A judge on Friday ordered two high-ranking Los Angeles transportation engineers to stand trial on felony charges of allegedly gaining unauthorized access to the city's computer system in order to sabotage traffic flow at four busy city intersections in August 2006.
Gabriel Murillo, 38, and Kartik Patel, 34, both engineers with the city's Automated Traffic Surveillance Center, were charged in January with illegally accessing the computer system that controls 3,200 of the city's 4,300 traffic signals.
Prosecutors said the men changed computer codes preventing transportation managers from reprogramming and reactivating traffic lights for four days at four intersections. No accidents were attributed to the outage.
The four intersections were allegedly chosen, authorities said, because they would significantly disrupt traffic. The intersections were Sky Way at World Way at Los Angeles International Airport; Coldwater Canyon Avenue at Riverside Drive in Studio City; Glendale Boulevard at Berkeley Avenue in Echo Park; and 1st and Alameda streets in Little Tokyo.
The illegal access occurred hours before a job action by members of the Engineers and Architects Assn., which represents 7,500 city workers. About 1,500 union members walked off their jobs. City officials had temporarily blocked engineers from access to the computer system during the labor dispute.
"This amounts to sabotage and [should] not be tolerated no matter what the dispute or cause," Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in a statement.
Murillo was charged with two felonies: identity theft and unauthorized access to a city computer. Patel was charged with five felonies: unauthorized access to a city computer and four counts of unauthorized disruption or denial of computer services. Both men were released on their own recognizance, but they may not access city computers or set foot on Department of Transportation property without their attorneys.
James Blatt, Murillo's attorney, said he was disappointed by the judge's decision and that his client had not been informed that access privileges on the system he helped design had been changed. Blatt said when his client discovered the system had been altered, he changed it back to the original settings.
"There was never a desire by him to damage or sabotage the system in any way," Blatt said. "In fact, it was the opposite, his sole goal was to protect the system."
Attorney Alan Eisner, representing Patel, said he believed his client would be exonerated in the trial. "In essence, this is a work-related dispute that the prosecutor has escalated into a criminal accusation," Eisner said. "We feel that's not supported by the facts in the case."
Authorities said it took four days to get the city's traffic control system fully operational.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Samuel Mayerson ordered Murillo and Patel to return to court Oct. 26 for arraignment. If convicted the men could face several years in state prison. Neither man has a criminal record.