The FBI is taking over the investigation into a prank call that caused $50,000 in damage to a local hotel.
Conway Police Department public information officer Sharen Carter said Monday that the FBI is looking into the June 6 prank call, where a man claiming to be a representative of Simplex Grinnell compelled hotel employees to pull a fire alarm by saying that the alarm system needed to be "reset."
In the ensuing panic, employees and a guest were told by the prankster that they needed to break an overhead fire sprinkler and windows in the lobby to prevent all of the hotel's fire sprinklers from activating.
The prank call bears a resemblance to those perpetrated by online prank call Web site pranknet.org, and a victim in Conway's prank call said the voice of the bogus Simplex Grinnell representative sounded like recordings the pranknet.org founder, who hosts a regular prank call "radio show" on the Internet using the online alias "dex."
Jericho Batsford, a Tennessee woman who said she used to take part in similar prank calls, contacted the Knoxville FBI Field Office days after the incident saying she knew the identity of "dex" and could confirm that he was responsible for the Conway incident and others like it reported across the country.
Special Agent Jason Pack of the FBI national press office said Monday that the case is being handled by the Knoxville field office.
Pack said earlier this month that he could not confirm that the FBI considered the prank calls a violation of federal law. Knoxville FBI media representative Stacie Bohanan was unavailable for comment Monday.
Listeners to the pranknet.org "show" use the voice chat program Beyluxe Messenger. Using the service for malicious prank calls would seem a violation of the Beyluxe terms and conditions of use, which prohibit "harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, obscene or otherwise objectionable" communication as well as any uses of the service which "intentionally or unintentionally violate any applicable local, state, national or international law."
Were the incident to be prosecuted locally, it could fit the definition of communicating a false alarm as defined in Arkansas Code, which lists the offense as a class-D felony if a person knowingly communicates a false report of an impending emergency and, through their actions:
Causes a reaction from an emergency agency;
Places any person in fear of damage to their property or that of another person;
Causes the evacuation of an occupied structure;
And causes damage to property.
Pranknet.org has continued to advertise prank call sessions on an almost nightly basis since the incident.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)