Convicted console hacker says he paid Nintendo $25 a month from prison

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It's-a me, the long arm of the law.
Enlarge / It’s-a me, the long arm of the law.

Aurich Lawson / Nintendo / Getty Images

When 54-year-old Gary Bowser pleaded guilty to his role in helping Team Xecuter with their piracy-enabling line of console accessories, he realized he would likely never pay back the $14.5 million he owed Nintendo in civil and criminal penalties. In a new interview with The Guardian, though, Bowser says he began making $25 monthly payments toward those massive fines even while serving a related prison sentence.

Last year, Bowser was released after serving 14 months of that 40-month sentence (in addition to 16 months of pre-trial detention), which was spread across several different prisons. During part of that stay, Bowser tells The Guardian, he was paid $1 an hour for four-hour shifts counseling other prisoners on suicide watch.

From that money, Bowser says he “was paying Nintendo $25 a month” while behind bars. That lines up roughly with a discussion Bowser had with the Nick Moses podcast last year, where he said he had already paid $175 to Nintendo during his detention.

According to The Guardian, Nintendo will likely continue to take 20 to 30 percent of Bowser’s gross income (after paying for “necessities such as rent”) for the rest of his life.

The fall guy?

While people associated with piracy often face fines rather than prison, Nintendo lawyers were upfront that they pushed for jail time for Bowser to “send a message that there are consequences for participating in a sustained effort to undermine the video game industry.” That seems to have been effective, at least as far as Bowser’s concerned; he told The Guardian that “The sentence was like a message to other people that [are] still out there, that if they get caught … [they’ll] serve hard time.”

Bowser appears on the Nick Moses Gaming Podcast from a holding center in Washington state in 2023.
Enlarge / Bowser appears on the Nick Moses Gaming Podcast from a holding center in Washington state in 2023.

Nick Moses 05 Gaming Podcast/YouTube

But Bowser also maintains that he wasn’t directly involved with the coding or manufacture of Team Xecuter’s products, and only worked on incidental details like product testing, promotion, and website coding. Speaking to Ars in 2020, Aurora, a writer for hacking news site Wololo, described Bowser as “kind of a PR guy” for Team Xecuter. Despite this, Bowser said taking a plea deal on just two charges saved him the time and money of fighting all 14 charges made against him in court.

Bowser was arrested in the Dominican Republic in 2020. Fellow Team Xecuter member and French national Max “MAXiMiLiEN” Louarn, who was indicted and detained in Tanzania at the same time as Bowser’s arrest, was still living in France as of mid-2022 and has yet to be extradited to the US. Chinese national and fellow indictee Yuanning Chen remains at large.

“If Mr. Louarn comes in front of me for sentencing, he may very well be doing double-digit years in prison for his role and his involvement, and the same with the other individual [Chen],” US District Judge Robert Lasnik said during Bowser’s sentencing.

Returning to society

During his stay in prison, Bowser tells The Guardian that he suffered a two-week bout of COVID that was serious enough that “a priest would come over once a day to read him a prayer.” A bout of elephantiasis also left him unable to wear a shoe on his left foot and required the use of a wheelchair, he said.

Now that he’s free, Bowser says he has been relying on friends and a GoFundMe page to pay for rent and necessities as he looks for a job. That search could be somewhat hampered by his criminal record and by terms of the plea deal that prevent him from working with any modern gaming hardware.

Despite this, Bowser told The Guardian that his current circumstances are still preferable to a period of homelessness he experienced during his 20s. And while console hacking might be out for Bowser, he is reportedly still “tinkering away with old-school Texas Instruments calculators” to pass the time.