News service operators arrested for intercepting pager signals

Newsgathering | Feature | September 22, 1997

News service operators arrested for intercepting pager signals

09/22/97

NEW YORK--In late August, federal prosecutors in New York City charged three persons associated with Breaking News Network, a Fort Lee, N.J., news "tip" service, with illegally intercepting pager signals.

BNN owner Steven Gessman, vice president Vinnie Martin, and former employee Jeffrey Moss have been charged with owning and/or operating equipment designed to surreptitiously receive pager signals intended for others. BNN's alleged victims include an inspector with the New York Police Department and an employee of the mayor's office.

Responding to the charges, BNN blames disgruntled former volunteers for providing false information to the Secret Service. Carl Rowan, a spokesman for the company, told the Associated Press that information may have been fabricated by two people dismissed by the company six months ago. Declining to identify either person by name, Rowan described one of the two as "a former city official with ties to the Secret Service and who for months has publicly vowed to destroy this company."

BNN also accused federal law enforcement officers of "heavy handed conduct" in the arrest of Gessman and Martin and suggested that the charges were motivated by the government's embarrassment over BNN clients arriving before city officials at emergency scenes, according to Associated Press reports.

The company is a news service that provides tips about breaking stories, usually heard over radio scanners, to reporters and other clients.

Prosecutors allege that the company made use of pagers that had been specially modified to pick up information about emergencies intended only for pagers used by government officials and pass that information on to its clients. Prosecutors issued a subpoena to BNN to turn over all information related to the claims, including any modified pagers in the service's possession.

According to U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, this is the first time anyone has ever been prosecuted under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 for interception of pager signals. If convicted, the defendants may face up to five years in prison. (U.S. v. Gessman; Media Counsel: Bob Gage, New York City)