Lonely Navy wife makes $45,000 in 900-line calls

March 24, 1995|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writer

A lonely Navy wife who apparently became addicted to 900-number phone lines for psychics and horoscopes pleaded guilty yesterday to a theft charge for running up thousands of dollars in unpaid bills.

"They promised to help me," Jonita L. Anderson, 23, said of the psychic services in whispered, broken sentences to Baltimore RTC County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger.

But the help cost at least $45,000, according to the details outlined in the Woodlawn woman's plea agreement with prosecutors.

She pleaded guilty to a theft scheme involving more than $300, a felony, against the Bell Atlantic telephone company from March 1991 through February 1994.

The judge imposed a three-year suspended sentence and probation for Mrs. Anderson, a day care provider and mother of a toddler.

She also was ordered to repay Bell Atlantic and make no more 900-line calls.

From her former home in the 2500 block of Barnesley Place, Mrs. Anderson used her own name five times -- plus nine aliases -- to obtain new telephone numbers as quickly as Bell Atlantic shut others down, according to the statement of facts by Assistant State's Attorney Katie O'Malley.

Mrs. Anderson favored 10 different psychic lines and one horoscope line, the prosecutor said.

She also established a personal relationship with one 900-line psychic, making about 50 calls to the psychic's home in Las Vegas.

Bell Atlantic obtained an arrest warrant last summer.

Had the case gone to trial, Ms. O'Malley said, the telephone bills in evidence would have made a 2-foot pile.

Defense attorney James L. Rouse denounced the 900 lines "that feed on the weaknesses of others," telling the judge that his client had marital problems with her husband away, and had attempted suicide in 1992.

Her husband is now stationed in Greece, he said. "She called these 900 numbers to get assistance, and apparently they led her on and on and on," he said.

In effect, she was seeking psychic treatment for mental problems . . . at $4 to $5.99 a minute."

"Maybe it's an addiction problem," Ms. O'Malley said, calling it "a scary situation."

Even after her arrest, the prosecutor noted, Mrs. Anderson had obtained two more telephone numbers by using aliases.

"She ran up $124 in one day" -- Jan. 3 -- before the telephone company caught on, Ms. O'Malley said, and from November to December 1994 accumulated another $644.66. Those bills were not part of the case.

Linda C. Pabst, a security investigator for Bell Atlantic, said the company's "dial-tone-on-demand" service enabled Mrs. Anderson to get new numbers before a credit check could be done.

L "In that time, a customer can do a lot of damage," she said.

"Tell me about it. I had a 16-year-old son," Judge Bollinger replied, adding that the telephone company was "nice enough" to put a block on his telephone line to prevent calls to 900 numbers. But telephone blocks didn't work with Mrs. Anderson, the prosecutor said.

"We are talking about a sickness here," Judge Bollinger said.

But he warned Mrs. Anderson, "You will not make another 900 call. . . . If you do, bring your toothbrush."

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