Three more individuals have admitted they participated in a series of phone phreak hoaxes that prompted raids by armed special weapons and tactic police teams on the homes of unsuspecting victims.
Jason Trowbridge, of Louisiana and Texas, and Chad Ward of Texas pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, including conspiracy, access device fraud and unauthorized access of a protected computer. Each faces maximum penalties of five years in prison, fines of $250,000 and costs for restitution.
As previously reported, Stuart Rosoff also pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the pranks, which over a course of almost five years snared more than 100 victims and resulted in as much as $250,000 in losses, according to court documents. Angela Roberson, who was charged alongside the trio, also entered a guilty plea but court documents did not elaborate.
A sentencing hearing for Trowbridge is scheduled for late February. Hearings for Ward and Roberson are scheduled for mid March.
Swatters, as the malicious pranksters are referred to, use a combination of social engineering, phone phreaking prowess and computer hacking to spoof the phone numbers of individuals they want to harass. They then make emergency calls to police departments and report crimes in progress, in many cases prompting a response from SWAT teams who conduct emergency raids on the homes of people whose numbers were spoofed.
In many cases, the victims were fellow participants in telephone party lines, which largely act as the phone equivalent of internet relay chat groups. Trowbridge, who went by the names "Jason from California" and "John from California," furthered the scheme by mining personal information about the victims from a host of sources, including consumer reporting agencies, pizza delivery records and newspaper subscription records, according to court documents signed by the defendant.
The personal information Trowbridge provided allowed the gang to make fake emergency calls that had the ring of authenticity. In one case, they posed as an Alvarado, Texas man whose daughter was a party line participant. They told a police dispatcher that he had shot and killed members of his family and was armed with an AK47 machine gun. The caller, who claimed to be high on hallucinogenic drugs, then threatened to kill his remaining hostages unless he was given $50,000 and safe passage out of the country.
Police responded by sending police to the residence of the real man.
In September of last year, Ward himself was swatted by members of the gang. But just a month later, as he admitted in court documents filed last month, he offered money to anyone who would carry out a Swat attack on the Alvarado family. Ward, who went by the name "Dark Angel," also confessed to obtaining personal information on victims by socially engineering telephone company employees.
The documents provide other colorful details. Among them, Rosoff threatened to have the phone service of a Cheboygan, Michigan woman disconnected unless she agreed to provide him with phone sex. When she refused, Rosoff used social engineering to terminate her phone service. He also made false reports to police claiming the woman's children were being abused and discussed ways of having her falsely arrested.
During the course of the conspiracy - which lasted from late 2002 to June of this year and involved as many as 20 individuals - the participants also initiated calls to employers, landlords, families and friends of party line members they held a grudge against. Some of the members who refused to stop using the line found their friends and families swatted.
The case was investigated by the FBI field office in Dallas and prosecuted the the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Texas.®
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