operated by Vito and Elena Cordino. The eatery was located on South Santa Fe Drive and built quite a reputation for the place to go for excellent food and great service at a reasonable prices.

The Internal Revenue Service sent a formal letter stating that they had found discrepancies in the last five years tax return. Vito went to see Marilyn Fitts, a retired federal civil service worker who supplemented her income by doing tax returns for individuals and small businesses in the area. She reassured the Cordinos that it was a minor clerical error and she would handle it. “Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered.”

Vito took Marilyn at her word. Three months later, Marilyn sold her small home in Oceanside, emptied out her bank accounts, sold everything of value and disappeared into the wind. Dozens of her clients were left to deal with IRS agents, who were merciless with their persecution of numerous innocent victims. Vito and Elena were forced to close their restaurant and sell their house to pay the debt to the government. It literally destroyed Vito’s spirit and he was never the same again. Vito and Elena had no other choice moved in with their son, Anthony, daughter-in-law, Katie and their children, John and Mary Lou. Vito got a job as a cook and Elena helped around the house. The Cordinos were a close family and they faced this adversity with courage and integrity. Vito died unexpectedly while at work. The medical report stated he died from a massive coronary although those who knew him believed that he died from a broken heart. Two years later, his wife, Elena joined him in the everafter.

Anthony Cordino harbored great resentment toward the IRS for their abuse of power, but he did not want his children to grow up with a hatred and mistrust of the establishment so he emphasized to his son, John and daughter, Mary Lou that they should not condemn everyone for  the reckless actions of a few. “There’s good and bad people in this world…you need to be on the good side. Without forgiveness life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.”

Life goes on and the family moved on and young John grew up and joined the Marine Corps. Sergeant Cordino, whose call sign was ‘Rip’ had been with the Marine Special Operations Regiment (MSOR), a special operations force of the United States Marine Corps and part of Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC). He had been with them for five years after transferring from 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and the end of his first enlistment.  

While Sergeant Cordino was serving in western Afghanistan, primarily in the Badghis and Helmand Provinces, a group of Afghan Commandos were ambushed by insurgents that were holed up in buildings. Three Afghans were wounded immediately and Sergeant Cordino and two other Marines took the wounded commandos to a secure location where a medivac helicopter was waiting. Sergeant Cordino then returned to the firefight and engaged in close-quarters battle with the insurgents and began dropping grenades down the chimneys, where the entrenched insurgents were located. The insurgents were reinforced by 25 fighters. The team sniper was wounded and Sergeant Cordino took the Barrett .50 caliber and climbed on top of one of the vehicles and began killing the enemy with accurate shots. 

His next course of action was to take a Javelin rocket launcher and take out a VBIED (Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Device. A VBIED is a vehicle which contains and delivers an explosive device to a target.) that was racing toward his position. The explosion shook the earth and sent debris flying everywhere. Sergeant Cordino continued to fight and was wounded twice before reinforcements arrived. His wounds were serious enough for him to be evacuated back to the states. Since one of the bullets shattered his right knee, his military career was over. After getting a knee replacement, John was medically discharged from the Corps.  He returned to his parents’ home in Vista and began thinking about what to do next in his life.

His sister, Mary Lou had graduated U.C. San Diego with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering. She lived in a detached ‘granny flat’ in the back of the main house and was making a lucrative living as a contractor for several software companies and traveled extensively. Mary Lou would take a three month contract then take two off and head to Europe or South America. When she heard her big brother was coming home, she was elated. When Mary Lou saw her brother limping slightly, she inquired, “How’s the leg?”

John quickly dismissed her concerns, “I got a little hitch in my get-along, but I’m fine.” (When a person is hobbled or slowed in some way by an obstacle or other impediment he’s got a hitch in his get-along.)

“It sure is good to have you home,” Mary Lou said and embraced him.

John responded, “I’m proud of you. Mom and Dad said you’re really doing well.”

“I’m getting by.”

“Where was your last trip to…the French Rivera?” John asked.

“Portofino, it’s on the Italian Rivera,” Mary Lou said, “Now that you’re home, I’ll be staying close by for a while. I even got a new good job.”

“Doing what?”

Mary Lou smiled mischievously, “Working for the Internal Revenue Service. They’re hiring 90,000 agents and I’m one of them.”

John was dumbfounded, “What’s their grade, GS-7, 8 or even a 9? You’re way over-qualified for that. Besides why would you want to take on a menial job like that, especially in a government bureaucracy…it’s totally out of character for you…level with me, what’s going on?”

“You heard what the politicians said, they’ll be going after the billionaires. Nobody with a half a brain believes that garbage. The rich can afford the best lawyers and accountants and there’s no way some inexperienced auditor is going to catch them. They’ll be going after low hanging fruit, hard-working families who are doing their best to survive during rampant inflation. Remember what happened to our grandparents?”  

“The perfect solution would be for the government to live within a budget like the rest of the country. Politicians go to Washington and quickly learn the secret language of fraud, waste and abuse while the rest of the country is still speaking English,” John said.

“Their math also leaves a lot to be desired too,” Mary Lou said, “If I can’t change the system, I sure can use it against them.”

John was worried about his sister, but he could tell that she was bound and determined to proceed ahead with her plan, “What can I do to help?” 

Mary Lou smiled, “Let me assess the situation first and I’ll have a better idea of what I’m dealing with.”

“What’s the term, White Hat Hacker…is that what you’re going to be?”

“Not quite, a white hat is an ethical security hacker meant to imply a broader category than just penetration testing. Under the owner’s consent, white-hat hackers aim to identify any vulnerabilities in the current system. On other hand, a black hat hacker is typically one that engages in cybercrime operations and uses hacking for financial gain, cyber espionage purposes or other malicious motives, like implanting malware into computer systems. I’m going to be a gray hat hacker, I’m going to violate the law because I don’t believe it is in the best interest of the citizens of this country. Do you have a problem with that?” Mary Lou asked.

John rubbed his chin and slowly began to speak, “There was this old grizzled civilian contractor who was as tough as they come. I did a few missions with him when I was in Afghanistan. We called him Bone and he told me something that seems appropriate right now, rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise people. Little sister, you are no fool.”

Mary Lou moved slowly and with an abundance of caution while she was at work. She pretended to be barely adequate at her assigned duties so that her supervisors left her alone. She studied the software program the Internal Revenue Service was using and developed an extremely complex backdoor program to access sensitive information.  (A backdoor is a means to access a computer system or encrypted data that bypasses the system’s customary security mechanisms. A developer may create a backdoor so that an application or operating system can be accessed for troubleshooting or other purposes.)

Mary Lou’s suspicions were correct, the government was going after everyone making over 200,000 dollars. She used an elaborate algorithm (In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is a finite sequence of rigorous instructions, typically used to solve a class of specific problems or to perform a computation. Algorithms specifications can be used for performing calculations and data processing.)  to sabotage audits of working Americans and send refunds to struggling families. Mary Lou found sensitive information about individuals who supported this overreach of government powers and began freezing their bank accounts and seizing assets. These well connected people were angry and frustrated and immediately complained to the Administration about the inconvenience. The Director of the IRS was called to the White House and received a thorough chewing out by Chief of Staff, Len Holden, “What the hell is going on? We should be pulling in millions from our political enemies by now, but instead our biggest donors are having problems. How do you explain that?”

IRS Director, Richard Rettington stammered, “Our information technology people tell me that someone has access to our system. We’re not sure if it’s an outside hack or if it is one of the thousands of people that we hired. Whoever it is, is very good. My personal assessment is that they won’t stop until we do.”

“That’s unacceptable. I’ll expect your resignation on my desk by the end of the week,” Chief of Staff Len Holden said.

Sally Yeager was appointed the new director of IRS and instead of realizing the error of this flawed program, she doubled down. The initial promise by the administration was that the IRS would only go after individuals and businesses making $400,000 or more per year. When the government realized that they weren’t making money they lowered to the threshold to $200,000.  Now that Yeager was in charge, it was dropped to $100,000.

Mary Lou played her part perfectly and when asked about the change, she just shrugged her shoulders and responded “I just do what I’m told and let other people worry about the policies.”

This is exactly what her supervisors wanted to hear and she was promoted. Mary Lou hated to push the men and women in her section to find minor discrepancies in tax returns, but it was all for show. She would submit a long list of Americans who had made minor mistakes and could be severely punished. Her supervisors would react with glee when they got the long list. A month later, Mary Lou would sabotage it, so basically she would give it with one hand and take it back with the other.

She had first-hand knowledge out of the San Diego office, but there were still dozens of IRS auditors around the country that were still wreaking havoc with American citizens. When she was home, Mary Lou used an elaborate computer system to bounce her signal around the world before accessing other IRS computer systems to monitor their activities and make the appropriate changes to taxpayers’ returns.

Criminals have stolen close to $100 billion in pandemic relief funds, the U.S. Secret Service said Tuesday. The stolen funds were diverted by fraudsters from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and a program set up to dole out unemployment assistance funds nationwide.  More than $2.3 billion in stolen funds have been recovered so far, resulting in the arrest of more than 100 suspects who span the spectrum from individuals to organized groups, according to the agency. The government has shelled out about $3.5 trillion in COVID relief money since early 2020, when the pandemic began.

While going through the records of the Internal Revenue Service, Mary Lou came across highly secret documentation with the list of some very wealthy and influential individuals who enriched themselves at the expense of American taxpayers during COVID lockdown. There was one high profile movie director and big political donor in Hollywood that received $25 million dollars when he said he had to shut down production during the pandemic. Mary Lou showed the list to her brother who responded, “I’m angry, but not surprised. Like they say, never let an emergency go to waste.”

Mary Lou said, “I’ve got a plan to get some of that the money back.”

“I like the sound of that,” John said.

Many of these people knew what they had done was illegal at the worst and unethical at its best. The main thing that infuriated John and Mary was that none of the people on the list actually needed the money. They received it because of their connections. If there was any good news to this fiasco was it that this individuals would be less likely to report it if someone took it back from them.

The plan was to start off with certified letters to the names on the list. It would have the IRS letterhead on it and have enough personal information in it to convince the recipients that it was authentic. The letter would demand that 80 per cent of the COVID money that they had received be returned and failure to do so would result in criminal and civil penalties and their names would be released to the media.  They were also informed that this request for repayment was been done this particular way in order to protect their reputations and avoid negative publicity. The violators would be given the option to either pay by cashier’s check or in cash and instructed to make the checks payable to COVID Administration Fund.  This was a shell company that Mary Lou created with an account in a Grand Cayman Islands bank.

John questioned his sister’s strategy, “Why not ask for all the money back?”

“Psychology, dear brother. As long as criminals think that they’re getting something without repercussions or penalty, they’ll be more willing to follow instructions. Example, if I give you $200 then ask for $150 back, you’ll be more inclined to do it then if I asked for all of it back.  Something is better than nothing…right?”

“Sounds good to me.”

Over the next few months John met with numerous representatives of these individuals to get the pay-offs. He played his part perfectly when he told them, “I can give you a receipt but then there will be a paper trail that leads back to you…without a receipt everything ends right here. It is your call.”  All of them declined the offer.

Eventually Congress decided to stop funding the IRS for the extra 90,000 agents and they were laid off. Although nobody wanted to call the experiment a total failure that is exactly what it was. Mary Lou Corlino put in her resignation from the agency and left with glowing recommendations from her clueless supervisor. All things considered, it was a very successful endeavor and Mary Lou had picked up some very valuable information during her short employment with the government. She didn’t realize how soon she would go back to her gray hat hacking way. 

Six months later, Congress passed a four hundred billion dollar green energy bill that gave tens of millions in subsidies to various companies in environmental protection and renewable energy sector. It was also filled with pork, favoritism and partisanship. 

Mary Lou applied for a job as an Information Technology Specialist with the Environmental Protection Agency. John used his veteran’s preference to apply for a position as a law enforcement agent. Both siblings were hired and they proceeded to find out if the money was actually going where it was supposed to. If it wasn’t, they found a way to redirect it to where it would actually do some good for the country.

John was a former Marine and combat veteran and Mary Lou was a Gray Hat Hacker. They were in total agreement that this should be a government for the people and not against them.

The End


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  • Published: 7 months ago on August 20, 2022
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  • Last Modified: August 20, 2022 @ 11:01 pm
  • Filed Under: The Back Page

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  1. Robert says:

    Good one. Enjoyed reading the story.

  2. John michels says:

    Very apropos Tom. These D.C. thieves are trying to destroy this country. by attacking the majority of the people who make it work.

  3. Clyde says:

    I loved it…Tom’s characters always stand up for America!

  4. Tony says:

    A surreal and timely story by Mr. Thomas Calabrese in this Sunday’ s Vista Post. This would be a scenario that a criminal investigator or even an economist would lay out for a US Attorney to pursue for criminal charges. This story is all to real and Mr. Calabrese maybe “the fly on the wall” in a government office where a scheme such as the one written by Mr. Calabrese was hatched. Outstanding story and very nicely written about some of the current events taking place in our country.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for another timely story. Like I always say..I wish it could be like this

  6. wolf says:

    too much math for me. But a great idea to use a human virus to sabotage worthless govt. programs.

    Of course, NOBODY is ever fired,
    So, Mary Lou is assured promotions where she can make career sabotaging worthless govt. programs.

    280 billion $$ of equipment left behind in Kabul. The IRS should look to recovery that from everyone that signed off that debacle

  7. Skip says:

    I enjoyed the “Robin Hood” approach of Gray Hat Hacker!
    Semper Fidelis!

  8. Tamra says:

    I absolutely love the integrity of the main male character. Thank you my dear friend Tom, for all of your wonderful stories!

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