New York man who caused huge police response at home of Rep. Ted Lieu gets two years in prison

July 13, 2016
In The News

A 22-year-old New York man whose “swatting” calls to police victimized at least 20 celebrities and elected officials, including South Bay Rep. Ted Lieu, has received a two-year federal prison term, authorities said.

Mir Islam, who pleaded guilty in July to three federal charges relating to swatting and doxing that occurred over a seven-month period in 2013, was sentenced Monday to 24 months in prison.

Swatting involves placing false 9-1-1 calls to police to report nonexistent crimes, prompting a large-scale police response, often including a special weapons and tactics team, to the fictional incident. Doxing is when someone’s personal identifying information, such as Social Security and credit card numbers, is posted online and made publicly available.

Islam, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Bangladesh, doxed at least 50 celebrities and government officials. Many continue to suffer continuing credit issues after others used the information to commit crimes, authorities said.

In the swatting case that involved Lieu, Islam falsely told Torrance police the current first-term member of the House of Representatives — who at the time was a member of the state Senate — had shot his wife.

That prompted firefighters, paramedics and police officers, some toting assault rifles, to converge on Lieu’s Torrance home. His wife was told to come out of her house with her hands up and the house searched.

“My wife was traumatized by this incident because it came without any warning and the presence of so many armed police officers was very scary to her,” Lieu wrote in a victim impact statement to the court before Islam was sentenced.

“We later learned that TMZ aired footage of our home and what happened,” he added. “Our privacy felt invaded. I understand that elected officials have less privacy, but this incident certainly is not within the reasonable realm of an elected official’s duties.”

Islam targeted Lieu, a Democrat and former Torrance city councilman, because he had pending state legislation at the time aiming to increase criminal penalties for swatting.

Gov. Jerry Brown later signed the bill that requires swatters — or their parents — to reimburse police and fire departments for the substantial costs incurred in responding to such incidents.

Islam also targeted:

• A former member of Congress from Michigan who was swatted because of federal legislation he sponsored.

• An assistant U.S. attorney swatted because of his involvement in a case being prosecuted.

• An Arizona university student who was harassed and cyber-stalked via social media accounts and by impersonating state and federal law enforcement officials in an effort to obtain personal information about her.

Islam also falsely reported a shooting and explosives incident at an Arizona university campus, lying about a gunman on the loose shooting people and alleging he intended to blow up buildings at the school. The FBI, a SWAT team and bomb squad were dispatched and the campus was placed on lock-down.

“This crime not only diverted first responders from actual life-threatening emergencies and wasted their valuable time and resources, but it also caused severe emotional distress to a large number of victims,” U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo said in a statement. “We hope this prosecution will deter others from engaging in similar dangerous and criminal behavior in the future.”

Lieu on Tuesday said there was no federal crime statute covering swatting.

Indeed, Islam was charged with one count of cyber-stalking, one count of threatening and conveying false information concerning the use of explosives, and conspiracy to commit a range of federal offenses, including identity, computer and wire fraud, assaulting federal officials, interstate transmission of threats and Social Security number misuse.

Lieu said he was looking at the potential for federal legislation specifically targeting swatting.

“If someone, for example, in Torrance would do something similar, it might be harder for federal prosecutors to go after them the same way they did in this case,” he said.

Islam was arrested in September 2013 and has been in custody since July 2015.

Following his prison term, he will be placed on three years of supervised release, which will include computer monitoring and other conditions.