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Computer Hacker Snared in Cyber-Sting : Technology: Huntington Beach man is one of six arrested in alleged plot to steal credit card and cellular phone codes.

September 12, 1995|GEOFF BOUCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Huntington Beach computer hacker known on-line as "Alpha Bits" was among six suspects arrested in four states by the U.S. Secret Service for allegedly using technology to steal credit card and cellular phone information worth millions of dollars, authorities said Monday.

Jeremy Golle Cushing, 22, on Monday waived extradition proceedings before a U.S. magistrate in Orange County and will be ferried by marshals to Newark, N.J., within three weeks to be arraigned on federal computer fraud charges, authorities said.

Cushing is suspected of trafficking in cloned cellular telephone equipment and stolen-access devices used to program cellular phones. He was already on probation after pleading guilty last year to 18 felony charges, including passing bad checks, theft of cards or codes for financial access and receiving stolen property, officials said.

The arrest of Cushing and others Friday in New York, Texas and Michigan were part of "Operation Cybersnare," a sting operated via the Internet. Agents set up and advertised a computer bulletin board called "Celco 51" in Bergen County, N.J., as a clearinghouse of sorts for stolen data. An agent, using the computer moniker "Carder One," posed as the board's operator and offered to fence stolen data for hackers, officials said.

The bulletin board was targeting the hackers who pilfer the electronic serial numbers and mobile identification numbers used to encode cellular telephones. With those codes, a computer criminal can program any cellular phone to bill all its calls to the person whose code numbers have been stolen, officials said.

Cushing, who spent a year in jail for his past offenses, now faces 15 years and $250,000 in fines if found guilty of the latest charges. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office in Newark, N.J., according to Secret Service Special Agent Jim Bauer of the Los Angeles office.

The suspect's mother, Vickie Cushing of Huntington Beach, said the arrest has left her family humiliated and searching for answers.

"These kids get involved in all this computer stuff, it becomes a game to them, then it's addictive," Cushing said, sobbing. "It can be destructive too. When Jeremy got involved in computers, we thought, 'Isn't this marvelous?' We were naive. Parents need to be very alert about computers. If I had a youngster today, I'd tell them, 'No modems.' "

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Vickie Cushing, an Orange County social worker, said her son's fascination with computers began during his sophomore year at Ocean View High School. The honor student fell in with a crowd who delighted in testing the boundaries of their computer expertise, she said. As they got older, some in the group began turning their skills toward illegal profit.

For Jeremy Cushing, hacking consumed his life, his mother said.

"It was like watching the disintegration of a person," she said.

On Monday, Vickie Cushing and her husband, Jeffrey, made the hard decision not to put their home up to secure bail for their only child. "I couldn't do that," she said. "The bottom line is he had choices. He had the opportunity to stop. He's a very bright young man. It's a waste."

The other suspects arrested were Richard Lacap of Katy, Tex., who uses the computer alias "Chillin," and Kevin Watkins of Houston, known on-line as "Led." They were charged with conspiring to break into the computer system of an Oregon cellular telephone company.

Frank Natoli, also known as "Mmind," of Brooklyn, N.Y., was charged with trafficking in stolen access devices. Michael "Barcode" Clarkson, also of Brooklyn, was charged with possessing and trafficking in hardware used to obtain unauthorized access to telecommunications services.

Al Bradford of Detroit, who calls himself "Cellfone," was charged with trafficking in unauthorized access devices.

Agents seized more than 20 computer systems during the arrests. Cushing was arrested Friday in Huntington Beach without incident, Bauer said.

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