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Texas man sent to prison for plaguing MN city with bomb hoaxes, 'swatting' calls

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A 19-year-old Texas man was sentenced to more than three years in prison over a series of fake bomb threats and "swatting" phone calls made to a high school in Minnesota.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announced Zachary Lee Morgenstern, from the Houston area, was sentenced Tuesday to 41 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. He was arrested and charged following an FBI investigation.

In August, Morgenstern pleaded guilty to threatening people and organizations in the Marshall area over a period of eight months, ending in May of this year. According to court documents, he concealed his identity using anonymized email addresses, Twitter accounts and Internet-based phone accounts to do the following:

  • Make threats to kill a police officer and her family.
  • Tell police he had placed a bomb around Marshall High School that would detonate in an hour, prompting an evacuation.
  • Make another call to police saying he planned to "shoot up" the school.
  • Carry out "swatting" attacks – making hoax phone calls to law enforcement pretending a violent crime is in progress to elicit an armed, preferably SWAT, response.
  • In one swatting attack on Oct. 7, 2014, call Marshall Police claiming to have taken a father and son hostage, and that he had shot one of them in the kneecap. He threatened to kill both unless a half-million dollar ransom was paid.
  • Identify himself to police as a 13-year-old boy who claimed two men had broken into his apartment and shot his mother in the leg, and they were holding his mother and sister hostage while he hid in a closet.

Ars Technica reports during a phone call Morgenstern made to Marshall High School's public resources officer after months of harassment, he said it was "not possible" for him to be caught because "you can't catch a hacker."

"He wrought emotional havoc and caused the needless expenditure of public funds to respond to his destructive emails, tweets, and phone calls," Assistant United States Attorney Timothy C. Rank said. "Mr. Morgenstern committed his crimes in part because he thought he would not get caught."

"It's good to have closure in this matter so we can move on from the disruption in our city and school district caused by Mr. Morgenstern's actions," said Marshall Police Chief Rob Yant.

Morgenstern was convicted on one count of making threats to kill. 

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