A sentencing hearing was delayed Tuesday until Dec. 23 for an Illinois man who admitted helping a Los Angeles man make fake emergency calls to police to get even with supposed online gaming rivals.
The hearing for 24-year-old Neal Patel was postponed so the defendant can show he could be trusted to follow the conditions of court-ordered supervision.
Court papers show the prosecution and defense have both agreed on a sentence of three years probation, $33,208 in restitution and 300 hours of community service to include a video presentation describing the dangers of “swatting,” a hoax designed to provoke a law enforcement response to a nonexistent threat.
“He’s being supervised and he needs to follow the rules,” U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez said from the bench, noting that Patel, who is free on bond, had recently violated unspecified conditions of supervision.
Patel pleaded guilty in August in Los Angeles federal court to helping make false reports to law enforcement, bank fraud and conspiracy.
He was one of several young men charged with criminal conduct involving Tyler R. Barriss, a Los Angeles man now serving 20 years behind bars for making a hoax emergency call to law enforcement in which an innocent Kansas man was shot and killed by police two years ago.
Barriss, 27, pleaded guilty to dozens of charges brought by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, Kansas and Washington, D.C., related to fake calls and threats, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In the Patel case — in which nobody was physically injured — the defendant admitted that in December 2017, he asked Barriss to “swat” an apparent video game rival identified by the initials R.S. and provided R.S.’s home address in Milford, Connecticut. Later that day, Barriss, posing as R.S., called Milford police with a phony threat, according to the government’s sentencing memorandum.
A year later, Patel created an online account for Barriss for use in swatting and gave Barriss information about a “Call of Duty” video game tournament at the Dallas Convention Center hosted by an apparent gaming rival. Barriss called in a phony bomb threat, resulting in $33,208 in losses to the convention center, according to federal prosecutors.
Patel also pleaded guilty to using stolen credit card information to buy a baseball hat for Barriss.
In the Kansas death — in which Patel was not charged — Barriss admitted making fake emergency calls on Dec. 28, 2017, that led police to surround a house, believing there was a man inside who had killed his own father and was holding other family members hostage. The 28-year-old man who came outside to face police — Andrew Finch — had done nothing wrong and did not know about the call. As Finch stepped onto the porch, police told him to put up his hands. When he unexpectedly dropped his hands, he was shot and killed.
The phony call that led to Finch’s death drew national attention as the first documented fatal case of swatting.
Barriss’ fake call stemmed from a dispute over a $1.50 bet on an online game of “Call of Duty.” Finch had nothing to do with the game, but police were given his address because it was the former home of one of the gamers, according to the DOJ.
In January, Patel and two others — Tyler Stewart, 19, of Gulf Breeze, Florida, and Logan Patten, 19, of Greenwood, Missouri — were charged in Los Angeles with conspiring with Barriss to make hoax reports.
Stewart and Patten face trial in April, according to court records.
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