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FBI arrests 4, shuts down pirate satellite TV operation

Federal agents have arrested four people and are looking for a fifth in connection with an 18-month investigation into illegal satellite television systems, the FBI announced. The FBI said Thursday hundreds of homes around Polk County had equipment that was illegally altered to intercept subscription satellite channels, such as Showtime and Home Box Office, for free.

Among those arrested in the past few days was Robert Foreman, vice president of Electronitec in Lakeland, which allegedly controlled the sale and installation of the systems.

"Some call it illegal _ we kind of look at it as a gray area," Foreman, 31, said after being released from custody. The altered boxes are "not too much of a secret" and are common throughout the industry, he said.

The five suspects were charged last week in a sealed indictment with intentionally selling a device that illegally intercepts satellite transmissions and with selling or assembling a device to decode scrambled signals.

The crimes are felonies, and together they carry a maximum 10-year prison term and $750,000 fine.

The other suspects arrested were John C. Anthony, 31, of Tampa; Neal A. Snyder, 30, of North Port; and Neal Golonska, 30, of Port Charlotte, said FBI spokesman Brian Kensel.

The FBI said the practice victimizes honest satellite TV dealers, satellite programmers and owners of legitimate systems.

Kensel said the U.

S. Attorney's office will determine whether people who purchased the equipment will face charges.

Last weekend, an FBI sting suddenly shut off satellite reception in hundreds of Polk County homes. When residents brought their black boxes in for repairs, an agent was waiting to confiscate them, Kensel said.