Connecticut man to serve year in prison for 'swatting' hoax calls

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 06, 2015 12:12 PM

By Richard Weizel

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (Reuters) - A 22-year-old Connecticut man was sentenced on Tuesday to a year and a day in prison for at least six "swatting" hoax calls to U.S. high schools and colleges last year threatening that bombers or gunmen were about to target the institutions.

The "swatting" incidents led to repeated large deployments of law enforcement to schools including Boston University and the University of Connecticut, as well as evacuations and lockdowns, prosecutors said.

Matthew Tollis had faced up to 27 months in prison after pleading guilty in June to one count of conspiracy to convey false threatening information and hoaxes, which also targeted high schools in Texas, New Jersey and Florida.

U.S. District Judge Janet Hall also ordered Tollis to serve three years' supervised release and perform 300 hours of community service after his prison sentence.

Law enforcement officials who had responded to some of the calls had urged a stiffer sentence.

"The call we received April 3, 2014, was just 12 days before the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing," Detective Lieutenant Peter DiDomenica of the Boston University Police told the judge. "The caller said there was a gunman outside the campus and explosives on campus, and this was all in the name of Allah - sparking terror we were about to be attacked by Islamic extremists."

A Pennsylvania school district superintendent testified that one of the calls caused the evacuation of 3,000 students and staff, and led one pregnant staffer to suffer a miscarriage.

Defense attorneys had sought home confinement followed by supervised release, arguing Tollis was lured into participating in the threats by a group of video game players he had met online who threatened him.

"I feel horrible every day thinking about what I was involved with," Tollis told the judge. "I made a mistake thinking this was only a game."

Several members of the group are foreign nationals, prosecutors said, adding that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is working with UK police to probe a resident of Scotland believed to be involved with the group.

Federal prosecutors also suspect the group of placing hoax threat calls to Harvard University and Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 young children and educators were gunned down in a December 2012 massacre.

(Editing by Scott Malone, Bill Trott and Lisa Lambert)