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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Man pleads guilty in piracy case

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer

A 33-year-old man who says he started copying tapes of feature movies as a hobby before it escalated to a larger scheme pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to six felonies.

"One thing led to another," Joseph Companion said.

Companion admitted that he copied popular movie tapes and modified Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox game consoles so that they could play pirated video games.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Les Osborne said thousands of the pirated movies and video games were sold and the illegal scheme made more than $1 million.

Companion pleaded guilty without any plea agreement with prosecutors, but his lawyer, Emmanuel Guerrero, disputed the amount. Guerrero later said his client made about $50,000.

Guerrero also said his client started the copying and modifying for his personal use.

Companion was one of nine people indicted by a federal grand jury last year in what federal authorities said was the largest case of its kind in the nation. About 200,000 movies and games were confiscated and the O'ahu ring collected hundreds of thousands of dollars during its illegal operation in 2001 and 2002, federal agents said.

Companion, who remains free on bail, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 6 before U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway. The six felonies carry maximum prison terms ranging from five to 20 years in prison.

Companion pleaded guilty to conspiracy; illegally copying the copyrighted tapes of movies such as "Spiderman" and "Scorpion King;" modifying the game consoles, and collecting more than $5,000 in food stamps by not reporting his illegal income.

He told Mollway that he started out by giving copies of movies to several people who sold them. He also modified consoles, but then people started calling him, Companion said.

"It snowballed from there," his lawyer said.

At least five of the other defendants have also pleaded guilty, some to lesser charges.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.