Nine charged in movie, game pirating
By Allison Schaefers
Advertiser Staff Writer
A federal grand jury this week indicted nine people on charges of conspiracy to distribute pirated movies and games in what investigators say is the largest case of its kind in the nation.
The nine were indicted as part of a sting operation targeting a ring that distributed copyrighted movies, videos and games by the thousands, U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo said yesterday.
"We've confirmed with the Motion Picture Association of America that this is the largest case of its kind in the nation," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Charlie Goodwin, citing 200,000 movies and games confiscated during the investigation.
The O'ahu ring made several thousand movies and games weekly, and collected nearly $600,000 over the course of the illegal operation, FBI Special Agent Daniel McLaughlin said.
Kubo said the offenses are not victimless crimes. The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents studios like Walt Disney, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros., estimates the industry loses billions of dollars annually because of the sale of pirated movies, Kubo said.
"What they did robbed revenues from theaters, game owners and video store owners. And it's just plain wrong it's stealing," he said.
The O'ahu ring, which investigators said operated in 2001 and 2002, rented, purchased or downloaded copyrighted material off the Internet and then mass-produced it and sold it to others for profit, Kubo said.
Defendants were charged with multiple federal offenses for their alleged roles in the ring. Two Joseph Companion, 32, and Tricia San Agustin, 34, both of Mililani were also charged with illegally modifying Sony Playstation and Microsoft XBox game consoles to permit them to play pirated video games. The two were also charged with committing $5,000 worth of food stamp fraud.
Members of the ring weren't technical geniuses, and they didn't have day jobs, investigators said. Working the ring was their primary occupation, said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Clyde Langley, head of white collar crime.
"It's a good money maker, and it's a whole lot safer than dealing dope," Langley said.
During searches, federal agents confiscated about enough movies and games to fill a small apartment, and about $150,000 worth of specialized computer equipment from private residences belonging to ring members from Waipahu and 'Ewa Beach.
The equipment allowed the ring to mass produce popular movies and games like "Lilo and Stitch," burning about 102 movies every five minutes, McLaughlin said.
The ring sold popular $20 movies, for less than $5. They would also sell $50 video games, for less than $7. The ring could download movies before they came out in cinemas and sell them on the black market, McLaughlin said.
Members sold the pirated merchandise primarily at swap meets and to individuals on the Islands and on the Mainland, he said. Also, the items were sold at public parks and nightclubs, prosecutors said.
Five of the defendants made their first appearance in federal court yesterday after FBI agents arrested them at private residences. Investigators expected to apprehend the rest of the suspected ring members late yesterday.
The other seven defendants are Daniel Peters, 34, of 'Ewa Beach; Bobbie Jean Peters, 30, of 'Ewa Beach; Akiu Sale, 27, of 'Ewa Beach; Temukisa Fuatagavi, 28, of 'Ewa Beach; Walter Griffin, 25, of 'Ewa Beach; Shawn Rivera, 30, of Waipahu; and Reynie Andres, 50, of Waipahu.
If found guilty, the defendants could face five years in prison and $250,000 in fines per violation.
Federal prosecutors decided to pursue the case because of the "egregious amount of material" pirated, Kubo said.
Reach Allison Schaefers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-8110.