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Computer signal pirate sentenced

LARGO — The case of a man accused of stealing someone's WiFi, considered the first case of its kind in the Tampa Bay area, ended in a plea deal Tuesday.

Benjamin Lincoln Smith was sentenced to probation after pleading no contest to stealing a wireless computer signal and no contest to an amended charge of felony child abuse relating to child porn police found on his laptop computer.

The case began on an April night three years ago when Richard Dinon noticed a sport utility vehicle parked outside his St. Petersburg home. He saw the glow of what appeared to be a laptop computer. Dinon approached the SUV, and a man inside snapped the computer shut. Dinon called police.

Police determined that Smith was the man in the SUV and had been using Dinon's wireless service. They arrested him on a felony charge of unauthorized access of a computer. Dinon feared Smith might have been mooching his Wi-Fi to download child porn.

Police later found child porn on Smith's laptop, and added a felony charge of sexual performance by a child.

Smith avoided a trial by cutting a deal with prosecutors, who amended the sex charge to felony child abuse, allowing Smith to avoid being placed on the state's sex offender list. Circuit Judge Tim Peters sentenced Smith to nearly five years of sex-offender probation.

Prosecutor Veronica Burianek said the plea deal was appropriate because the probation has other requirements normally designated for sex offenders, including a curfew, no contact with children and sex offender treatment. Smith also must allow probation officers to check his computer whenever they wish.

Smith also has no criminal history of committing child sexual abuse.

Smith's attorney, Hubbell Losson, argued in motions that the statute outlawing unauthorized access to computers did not apply to wireless service, but Peters ruled against him.

Losson said after Tuesday's hearing that he thinks lawmakers eventually will have to craft a law applying to wireless service.

"It's a dated statute," Losson said.

Smith declined to comment.

>>Fast facts

Stealing service

Using someone else's wireless service without permission is against the law in Florida, but it is rarely prosecuted, and a defense lawyer says the statute is outdated. Florida law says using any "computer, computer system or computer network" without authorization is illegal. The attorney for Benjamin Lincoln Smith, charged with using someone else's wireless service, tried to convince a judge that the statute did not apply to wireless service because it was passed before WiFi came into existence. The judge disagreed, and Smith's no-contest plea Tuesday means that issue will not be settled on appeal. To read more about the case, go to news.tampabay.com.

Computer signal pirate sentenced 06/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2008 4:50pm]
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