On June 12, 2006, SWAT police stormed a house in Alvarado, Texas. They had received a call from what appeared to be the phone number, from an individual who reported that he was holding hostages and had killed family members with an AK47 while high on hallucinogenic drugs. The operation, which likely cost the state tens of thousands of dollars, came up empty handed -- there were no hostages and no gunman -- merely scared and confused victims. Miles away, Guadalupe Martinez, a "swatter" -- a phone hacker that spoofs the 911 system with malicious calls -- was laughing.
Many regard phone hacking as a dead pastime, believing it vanished in the 1980s. However, it is alive and well in some parts of the country, with a younger generation of phone hacker's (known as "phreakers") wreaking havoc. The latest case is that of a 19-year-old blind phone hacker in the Boston area who went on a similar spree of phone crimes and harassment, which earned him 11 years in prison.
Matthew Weigman, also known as "Li'l Hacker", is legally blind, but that didn't stop him from joining up with a crew of phone hackers and placing hundreds of harassing calls via the 911 system and other phone systems. The crimes began when Mr. Weigman was only 14, and continued until this year.
Targeting "employers, landlords, families and friends of multiple party line participants" with zeal, Mr. Weigman showed his victims little mercy. He and his friends would cut phone lines, snoop on conversations, and send police to his enemies' houses in a concerted attempt to get them fired or evicted.
He and his friends used a variety of classic phone-hacking schemes. Among them was "pretexting" calls -- calls to phone company workers where the group would pose as employees or customers in an effort to gain useful information. Mr. Weigman's phreaker friends would also use war-dialing -- auto-dialing thousands of numbers to try to gain access to the phone system. They would then meet up and trade passwords and intelligence.
Police first caught wind of Mr. Weigman in 2005 when he called officers to the home of Richard Gasper, a TSA screener, whose daughter Mr. Weigman knew personally. Mr. Gasper's daughter had refused to participate in phone sex with Mr. Weigman, so he responded with the malicious hoax.
In May 2008 Weigman, his brother and another swatter named Sean Benton, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, drove 70 miles to the house of a Verizon Wireless employee who was investigating the incidents. They tried to "intimidate and frighten him". Believing he was above the law, Mr. Weigman saw his unsavory dreams come crashing down; in this case the police showed up and he was arrested.
After a lengthy review and trial, three of his friends -- Stuart Rosoff, Jason Trowbridge and Chad Ward -- earned sentences of five years each. Guadalupe Martinez, the aforementioned friend of the group, received 30 months. Another phreaker, Carlton Nalley pled guilty, but failed to show up for sentencing. And Mr. Weigman, the audacious 19-year-old blind phone hacker, earned the longest sentence of them all -- 11 years (135 months). The sentence is one of the longest to date and brings to an end this crime saga, serving as a warning to other would-be phone hackers of the risk they are taking.
quote: Mr. Weigman saw his unsavory dreams come crashing down