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Washington man pleads guilty to making ‘crushing’ calls

Written by The Anand Market

Updated on:

A Washington state man has pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from several fraudulent calls he made to law enforcement in which he falsely reported bombs, shootings and other threats that sometimes led the officers to enter the victims’ homes with their weapons drawn, prosecutors said. .

The man, Ashton Connor Garcia, 21, pleaded guilty to two counts of extortion and two counts of threats and hoaxes involving explosives, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington announced Thursday.

From June 2022 to March 2023, Mr. Garcia made 20 calls to “crush” police in several states and Canada, according to court records.

Mr. Garcia, who describes himself as a “cyberterrorist,” often broadcast these calls on the social platform Discord to “encourage others to watch and participate,” according to the court agreement.

Mr. Garcia treated the swatting calls, so-called in reference to the deployment of police SWAT teams in response to the hoaxes, “as entertainment,” a charge in March 2023, said.

In Mr. Garcia’s calls to law enforcement, he often relied on similar scenarios, describing himself as a victim or witness to domestic violence involving guns and rape.

He also targeted several female victims by threatening to send law enforcement officers to their homes if they did not send nude photos or their parents’ credit card information, prosecutors said federal.

Mr. Garcia remained in federal custody in Seattle on Saturday and was scheduled to be sentenced on April 15.

Threats and hoaxes involving explosives are punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and extortion is punishable by up to two years in prison, according to the Justice Department . The U.S. Attorney’s Office said prosecutors agreed to recommend a maximum prison sentence of four years.

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Heather Carroll, a federal public defender who represents Mr. Garcia, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

The plea agreement comes weeks after a series of other false calls and threats aimed at law enforcement across the United States and targeting public officials.

This month, the State Capitol buildings Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi And Montana were evacuated or placed on lockdown after authorities said they received bomb threats they described as false and non-specific.

The calls targeted officials responsible for ballot access and voting linked to debunked conspiracy theories about fraud in the 2020 general election. The judge presiding over Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York also was beaten at his home. Prominent Republicans have also been targeted.

The phenomenon of swatting was born from the competitive world of online gaming.

The attacks were facilitated by Internet forums and camouflaged sites on the dark web. These forums name thousands of people, from high-ranking tech executives to their extended families, who could be targets, providing cell phone numbers, home addresses and other information.

Some even discuss techniques, like the one employed by Mr. Garcia, to make a call over the Internet that spoofs a telephone number so that law enforcement will believe a 911 call is coming from a target’s home.

Besides being used as a tool for extortion or political retaliation, authorities have warned that swatting calls can be deadly. In 2017, a police officer in Wichita, Kansas, fatally shot a man while responding to a fraudulent emergency call.

In that case, Tyler Barriss of Los Angeles pleaded guilty to making a false call and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

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