Computer whiz is charged with fixing radio contests in Los Angeles

April 22, 1993|By San Francisco Chronicle

A computer hacker was charged with using computers to rig promotional contests at three Los Angeles radio stations, in a scheme that allegedly netted two Porsches, $20,000 in cash and at least two trips to Hawaii.

Kevin Lee Poulsen, now awaiting trial on earlier federal charges, allegedly conspired with two other hackers to seize control of incoming telephone lines at the radio stations. By making sure that only their calls got through, the conspirators were assured of winning the contests, federal prosecutors said.

A new 19-count federal indictment filed in Los Angeles charges that Mr. Poulsen also set up his own wiretaps and hacked into computers owned by the California Department of Motor Vehicles and Pacific Bell. Through the latter, he obtained information about undercover businesses and wiretaps run by the FBI, the indictment states.

Mr. Poulsen, 27, is accused of committing the crimes during 17 months on the lam from earlier charges of telecommunications and computer fraud filed in San Jose. He was arrested in April 1991 and is now in the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin. In December, prosecutors added an espionage charge against him for his alleged theft of a classified military document.

The indictment announced yesterday adds additional charges of computer and mail fraud, money laundering, interception of wire communications and obstruction of justice.

Ronald Mark Austin and Justin Tanner Peterson have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and to violating computer crime laws and have agreed to help the prosecution in cases against Mr. Poulsen. Both are Los Angeles residents.

Even before the latest indictment, Mr. Poulsen's exploits were legendary.

As a teen-ager in North Hollywood, he used the hacker handle Dark Dante and allegedly broke into a Pentagon-organized computer network that links researchers and defense contractors around the country.

Between 1985 and 1988, after taking a job at Menlo Park-based SRI International, Mr. Poulsen allegedly burglarized or used phony identification to sneak into several Pacific Bell offices to steal equipment and confidential access codes that helped him change records and monitor calls. After being indicted on those charges in 1989, Mr. Poulsen skipped bail and fled to Los Angeles, where he was eventually arrested at a suburban grocery store.

One of the unanswered mysteries about the case is how he supported himself as a fugitive. The new indictment suggests that radio stations KIIS-FM, KRTH-FM and KPWR-FM unwittingly helped out.

Mr. Poulsen and his conspirators allegedly hacked into PacBell computers to block out other callers seeking to respond to contests at the stations.

The conspirators allegedly used the scheme to let Mr. Poulsen and Mr. Austin win Porsches from KIIS and let a confederate win $20,000 from KPWR. Mr. Poulsen created aliases and phony identification to retrieve and sell one of his Porsches and launder the proceeds of the sale, the indictment states.

In February 1989, they arranged for Mr. Poulsen's sister to win a trip to Hawaii and $1,000 from KRTH, the indictment states.

Among other exploits, Mr. Poulsen allegedly tapped into special Department of Motor Vehicles communication facilities reserved for the exclusive use of the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service.

Once he was arrested, Mr. Poulsen allegedly called his sister from a Los Angeles jail and gave her a coded message that was used to inform his two conspirators to hide their computer equipment, the indictment states. His sister was not named in the indictment.

David Schindler, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, said numerous government computer systems were changed to prevent similar break-ins.

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