Man charged in phone cloning Balto. Co. police seize computers, scanners

March 15, 1997|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County police seized sophisticated computer equipment, cellular phones and more than 200 cable boxes at a home in Bowleys Quarters Thursday. It was the biggest illegal electronics operations uncovered in the county, police said.

Edwin Kenneth Erisman, 38, of the first block of Spinnaker Reef Court was being held yesterday at the Baltimore County Detention Center on $7,500 bail. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute cloned cellular telephones, possession of a cellular phone frequency reader, unlawful interception of cable television services and wiretap violations.

Charged with possession of a stolen cable box, a felony, was county police Officer John Calvin Horstman Jr., 33, who worked out of the Essex Precinct.

Horstman, a nine-year veteran, has been suspended without pay pending an internal investigation.

A District Court commissioner released him on his own recognizance. The cable box was found in his apartment in the 800 block of Orems Road in the Middle River area, police said.

Sgt. Kevin B. Novak, county police spokesman, said that although Horstman and Erisman are friends, there is no evidence that Horstman was working with Erisman or selling illegal cable boxes or cloning cellular phones.

Police said the raid -- in which they confiscated four scanners, 24 cellular phones, 266 cable boxes, five computers, other electronic equipment and nine handguns -- was the biggest in terms of equipment seized since the 10-officer white collar crime unit began investigating such crimes in October.

In January, police arrested a Woodlawn man and confiscated 16 cellular phones and 300 phone numbers that had been cloned from legitimate phones.

Lt. Barry Barber, head of the Economic Crimes Unit, said the latest investigation began about 10 days ago when police received a tip that a man was cloning telephones out of his house.

Horstman's name came up during the investigation as someone who had a stolen cable box, the lieutenant said.

Barber said the cable boxes were being sold for about $250 each. Detectives did not know the origin of the boxes.

Police estimated the loss to cable companies for each box at $3,000 a year, but Jaye Gamble, area vice president of Comcast Cablevision, said he thought that was high.

"It depends on how old the box is and what kind of service they were getting," he said. "But by any stretch, the loss value is significant, and we have not determined yet exactly how much that is going to be."

Gamble said not all the boxes confiscated during the 9 a.m. search of Erisman's home were the type used by Comcast, and he was working with police to determine which boxes belonged to Comcast and who had them last. He said it was unlikely the boxes were stolen directly from the company.

Police also seized equipment used to clone cellular phones.

Since cellular phones work by transmitting through towers in the area that pick up their signals, serial and phone numbers can be picked up with an electronic serial number reader, such as the one found in Erisman's house, police said. Such equipment can be bought through mail-order catalogs or advertisements in scientific or technical magazines.

A serial number and phone number are reprogrammed into another phone or sold for about $100 to someone in another state who can program it into a phone. The legitimate owners learn about the fraud when they receive unusually high phone bills with calls they never made.

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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