Cable pirates get month of amnesty Thieves risk fine, jail time after Jan.

January 03, 1993|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

Howard County cable pirates have one last chance to come clean.

Storer/Howard Cable Television is offering a monthlong, no-questions-asked amnesty period until Jan. 31, to allow cable thieves to turn themselves in -- or risk prosecution.

"We much prefer to have good, paying customers than a long list of prosecutions," said Tom Beach, general manager of Storer/Howard Cable. "Therefore, we're offering one last and absolutely final chance forcable pirates to turn themselves in. They may then become paying customers or be disconnected -- their choice."

After the amnesty period, Storer/Howard Cable will send names of cable thieves to the state's attorney's office for possible prosecution.

Under a state law that took effect Oct. 1, cable TV thieves can be sentenced to six months in jail and fined $1,000. A second offense could bring a one-year term and a $2,500 fine.

David H. Nevins, a spokesman for Storer/Howard Cable, said as many as 4,000 residents in the company's service area may be stealing cable. Storer/Howard Cable serves about 40,000 customers.

About 500 cable thieves have turned themselves in, and about 75percent of them have become paying customers. Storer/Howard Cable estimates that an additional 1,000 people will turn themselves in before the amnesty ends.

"Many of these people are cable addicts, and I imagine finally they've decided to break down and begin to pay for it," Mr. Nevins said.

He speculated that the recent prosecution of about 75 cable theft cases in Baltimore County has prompted thieves to come forward.

Comcast cable company recently offered amnesty to cable thieves in Baltimore and Harford counties.

"We think the people who steal cable are otherwise not law-breaking citizens, yet somehow the mind-set is that it's OK if you can get away with stealing $300 a year from your cable company," Mr. Nevins said.

Storer/Howard Cable has lost $2 million to $3 million in revenues to cable thieves, Mr. Nevins said.

Howard County, which charges cable companies a 5 percent franchise fee on gross revenues, has lost "hundreds of thousands" of dollars to cable thieves, Mr. Nevins said.

Storer/Howard Cable technicians are conducting a house-by-house cable TV audit, expected to identify about 90 percent of households illegally receiving cable, the company says.

All installation fees from cable thieves who choose to become paying customers during the amnesty period will be donated to local children's charities, Mr. Nevins said. For information, call 461-1156.

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