CPD investigating prank call

Published Friday, June 12, 2009

A Tennessee woman has contacted the Conway Police Department claiming that she knows the identity of a prankster associated with the Web site pranknet.org, who she says was responsible for Saturday morning's vandalism-by-proxy prank call to a local hotel. The woman said she was listening to it live as it happened.

Hotels across the country have been hit with prank calls in recent days, all following a consistent theme. The caller claims to be a representative from SimplexGrinnell, a company that installs and maintains fire alarm systems, and convinces an employee that there is a problem with the alarm and it needs to be "reset" by pulling on an activation handle. When the alarm goes off, the caller is told that every overhead fire sprinkler in the building will activate unless they "disable" the sprinkler system by striking an automatic sprinkler head, which triggers the sprinkler. In the case of the local hotel, the caller also said that smashing windows would deactivate the alarm.

Management at the Conway hotel claimed $50,000 in damages, cleanup costs and lost revenue.

The prank is similar to one found on pranknet.org in which the caller identifies himself as "dex." A guest who was "duped" into breaking hotel windows said Monday that the voice heard in this recording "sounds exactly like" the man he was speaking to.

Pranknet.org has been offline since Tuesday morning.

Jericho Batsford of Knoxville, the woman who called CPD, spoke with the Log Cabin Democrat Tuesday and Wednesday, saying she could confirm that "dex" was responsible for the call and was willing to cooperate with authorities in bringing criminal charges against him.

"That hotel was one of 10 that night," Batsford said. They did 20 speedpranks. They did 20 in six hours, so this hotel is just one of many, and I don't agree with any of it. "I think that what he's doing is very, very wrong."

Batsford said she had been a fan of "dex," and has participated in prank calls with him under the alias "jericoNtn." When the nature of the calls changed from making people believe an awkward but harmless thing was happening to compelling people to damage property, believe their lives are at risk or perform obscene "examinations" on themselves, she said, she didn't think it was funny anymore.

"I've sat for the last month in the room when he's called," Batsford said Tuesday night, referring to an online "room" where listeners using Web site Beyluxe.com hear the calls live and can make prank calls of their own. Listeners are often given incentives to make prank calls by "dex," according to Batsford.

"(Monday) was my last day with him," she said. "They had kids in there under the age of 18 doing bomb threats. They don't care anything about the damage that they're doing. They don't care a bit about it at all. ... I said eventually somebody was going to get killed or hurt or caught."

Batsford said "dex" is a man in his mid-20s living with his mother in Windsor, Ontario, "who steals WiFi from his neighbor." He has no job, she said, and makes some money selling CDs of his prank calls, which are shipped from a Bangor, Maine, address.

She knows his identity, she said, because she once wired him money through Western Union.

"I've helped him out with bills and helped his mom out with some stuff," she said. "I felt like we were friends, but there at the end he didn't listen when I told him several times about the damages," she said.

Her information has been received by the FBI, according to Special Agent Jason Pack of the bureau's National Press Office.

"I know the right people will take a look at it," Pack said Thursday, though he couldn't confirm that the FBI was considering the calls a federal crime.

Local law enforcement is pursing the leads also, Conway Police Department public information officer Sharen Carter said Thursday, and actual representatives from SimplexGrinnell have spoken with 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Marcus Vaden about pursuing charges against the caller also.

"I think their lawyers are looking into it, and I don't think they're too happy about it," Vaden said.

Batsford said "dex" is aware of the attention his pranks have received, but she doesn't think he's worried about the notoriety.

"He knows all about the newspaper stories," she said. They post them on there and laugh about them. He thinks he can't get caught."

There are difficulties in prosecuting someone from another country, Vaden said, but whether or not "dex" can be caught remains to be seen.

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by E-mail at joe.lamb@thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)

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