Experiences with the Authorities
During my wreckless youth, I had a lot of run-ins with police. This page will detail some of my more memorable experiences with them.
In February of 1992 I decided to leave Texas and drive to Illinois. Since all my long trips had only been on Interstates, I decided to try something new and drive to Illinois mainly on back roads. As I was driving through a certain small town in Arkansas, a police car passed me going in the opposite direction. I watched in my mirror as he made a u-turn, turned on his lights and pulled me over. I knew I wasn’t speeding, I knew better than to do that through small towns.
The cop had me get out of my car. He asked me if I was carrying any firearms and I said no. He said, “You mean no or you mean you don’t know??” He had a fat guy in plain clothes with him. It turns out that the reason they pulled me over was because they thought I might be smoking pot. That was their only reason. I wasn’t even smoking a cigarette. I ended up standing on the side of the road for 30 minutes while they searched through my car. They also searched me. Finally they found what they say were pot seeds in my car. One of them held out their hand and showed me whatever it was they found in the floorboard of my car. It looked like dirt. I’m certain it wasn’t pot because I’d never had any friends that smoked pot in my car.
After 45 minutes they finally let me leave. They didn’t apologize for troubling me but they were courtious enough to tell me to have a nice day. Stupidly, I didn’t take note of the cop’s name or even the name of the town I was passing through. I just wanted to get away from there as soon as possible. I think out of all my experiences with police, that one had to be the most surreal.
In 1995 I was busted for trying to card a flight to Oregon for Colleen Card. I’d already succeeded in flying her to Texas to visit me but I hadn’t carded a round-trip ticket for her. The reason I didn’t make it round-trip was because I was afraid I would go over the cardholder’s limit. I didn’t think it’d be any problem flying her back since I’d done this so many times before all over the country. But none of the travel agencies in town would take a credit card number over the phone without me faxing a copy of the card to them. Finally I found a travel agency that would work.
I called the travel agency and set up the tickets on a credit card that I got from calling a local 7-Eleven. But I didn’t think to call and make sure the card had a high enough limit and it ended up being a bad card. Colleen and I went to the travel agency to get the tickets and the lady couldn’t give them to us because the card didn’t work. She tried calling “my dad” in Portland which was actually a voice mailbox that I’d set up using a different card. So I told her that we’d come back later that day or the next after I’d talked to my dad.
We walked over to Office Depot and called the travel agency. I told the lady, “This is RBCP’s father…” and I’d just got her messages, etc. I ended up giving her a different card number and it didn’t go through either. So, I said I must just be over my limit because of the holiday season just getting over with and gave her another Visa. This time it went through fine. So more than an hour later, we walked back to the travel agency to pick up the tickets. This time, Colleen stayed at the pay phone to play and I went in to pick up the tickets. The lady smiled and said if I’d have a seat she’d be right with me. Ten minutes went by and I’m starting to think that this isn’t usually the way customers are treated. Just as I’m thinking that I’ll get up and just walk out, a police officer walks in and says, “Could I have a word with you?” Another cop goes to the pay phone outside to retrieve Colleen who thinks she’s being busted for red boxing.
Since I was picking up the tickets under a false name, I made sure to leave my wallet and ID home just to avoid any accidents with my real name. When the cop asks me my name I tell him it’s Chris Tomkinson and he seems to believe me. I figure I can spend a few days in jail under Chris’s name and they’ll probably release me and I’ll never return. That plan would have worked great, except that I’d picked up my mail on the way out of my apartment that day and it was in my backpack. And of course it was all addressed to my real name so he asks me my name again and I give him my real name. He empties my backpack and I just happen to have a red box, police scanner, camera, electronic organizer, PLA business cards and notebooks full of incriminating stuff. Him and the other officer comment that I probably stole it all and they won’t return any of it to me unless I can produce receipts for it all. He’s really freaked out about all the PLA business cards and demands to know what the phone numbers on the card belong to. I tell him they’re VMB numbers and he says I better not be lying because he’ll call the numbers when we get to the police station. Luckily nothing came of that because one of the VMB numbers were bought with a stolen credit card number.
As he’s driving me to the police station he’s trying to figure out how to work my electronic organizer and keeps looking back to talk to me and swerving off the road while he’s hitting buttons. The page it opens on in the “memo” section is a page of about a dozen credit card numbers. He asks me how to delete the cards from there and I tell him. He deletes that memo which seems kind of stupid, you’d think that would be evidence. Luckily they didn’t notice my notebook full of card numbers. I end up spending about a day and a half in a holding cell with a bunch of drunk guys, then they let me out and make me promise to come back for court. I spend a couple of months making bi-weekly trips to some probation guy to assure that I haven’t left the city while I wait for a court date.
They finally decide that I’m not worth their time and the credit card fraud charges are dropped entirely. Not only that but since I was a wanted man in Illinois and they refused to extradite me there, most of the charges in Illinois against me were dropped. They also returned all of the contents in my back pack without asking for any receipts. And they didn’t bother figuring out who’s credit card I’d scammed to fly Colleen to Texas in the first place.
A cop and a detective show up at our door and ask if they can search my room. I tell them that I’d rather they didn’t. As soon as I say that, the detective instructs the cop to put cuffs on me and tells me that I’m under arrest. The cop takes me to the car, puts me inside and I sit there while the detective convinces my wife to let them search my room. She complies and they spend the next hour hauling stuff out of my room and into the trunk of the police car. They made off with everything that they felt was suspicious, including my 486 laptop, all of my phone equipment and all of my notebooks. They even took a book from our bookshelf about computer crimes that we’d bought from Waldenbooks. They took everything except the two page list of valid credit card numbers that was sitting right on top of my desk. My wife Colleen got to sit in the room while they took it all. She said they were determined to find drugs and seemed disappointed not to find any.
I was taken to the police station and the detective talked to me for about an hour. I was honest with him about everything, without admitting to anything that he didn’t yet know about. He told me that they’d traced approximately $10,000 in fraudulent phone calls to our hour. I’d been making lots of phone calls with stolen credit card numbers that I’d collected by calling up local gas stations and talking the employees out of them. I’d also used a computer program called Cmaster3 to extrapolate each card number I got into hundreds of other card numbers. It would only change the last four digits of the card, so these hundreds of card numbers I was using were most likely from local banks.
It turns out that a lot of the local people who got the charges on their credit card statements were calling the police about it since they saw a local number on their statements. I was operator diverting to a US West security guy’s voicemail and using it to divert to 1-800-CALL-ATT. (For some reason, this guy’s voicemail would give me a local operator in Seattle whenever I hit a certain few buttons from his VMB message.) From there, I could tell AT&T that I was calling from any number I wanted and that number would show up on the credit card statements instead of my own number. Instead of being creative and making up different numbers each time I made a call, I used the same number every single time. I never thought about who the number belonged to. The number I used was 926-ALEX, which is my middle name.
The number ended up belonging to some kind of power company in Albany. The police and the power company launched an investigation into their employees, thinking one of them must be responsible. After they determined that it couldn’t be an employee, they assumed that somebody was beige boxing into their lines. Once they ruled that out, they were convinced that they were dealing with a big-time hacker who was hacking into AT&T switches so that they couldn’t be traced.
The detective gave up on trying to trace the calls and resorted to calling every phone number that was showing up on the credit card bills, mostly the Defcon Voice Bridge and a lot of BBSes. He finally figured out who I was because I’d called Target’s public relations office in Minnesota. I worked at Target and had called them for some reason. So the detective asked the lady there who had called them from the Albany area. Target was happy to give him my name and address.
I didn’t end up with any jail time. I was charged with phone fraud and credit card fraud. After months of court dates, I was fined $250 as a punishment for the $10,000 in fraudulent calls I’d made. They sure showed me! After all of that was over, my confiscated property was returned.
I don’t exactly remember what caused me and my girlfriend to think this was a good idea – but one night we decide that it’d be a good idea to take all the money from the 7-Eleven I worked at, leave town and change our names. I was working the graveyard shift there and my girlfriend Sylvia usually hung out there during my shift, playing pinball all night. One night, around 1:00am, a business called Clark Boat & Motor called the store. They asked if it’d be a problem to come in and buy $2,000 in money orders with cash. I said it wouldn’t be a problem at all. They agreed to come into the store within the next couple hours to buy the money orders.
After awhile, I say to Sylvia, “You know…we don’t really like living here. We’re bored. Let’s take that $2,000 and use it to move somewhere.” We discuss it for awhile and eventually decide that Georgia is the place to go. But first we’ll stop by Galveston, Texas and pick up a friend of hers and take her with us. I don’t remember why we picked Georgia, probably just because neither of us had lived there before. The plan develops a little further, and we decide not only to take the $2,000 from the boat shop, but all the money from the register and all the rolls of quarters, nickels and dimes from the safe. (The safe lets you take out the rolls of coins, but not all the bills inside.)
Using a can opener, I pried open the manager’s office door so I could steal the security video tape to keep for a souvenir. While I was rummaging around her desk to find a blank video tape (I was afraid having no tape in the machine might activate an alarm), I noticed a key on her desk that looked just like the safe key. I knew I couldn’t be that lucky but I went to the register and tried it anyway. I turned the key and pressed the “open” button and nothing happened. Oh well. But as we were running around the store, picking out items that we’d need for our trip, we hear a loud grinding noise, then a clang. I run over to the safe and see that it’s open! I’d forgotten that there was a 12 minute delay timer on it to deter robbers from getting anything other than what was in the register.
Us and our new Money! We snapped a picture of us in our hotel room holding up all our money. Click the picture to see what appeared in the paper’s police blotter that morning.
It took an extra 45 minutes just to get all the money out of the safe and get it semi-organized so we could carry it. We made off with around $4000 in cash, $200 in food stamps, about $50 in lottery tickets, $50 in rolls of quarters, and about two bags of groceries & supplies.
We called a few friends and tried to get them to drive us to the airport but they were all either afraid of getting arrested or weren’t allowed to leave the house that late at night. Having no transportation, we called a cab. First the cab took us to a friend’s house where Sylvia was living to pick up her things. Then to my parent’s house to pick up my things. While I was there, I unplugged the main telephone line in the basement to keep the police or 7-Eleven from calling them before we got out of town. After being about 10 minutes away from their house I realized that I’d forgotten my manila folder full of fake IDs so we had to turn around and get those. You’d think the cab driver would be suspicious because we kept having him park down the block (by Dino Allsman’s place) while I ran to the house. And then we gave him a big tip from a brown paper bag full of money. We had him take us to Cottonwood Mall in Glen Carbon, Illinois. From there we called another cab to take us to the St. Louis airport.
Instead of going directly to the airport, we went to a nearby hotel to rest, get some breakfast and call in our flight reservations. I called TWA and reserved two seats under the names Susan and Kevin Mitnick. There were two flights departing to Houston that morning, one at 8am and the other at 10am. Sylvia insisted that I take the later one so she could rest for an hour. This ended up being a mistake because just an hour before our flight, a maid and two Wood River detectives come in and arrest us.
The first thing they asked for was the security tape so I fished it out of a duffle bag and handed it to them. As soon as they figured out that we weren’t violent, they were very nice to us and acted mostly amused by the entire incident. They searched through our bags and retrieved all the money and stolen items. They laughed at one of my Missouri ID cards that had my picture on it but read that I was a 5’4″ black male. We were taken back to Wood River and booked. All of the police we encountered during the entire incident were extremely friendly about the entire thing. I sat in a room with a guy for about an hour as he inventoried everything we’d stolen and he chuckled, “You sure have caused me a lot of paperwork this morning, Brad.” I guess maybe they all just thought it was a nice break from the usual, boring crimes in Wood River.
After booking, we spent about a day in Wood River’s jail before being transported to the county jail in Edwardsville, Illinois. I ended up spending a week in jail there and Sylvia somehow got two weeks. They let us both out, making us promise to come back for our court hearings. Seemed weird that they would trust us not to run, considering we’d told them that we planned to leave the state and change our names when we stole the money. In the end I was ordered to pay restitution for all the money we blew on cabs and the hotel. It came out to under $300.00. I think there may have been a fine involved too but I can’t remember how much it was. We were also both sentenced to 2 years of supervised probation, which I later skipped out on.
The Old 7-Eleven Building This picture was taken in summer 2005. The Wood River 7-Eleven closed down in the mid 1990’s and it’s most recent carnation is a 5A’s Thrift Store. Click on the picture to see a larger view of it.
I can’t remember exactly why I thought that diverting cabs was a good idea because I didn’t expect the police to know that we’d even taken cabs. It turns out that the police only knew about our taking a cab because they could see the it pull up to the window from the security tapes. I guess I shouldn’t have put in a blank tape for them or we might have gotten away with it. I wonder what they would have done if we’d made it on the flight – have someone waiting to arrest us in Houston?
While living in a downtown apartment, I decided to experiement with the giant phone blocks that seemed to be in every room. Apparently a business used to rent our apartment because it was wired for hundreds of phone lines. I hooked a phone to every single pair, hoping to find some working lines. I ended up finding just one which belonged to the beauty shop downstairs from us.
At first, we just used it to make local calls when the beauty shop wasn’t open. We were sure that nobody would notice. Then we started making nonstop prank calls from it all over town. That evolved into running Alliance teleconferences for several days which were very expensive. And from there, we just stopped being careful altogether. We called long distance numbers, 900 numbers and even started receiving calls from friends in the evenings. At some point, a friend from next door called in a false fire alarm to the supermarket across the street from us. They figured out that it was him and brought him in for questioning. Feeling it was mostly my fault, I went to the police station and confessed that it was me.
The police were nice enough about the whole thing, as I explained to them what I did and showed them the phone jacks in my closets. They originally thought that someone was breaking into the beauty shop at all hours of the night so they were relieved to find out that it was just some miswired phone jacks. I ended up going back to jail for a week because of the fire department call. I was still in the middle of going to court for my 7-Eleven charges so my new phone fraud charges were just tacked on top of everything else I was facing.
An old friend of mine named Gwonk decided to come and visit me one evening so we could go to a 2600 meeting together. I knew Gwonk from occasional conference calls but that was about it. So all went well with his visit…until about a month later when the Illinois State Police came to see me. Apparently Gwonk had been hacking into his college’s computers at some college several hours north of me. Somehow the police decided that I must somehow be the mastermind behind Gwonk’s hacking escapades.
I allowed the cops to come into my basement office and search through my computer. I couldn’t think of anything illegal on my hard drive so I didn’t see any harm in letting them search through it. The state cop and his partner made a point of telling me that they do a LOT of computer crime investigations so don’t think that they don’t know what they’re doing. Not that I was giving them any kind of attitude to make them think that I didn’t have faith in their computer skills. They wanted to know if I knew Unix. I told them no and they didn’t believe me. They said, “Don’t try and say you’re not a hacker because we’ve seen your web site.” Cause, you know, my web site is just loaded with all kinds of computer hacking exploits. For me being so cooperative with them, they sure were being assholes to me. And as far as interrogating went, these guys weren’t very good at all. Maybe they were just trying to go easy on me since I was being cooperative and they just came off as assholes.
After I gave them consent to search my computer, they went and retrieved a 3rd guy who was waiting in the car. This guy was their Computer Expert. I sat in my office and watched as the Computer Expert skillfully searched the contents of my hard drive…USING WINDOWS FILE EXPLORER. That’s right, he just opened up Explorer and surfed away at my hard drive, opening up files that looked interesting. Call me crazy, but wouldn’t opening up files straight from the hard drive be considered tampering with evidence? Couldn’t I create secret hidden hacker directories that couldn’t be seen with File Explorer?? The Computer Expert brought some 3 1/2″ floppy disks with him so he could copy the files he wanted. Good thing I had a floppy drive. I’m guessing he was mostly just after IRC logs to see what me and Gwonk talked about. They were probably disappointed since I rarely talked to Gwonk about anything at all.
The police asked if they could also look on my computer in the living room. I said sure, in fact they could access that computer through my network. The Computer Expert figured that would work just fine. Because I was obviously trustworthy enough to be sharing all of my hard drives on that computer, even the ones with incriminating hacker-type stuff on them. After they were done, they thanked me and said they would be in touch. I never heard from them again. I always wondered what they would have done if we happened to not be home that day. They drove 3 hours just to see me so it would have been pretty disappointing to find me not home.