Gun foes accuse rivals of sabotage

January 14, 1994|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Staff Writer Staff writer Mike James contributed to this article.

Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse charged yesterday that gun control opponents tried to sabotage a rally scheduled for Monday by tampering with the office's voice mail system.

Between 5 p.m. Wednesday and yesterday morning, someone got access to the system and changed a greeting that announced the Annapolis rally, said Vinnie DeMarco, executive director of the group.

Mr. DeMarco said the altered greeting, left by a deep-voiced man, told callers, "Thank you for calling Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse. The Jan. 17 rally has been rescheduled for Jan. 24. We are sorry for any inconvenience."

Polite as the voice might have been, the message was simply not true, said Michael A. Pretl, president of the group. The rally will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday as planned, he said.

"We have been trying for the past several weeks to organize a rally in Annapolis in support of . . . a gun ban bill," said Mr. Pretl, whose Baltimore-based group uses the voice mail system offered by Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland.

"We have spent weeks and months contacting legislators and groups to support the rally. Evidently, some of our enemies decided to sabotage the event."

At 1:15 p.m. yesterday, the gun control group was issued a temporary access code that enabled it to enter the voice mail system to retrieve messages and revise the greeting, Mr. DeMarco said. Whoever had altered the greeting also had changed the system's code.

"We've been frustrated all morning, and we've had two lines going, trying to fix this problem," Mr. DeMarco said.

"We've had harassing phone calls where they've left long messages with music and profane words, but we haven't had anything like this happen before.

"There are only a couple of people who know the code, and I can't think of anyone within our organization who would want to sabotage our own event."

C&P spokesman Dave Pacholczyk said it would be very difficult to gain access to the group's voice mail system without knowing the access code.

"This the first case I've ever heard of this happening," he said. "And there's no way of knowing who did it or how they knew the code because there's no way of tracing a call on the voice mail system that I know of."

The company does not keep records of customers' access codes, he said.

Agent Doug Price, a city police spokesman, said a detective is making a preliminary inquiry into the alleged voice-mail tampering, but he added that it is unclear whether a crime was committed. He said police will confer with C&P to determine whether criminal penalties might apply.

No police report was filed, he said.

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