A North Carolina cable pirate has pleaded guilty to
theft-of-service-related charges that could net him five years in prison and a fine of
Daniel Edward Harrell, 30, will be sentenced in a U.S.
District Court in Raleigh, N.C., next month on charges of cable-signal theft, conspiracy
to use the mails to commit fraud and money laundering.
Harrell was snared in an investigation by the United States
Secret Service and the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service.
The two-year investigation unearthed evidence indicating
that Harrell operated mail-order businesses that sold more than 80,000 illegal set-top
descrambler devices between 1992 and 1996, with a retail value of more than $14 million.
U.S. attorney Gaston Williams said Harrell's computer
business records were seized when the Secret Service executed a search warrant on his
operations in July 1997
According to court testimony last month, an analysis of
descrambling devices purchased by industry officials, as well as by Secret Service agents,
revealed that Harrell was turning out set-top converters capable of descrambling the cable
signals of Cox Communications Inc.'s Cox Cable in Norfolk, Va.; Paragon Cable in San
Antonio; and Time Warner Cable of New York City.
"They were being tailored -- or chipped -- according
to the cable-television market where they were being purchased," Williams said.
"You could get boxes that would work in Norfolk, in San Antonio or in New York,
depending on the borough that you lived in."
Cable-industry sources indicated that sheer sales volume
made Harrell "a national guy."
"He's not the largest vendor, by any means,"
one industry consultant said, "but he's a large one."
The investigation also revealed that in February 1996,
Harrell transferred approximately $2.1 million to Swiss bank accounts. The money was
shipped a few months later to a bank in Malta, then from there to accounts in the Bahamas.
The U.S. Attorney's Office first became aware of
Harrell's operation in 1996, after Time Warner filed a complaint alleging that he was
hawking illegal set-top boxes in the New York area.
U.S. District Court Judge Early Britt will sentence Harrell
next month. In addition to possible prison time and a fine, he faces three years of