TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state man who made over 20 “swatting” calls around the country and in Canada, prompting emergency responses to his fake bombing, shooting and other threatening reports, pleaded guilty on Thursday to four crimes.
Ashton Garcia, 21, pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to two counts of extortion and two counts of threats and hoaxes regarding explosives, U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman said in a news release. He was initially charged with 10 felony counts.
Federal prosecutors say Garcia used voice-over-internet technology to conceal his identity during the calls in 2022 and 2023. He also urged others to listen as he broadcast them on the social media platform Discord.
Garcia in several cases collected personal information about his victims and threatened to send emergency responses to their homes unless they turned over money, credit card information or sexually explicit images.
Law enforcement responded and entered some of the homes with guns drawn and detained people inside, prosecutors said.
He also called in fake bomb scares for the Fox News station in Cleveland, Ohio, and for a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles. In another instance, he threatened to bomb an airport in Los Angeles unless he received $200,000 in Bitcoin.
Such hoaxes can prove deadly. In 2017, a police officer in Wichita, Kansas, shot and killed a man while responding to a hoax emergency call.
The indictment does not indicate how investigators identified Garcia as a suspect. Prosecutors recommend that Garcia, of Bremerton, serve four years in prison as part of his plea agreement. His sentencing is scheduled for April.
Garcia placed the calls to agencies in Washington, California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada, prosecutors said.
Garcia remains jailed at the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac, Washington.