Tracked down by a detective for a satellite television service, a Michigan salesman was arrested yesterday at an amateur radio and computer show in Timonium on charges of selling equipment that could steal the signals -- and programming -- beamed down from space.
Authorities said the salesman was offering electronic equipment designed to pick up digital satellite signals -- including pay-per-view movies -- from the company DirecTV.
The arrest of Michael Paul Smeltzer resulted from a national search by the company's sleuth, James Wells of El Segundo, Calif., who works in DirecTV's Office of Signal Integrity and was aided by the U.S. Secret Service.
According to Bill Toohey, the county's police spokesman, department detectives received a call Friday from Wells, who said he had been tracking from fair to fair across the country a man selling equipment that would enable buyers to steal the firm's signal. Wells said the man could be found at the weekend show at the Timonium fairground's Cow Palace.
Accompanied yesterday by two plainclothes detectives and Sgt. Robert Derbyshire of the county's economic crimes unit, Wells pointed out the booth manned by Smeltzer, 50, of Beulah, Mich.
The detectives posed as a couple using DirecTV and approached the booth advertising "Smart Card Programmers for DSS [Direct Satellite Services] owners." One asked the salesman how the equipment would reduce their DirecTV bill, and he allegedly replied, "It would reduce it completely."
As a bonus, they were informed, the "smart card" would wipe out pay-per-view viewings from the previous month "so that you would not have to pay."
With $250 provided by DirecTV, the detectives bought the basic $149.95 kit, plus a $100 device alleged to block detection.
Then they arrested Smeltzer, confiscated $12,000 worth of equipment from his booth and his motel room in Essex, and booked him on two counts of satellite television fraud, four counts of illegal computer access, and one count of trademark counterfeiting -- all state charges, Derbyshire said.
Smeltzer was being held on $15,000 bail at the Cockeysville precinct, according to police.