A Washington state man accused of making more than 20 swatting calls across the U.S. and in Canada, leading to law enforcement responses to his false reports of bombings, shootings and other crimes, pleaded guilty.
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. Garcia was initially charged with 10 felony counts.
Garcia placed the calls to agencies in Washington state, California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado, as well as Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada.
According to federal prosecutors, Garcia used voice-over-internet technology to hide his identity during the calls he made in 2022 and 2023. He also called on others to listen as he broadcast the calls on the social media platform Discord.
In several incidents, Garcia collected personal information about his victims and threatened to send emergency responses to their homes if they did not send him money, credit card information or sexually explicit images.
Law enforcement responded to Garcia’s fake reports and entered some of the homes with guns drawn and detained people inside, prosecutors said.
Garcia also called in fake bomb threats for the Fox News station in Cleveland, Ohio, and for a flight from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Los Angeles, California. He also once threatened to bomb an airport in Los Angeles unless he received $200,000 in Bitcoin.
Swatting targets a person by calling in a false police report to the target’s home for a violent crime such as a murder, hostage situation or other crime that would require a greater law enforcement response. The goal of the false police report is to prompt a SWAT team response to the target’s home.
Hoaxes like these can lead to deadly results. A police officer shot and killed a man in 2017 while responding to a fake emergency call in Wichita, Kansas.
There have been several swatting incidents targeting Republican and Democrat public officials since Christmas, including GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., Reps. Brandon Williams, R-N.Y., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Boston Democrat mayor Michelle Wu and Maine Democrat Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.
The indictment does not disclose how investigators identified Garcia as a suspect in the swatting calls.
Prosecutors recommend that Garcia serve four years in prison as part of his plea agreement. His sentencing is scheduled for April.
Garcia remains in custody at the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac, Washington.
Fox News’ Chris Pandolfo and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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