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Bremerton man pleads guilty after dozens of ‘swatting’ calls in US, Canada

Jan 27, 2024, 7:36 PM | Updated: 7:43 pm

Image: Pittsburgh Police and paramedics respond to Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School for what...

Pittsburgh Police and paramedics respond to Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School for what turned out to be a hoax report of an active shooter on March 29, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Gene J. Puskar, AP)

(Photo: Gene J. Puskar, AP)

A Bremerton man who made over 20 “swatting” calls around the country and in Canada, prompting emergency responses to his fake bombing, shooting and other threatening reports, pleaded guilty on Thursday to four crimes.

Ashton Garcia, 21, pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to two counts of extortion and two counts of threats and hoaxes regarding explosives, U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman said in a news release. He was initially charged with 10 felony counts.

According to the FBI website, swatting is defined as “making a hoax call to 911 to draw a response from law enforcement, usually a SWAT team.” The individuals who engage in this activity use technology to make it appear that the emergency call is coming from the victim’s phone, the federal agency added.

Previous coverage: Bremerton man charged after ‘swatting’ calls around North America

“Every time Mr. Garcia is alleged to have made one of his false reports to law enforcement, he triggered a potentially deadly event – sending heavily armed police officers to an address where they mistakenly believed they would confront someone who was armed and dangerous,” U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington, at the time of Garcia’s 2023 arrest.

“Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the unpredictable and terrifying dynamic these calls created for Mr. Garcia’s alleged victims cannot be overstated,” Brown added. “There is nothing funny about abusing emergency resources and intentionally placing people in harm’s way.”

Such hoaxes can prove deadly. In 2017, a police officer in Wichita, Kansas, shot and killed a man while responding to a hoax emergency call.

More on Garcia’s motivations

Garcia in several cases collected personal information about his victims and threatened to send emergency responses to their homes unless they turned over money, credit card information or sexually explicit images.

Law enforcement responded and entered some of the homes with guns drawn and detained people inside, prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors say Garcia used voice-over-internet technology to conceal his identity during the calls in 2022 and 2023.

Garcia, who described himself as a “cyberterrorist,” would often broadcast these calls on the social platform Discord to “encourage others to watch and participate,” according to the plea agreement cited in a report in The New York Times. (A PDF of the plea agreement can be viewed here.)

Garcia treated swatting calls in response to hoaxes, “like entertainment,” an indictment in March 2023 said, according to the Times. (A PDF of the indictment can be viewed here.)

In Garcia’s calls to law enforcement, he often relied on similar scripts, characterizing himself as the victim of or a witness to domestic violence involving guns and rape.

Federal prosecutors said he also targeted several female victims by threatening to have officers dispatched to their homes if they didn’t send nude images or their parents’ credit card information, the Times noted.

National impact: How recent ‘swatting’ calls targeting officials may prompt heavier penalties for hoax calls

Garcia also went on to call in fake bomb scares for the Fox News station in Cleveland, Ohio, and for a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles. In another instance, he threatened to bomb an airport in Los Angeles unless he received $200,000 in Bitcoin.

Garcia placed the calls to agencies in Washington, California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada, prosecutors said.

What’s next for the swatting suspect

The indictment does not indicate how investigators identified Garcia as a suspect. Prosecutors recommend that Garcia serve four years in prison as part of his plea agreement. His sentencing is scheduled for April.

Garcia remains jailed at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.

Contributing: The Associated Press, Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest

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Bremerton man pleads guilty after dozens of ‘swatting’ calls in US, Canada