Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman has announced the arrest of a group of individuals for running a corrupt organization, theft by unlawful taking, computer trespass and other related charges.
As top level members of an elaborate criminal organization, these six individuals developed and implemented a sophisticated scheme that provided unauthorized, discounted Comcast cable services to thousands of Comcast customers in exchange for a one-time payment to them and/or their agents.
Arrested were Alston Buchanan, Richard Justin Spraggins, Nicholas Caputo, Leighton Harrell, Brandon Irving and Kendall Singleton.
This corrupt organization was headed by Alston Buchanan of Philadelphia. Buchanan designed, implemented and controlled the organization that utilized compromised Comcast technician identifications (IDs) to apply promotional discounts onto Comcast customer accounts.
When used legitimately, the IDs allow Comcast personnel to authorize services, such as premium cable channels or other promotions, to new or existing customers. Buchanan obtained these unique IDs from a number of sources, including from a terminated employee and an employee on disability.
In one instance, Buchanan paid a Comcast subcontractor $5,000 in exchange for her user ID. This arrangement was brokered by Leighton Harrell of Philadelphia.
Once Buchanan had the IDs, he could access the billing accounts for Comcast customers and lower their payments and/or provide them with additional services without Comcast’s knowledge.
Those involved in the scheme paid various amounts to Buchanan and his agents ranging from $100 to $200 to manipulate the billing and services of their Comcast accounts.
The investigation determined there were 5,795 accounts affected over the course of a year from April 2011 to April 2012, with a revenue loss to Comcast Cable of $2,401,673. The affected Comcast accounts were located throughout the Delaware Valley with the majority in Montgomery, Philadelphia, Delaware and Bucks counties.
Buchanan was familiar with Comcast’s billing system, because he was employed by Comcast as a dispatcher from May 2007 through March 2008 and as a dispatcher for Advanced Communications, Incorporated (ACI), a Comcast subcontractor, from October 2009 to July 2010.
In 2010, Comcast began investigating an identical scheme of billing manipulation through unauthorized promotions and believed that Buchanan was responsible.
Earlier this year, Comcast learned this same scheme was being perpetrated when a Comcast employee reported the fraudulent use of IDs to obtain services.
An internal investigation by Comcast revealed that Nicholas Caputo of Virginia Beach, Va., was soliciting customers to provide one-time payments in exchange for a reduction of their Comcast bills.
Comcast Security, working with ACI, determined that the account manipulations were originating from the ACI Business Services Router located in the local office for ACI in Hatboro, Upper Moreland Township.
On April 9, ACI searched the data closet where the Business Services Router was stored. Upon checking the closet, an unauthorized computer tower was discovered secreted in the corner.
This unauthorized computer tower was hardwired to the modem in the data closet which, in turn, was connected to the Business Services Router in the closet. Accordingly, the hidden computer tower provided unauthorized access into the Comcast billing accounts.
The investigation revealed that the website “LogMeIn” was used to gain remote access to the unauthorized computer tower. Ultimately, the computers located in Buchanan’s apartment were found to have accessed the “LogMeIn” accounts associated with the hidden computer tower.
Comcast’s investigation revealed that Buchanan had an inside connection to ACI through Kendall Singleton of Philadelphia, an ACI employee.
On April 9, an unrelated power outage occurred at the ACI office, which caused the shutdown of the unauthorized tower.
Knowing that the unauthorized tower would have to be turned-on, Comcast Security installed a hidden camera to monitor the closet.
The next day, Singleton was seen on the camera entering the area of the closet and stooping down in the area of the unauthorized computer tower. After the computer was re-booted, 96 customer-billing accounts were accessed and manipulated within the following hour.
During the course of the investigation, Montgomery County detectives served search warrants in several locations including the Philadelphia home of Buchanan and Richard Justin Spraggins, resulting in the recovery of $103,000 cash in an attaché case, computers, cell phones and handwritten ledgers that contained records of the theft scheme, including the agents working for them.
Both Buchanan and Spraggins were in possession of these ledgers. Analyses of the phones, computers and ledgers revealed the depth and scope of this corrupt organization, and extensive internal communications within the organization pertaining to the illegal scheme.
An investigation into the bank accounts of Buchanan and Spraggins revealed additional evidence of the profitability of the organization’s illegal scheme.
For example, a review of Buchanan’s checking account from December 2010 through April 2012 revealed 748 deposits totaling $221,133.29. Of these 748 deposits, only 175 were not deposits of $150 or increments thereof. Notably, $150 was the usual fee charged for the illegal billing manipulation.
Interviews with Comcast customers whose bills were manipulated, as well as records contained in the ledgers, cell phones and computers, revealed that these agents profited through the solicitation of customers for this illegal scheme.
Preliminary hearings are scheduled for September 14, at 9:30 a.m. before Magisterial District Judge Jay S. Friedenberg in Willow Grove, Upper Moreland Township.
These cases will be prosecuted by the captain of the Economic Crimes Team, Assistant District Attorney John F. Walko.