Home U.S. News Washington Man Pleads Guilty to Making Numerous ‘Swatting’ Calls

Washington Man Pleads Guilty to Making Numerous ‘Swatting’ Calls

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Washington Man Pleads Guilty to Making Numerous ‘Swatting’ Calls

A man in Washington State has pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from several hoax calls he made to law enforcement agencies in which he falsely reported bombs, shootings and other threats that sometimes led police officers to enter 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 regarding explosives, the United States Attorney’s office for the Western District of Washington said on Thursday.

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

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

Mr. Garcia treated swatting calls, so named for the deployment of police SWAT teams in response to hoaxes, “like entertainment,” an indictment in March 2023 said.

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

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

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 United States Attorney’s office reported that prosecutors agreed to recommend no more than four years in prison.

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

The plea agreement comes weeks after a spate of other bogus calls and threats were made to law enforcement agencies across the United States that targeted public officials.

This month, state capitol buildings in Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi and Montana were evacuated or placed on lockdown after the authorities said they had received bomb threats that they described as false and nonspecific.

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

The phenomenon of swatting arose from the competitive world of online gaming.

The attacks have been aided by forums on the internet and on the camouflaged sites of the dark web. These forums name thousands of people, from high-ranking tech executives to their extended families, who could be targets, providing cellphone numbers, home addresses and other information.

Some even discuss techniques, such as the one employed by Mr. Garcia, to make a call over the internet that spoofs a phone number so law enforcement officials believe a 911 call is coming from a target’s home.

In addition to its use as a tool for extortion or political retribution, the authorities have warned that swatting calls can be deadly. In 2017, a police officer in Wichita, Kan., fatally shot a man while responding to a hoax emergency call.

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

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