A 20-year-old Washington State man was arrested Thursday on federal charges that he made more than 20 hoax calls to law enforcement agencies last year and falsely reported bombs, shootings and other threats that sometimes led police officers to enter victims’ homes and detain them, prosecutors said.
The man, Ashton C. Garcia, of Bremerton, Wash., made the “swatting” calls from June through early September 2022, according to an indictment charging him with 10 felonies, including extortion, threats and hoaxes, as well as those regarding firearms, aircraft and explosives.
According to the indictment, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Mr. Garcia gathered personal information about victims across several states, as well as in Canada, and threatened them by making calls to law enforcement agencies. Mr. Garcia, who described himself as a “cyberterrorist,” would often broadcast these calls on the social platform Discord, federal officials said.
Although no one was injured as a result of the swatting calls, federal officials described Mr. Garcia’s behavior as extremely dangerous.
“Every time Mr. Garcia is alleged to have made one of his false reports to law enforcement, he triggered a potentially deadly event,” Nick Brown, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, said in a statement.
The calls, Mr. Brown added, often prompted the dispatch of “heavily armed police officers” to locations where the officers believed they would be confronting someone who was armed and dangerous. “Fortunately, no one was hurt.”
In unrelated cases, such swatting calls have turned deadly: In 2017, a man in Wichita, Kan., was fatally shot by the police, who were called to his home by a Los Angeles man making a false report of a crime. In 2020, another man in Bethpage, Tenn., died of a heart attack after the police swarmed his home following a fake emergency call. Hoax calls to law enforcement have also been weaponized against tech executives and journalists.
In Mr. Garcia’s case, prosecutors said, he “treated swatting calls like entertainment,” using fake identities to make false reports that he and others had planted explosive devices. He also falsely accused other people of committing murder, rape or kidnapping and claimed that those people were armed with knives, firearms and explosives, prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, Mr. Garcia often used the same scripts, in which he claimed that his father was holding him hostage; that he had shot his parents; that his father had stabbed his mother; and that his father had raped female family members. He also demanded money, virtual currency, credit card information and sexually explicit photos from his victims, prosecutors said. It is unclear from the indictment if any of those demands were met.
Mr. Garcia’s lawyer, a public defender, did not immediately return a call on Thursday seeking comment.
Threats and hoaxes involving explosives are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Other charges that Mr. Garcia faces carry less prison time.
Richard A. Collodi, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Seattle field office, said that it was “impossible to quantify” the harm caused by Mr. Garcia. According to federal officials, he targeted victims in California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington, as well as in Edmonton, Alberta.
“Mr. Garcia will be held accountable for his actions, and we hope this also serves as an example of how serious the F.B.I., the U.S. attorney’s office, state and local law enforcement take these threats,” Agent Collodi said.