John McAfee, Software Pioneer, Found Dead In A Spanish Prison Cell

Jun 23, 2021
Originally published on June 24, 2021 1:31 pm

American software pioneer John McAfee, 75, was found dead on Wednesday in a prison cell in Barcelona, Spain, according to McAfee's lawyers.

Just hours earlier, a court in Spain had approved the extradition of McAfee to the U.S., where he was set to stand trial on federal tax-evasion charges.

Authorities are investigating the cause of death.

An eccentric and brash millionaire known widely for his eponymous antivirus software, McAfee sold his stake in the company in the mid-1990s and spent his life globe-trotting and stumbling frequently into legal trouble.

Eventually, he landed on an island off the coast of Belize, where he operated a palatial estate known to be the site of raging parties and illicit behavior. He fled the property after being named as a suspect in a murder there.

McAfee bragged about being a tax dodge in a 2019 tweet, just as federal investigators were homing in on him.

He was not able to run forever.

McAfee was arrested in October 2020 in Spain for failing to file tax returns from 2014 to 2018 in Tennessee and concealing assets, including a yacht.

In a separate investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued McAfee for a "pump and dump scheme" in which he allegedly made $23 million in undisclosed compensation by pushing cryptocurrencies on his Twitter page.

"McAfee's recommendations were materially false and misleading," according to the SEC's suit, also from October 2020.

Federal authorities additionally filed a civil case against McAfee for the same actions.

Nishay Sanan, McAfee's lawyer, told NPR he intended to fight all the charges.

"This is again the U.S. government trying to erase John McAfee. And that's what it's always going to be," Sanan said. "This man was a fighter. And in the minds of everyone who knew him, he will always be a fighter."

There was even more to the legal cloud the hung over McAfee.

In 2012, he was arrested in Guatemala, where he was charged with entering the country illegally. He was seeking political asylum after he had been on a highly publicized flight from his home in Belize after the murder of his neighbor. Investigators said McAfee was "a person of interest" in the murder.

John McAfee talks to the media outside Beacon Hotel where he stayed after arriving from Guatemala in December 2012 in Miami Beach, Fla. McAfee was found dead in a Spanish prison cell on Wednesday, according to his lawyer.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

McAfee's Belize island home was known as a party house, with many women living there, in addition to several large dogs. His former neighbor, Gregory Faull, reportedly complained about the animals. One day, McAfee discovered that the dogs had been poisoned. Shortly after, Faull was found dead.

"John definitely did not have anything to do with that," McAfee's spokesman, Brian Fitzgerald, told NPR in 2012.

McAfee took pride in outwitting authorities. He once boasted about eluding police by dressing as a German tourist in a Speedo and another time as an angry homeless man.

He once insisted, in a 2015 interview with WBBJ, a television station in Tennessee, that he be interviewed with a loaded gun in each hand.

"Very little gives me a feeling of being safe and more secure other than being armed in my bedroom with the door locked," McAfee told the station.

Despite it all, he tried twice to run for president.

In 2015, McAfee announced a White House bid with libertarian values and an affiliation he created with a nod to his Silicon Valley past: the Cyber Party.

"Personal freedom and personal privacy are paramount," McAfee told Larry King about his presidential run. "I've been incarcerated a number of times. I am a civil disobedience person."

CeCe Craig, McAfee's former house manager in Woodland Park, Colo., lived on McAfee's property for years in the early 2000s and said she knew a cheerier side of the software legend.

"I got the best of John McAfee. He was really into his yoga retreats. He loved playing the grand piano. We hiked around a lot on his land," she told NPR. "I learned a lot from him. When I lived with him, he was adamantly against drugs and alcohol to focus on his yoga," she said.

"He was a nerd. That's how I always saw him."

In one of his last interviews, on the Delphi Podcast, just before he was arrested in Spain, McAfee wore a blazer and sunglasses and appeared unhinged, screaming and cursing at the host about Bitcoin. He also expressed his disdain for income taxes. When asked if that meant he does not want to return to the U.S., he had a quick reply.

"No, I do want to live in a America. I just can't," he said. "They won't let me back in, what can I tell you?"

NPR's Carrie Kahn contributed reporting.

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John McAfee is dead. He was 75 years old. McAfee was a millionaire who founded the well-known antivirus computer software that bears his name. NPR's Bobby Allyn joins us for more. And Bobby, first, just give us some more details about where he was and how he died.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: John McAfee had been in prison in Spain since last October, and he was wanted in the U.S. in connection with three separate investigations related to tax fraud and a so-called pump-and-dump scheme involving cryptocurrency. Now, just earlier today, Audie, a Spanish court approved his extradition back to the U.S. to stand trial. Shortly after, though, his lawyer, Nishay Sanan, confirmed to NPR that he was found dead in his cell.

NISHAY SANAN: Again, the U.S. government trying to erase John McAfee - and that's what it's always going to be. This man was a fighter. And in the minds of everyone who knew him, he will always be a fighter.

CORNISH: But U.S. authorities had a different view. Exactly what were the cases against him related to?

ALLYN: Yeah, they did indeed. So federal prosecutors say McAfee was a tax dodge, that he willfully failed to pay taxes from 2014 to 2018. And in another case, the Security (ph) and Exchange Commission said he made some $23 million by pumping up cryptocurrencies through his Twitter page and then dumping them for profit. There was a third case from the Federal Trade Commission, and it was aimed at this same alleged behavior.

Now, McAfee didn't hide this, Audie. He was pretty brash about not paying taxes. I mean, he once tweeted that he hasn't paid taxes in eight years because, quote, "taxation is illegal." And, you know, McAfee was a noted libertarian. He was very colorful, a sort of larger-than-life figure. And he once launched a longshot presidential bid under what he called the Cyber Party.

CORNISH: You noted him being a larger-than-life figure. How will he be remembered?

ALLYN: Yeah. His Twitter bio said this - iconoclast, lover of women, adventure and mystery, founder of McAfee Antivirus. And I talked to someone who knew him very well and once lived on one of his properties in Colorado. And she told me McAfee loved yoga retreats. He loved playing his grand piano. He loved going on long walks in nature.

He moved to the Caribbean in 2009 after he lost most of his fortune in the Great Recession, and that's when his legal troubles really started. He was arrested in this very strange case in Guatemala for entering the country illegally. And, you know, that was after he was named, Audie, as a person of interest in the murder of his neighbor in Belize. So suffice it to say that there's been a lot swirling around McAfee.

CORNISH: And the company that he founded, that still bears his name, how have they reacted?

ALLYN: Yeah. They put out a statement, you know, saying that, you know, their thoughts are with John McAfee's family but that John McAfee has not been associated with the company in any capacity in more than 25 years.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, Bobby, has there been any other word from McAfee's, I guess, estate, if there - is it - or was it just the defense attorney who spoke?

ALLYN: Yeah. Right now our confirmation is coming from his U.S.-based defense lawyer, so we haven't heard anything from the McAfee estate. But, you know, as word comes in, we'll be sure to update you.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Bobby Allyn.

Thank you for your reporting.

ALLYN: Thanks, Audie.

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