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Man Indicted in Wiretap Case

The defendant is accused of recording the computer keystrokes of a workplace colleague.

March 24, 2004|Regine Labossiere | Times Staff Writer

A Huntington Beach man Tuesday became the first person in the nation to be charged with illegally using an electronic device to record someone's computer keystrokes, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Larry Lee Ropp, 46, on one count of wiretapping, said Thom Mrozek a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.

When Ropp worked at Bristol West Insurance Group/Coast National Insurance Co. in Anaheim, he secretly installed a "Key Katcher" into the computer of the vice president's secretary, Mrozek alleged. The device was plugged into the computer to record every keystroke the secretary made, he alleged.

Ropp was fired in September for violating the company's time-clock policy, Mrozek said. After he was fired, Ropp called a company employee and asked her to remove what he called a "toy" from the computer.

The employee told her supervisor, Mrozek said. The firm's technology department found that the device was not a toy, Mrozek said, and called the FBI.

Bristol is involved in a class-action civil suit brought by former employees. Information from FBI interviews suggested that Ropp was trying to obtain information for the plaintiffs in that lawsuit, Mrozek said.

Ropp could not be reached for comment.

Mrozek said devices such as the Key Katcher are commercially available and are legal as long as they are used on personal property. Parents sometimes use them to monitor their children's computer activity.

The devices can be used to steal private information, company secrets and passwords.

Ropp was arrested Feb. 25 and released on bond that day, Mrozek said. A conviction could bring Ropp a maximum of five years in federal prison.

Because the computer was hooked up to the Internet and was connected to company branches in Arizona and Florida, Ropp was indicted under federal law, Mrozek said.

Ropp admitted to the FBI that he used the Key Katcher, but he said the California Department of Insurance had hired him as a whistle-blower. Department representatives denied that claim.

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