By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - The leader of a group that trafficked in pirated Android mobile device applications has pleaded guilty over his role in the scheme, the first prosecution of a counterfeit apps case by the U.S. Department of Justice, the agency said on Monday.
Nicholas Narbone, 26, of Orlando, Florida, pleaded guilty on Monday to one count of conspiring to commit criminal copyright infringement in connection with his activity on behalf of the Appbucket Group, the agency said.
Co-conspirator Thomas Dye, 21, of Jacksonville, Florida, pleaded guilty to the same charge on March 10, over a scheme involving bogus apps worth more than $700,000, the agency said.
"These men trampled on the intellectual property rights of others when they and other members of the Appbucket Group distributed more than one million copies of pirated apps," David O'Neil, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's criminal division, said in a statement.
Narbone and Dye were among four people charged in January with conspiring to distribute pirated Android apps without permission from software developers and copyright owners.
The charges followed the Justice Department's August 2012 seizure of the website domain names snappzmarket.com, appbucket.net and applanet.net.
"Theft is theft, whether the property taken is intellectual or tangible," U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates in Atlanta said in a statement.
The other defendants, Kody Peterson of Clermont, Florida, and Thomas Pace of Oregon City, Oregon, have plea hearings set for April 14 and April 15, respectively, court records show.
Narbone, Dye and Pace were accused of conspiring on behalf of Appbucket from August 2010 to August 2012, while Peterson was accused of involvement in a similar conspiracy for the SnappzMarket Group from May 2011 to August 2012.
Lawyers for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The cases are both in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia. They are U.S. v. Peterson, No. 14-cr-00025; and U.S. v. Dye et al, No. 14-cr-00026.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)