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Feds bust alleged video pirate

By PAT NASON

LOS ANGELES, May 7 (UPI) -- A grand jury in Los Angeles has indicted a Hollywood man in what officials call the first federal arrest for covertly taping films at preview screenings.

Johnny Ray Gasca, 33, was charged with criminal infringement of a copyright, interstate communication of a threat, possession of a false identification document of the United States, and witness retaliation. Gasca was arrested on April 22, six weeks after FBI agents executed a federal search warrant on his home.

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Agents seized video duplication equipment, a false Social Security card and two diaries in which Gasca allegedly kept an accounting of profits from the sale of pirated copies of "Anger Management," "The Core" and "Cradle 2 the Grave."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Johnson said Gasca gained access to prerelease screenings of feature films in various ways -- including hanging out at places where studios assigned workers to hand out passes to test screenings.

"Once he would go to screenings," Johnson said, "he would try to pass himself off as an anti-piracy employee working for the Motion Picture Association of America. In one particular case, he used a fake name and a fake business card."

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Johnson said investigators had determined that Gasca was involved in piracy for several months before moving to Los Angeles from New York in August 2002. He also said Gasca had an extensive criminal record, with 89 arrests and a conviction in the early '90s in an attempted murder case.

"This (video piracy) appears to be his newest occupation," said Johnson.

The MPAA has suggested that piracy costs its members $3 billion a year in lost revenue.

Johnson said Gasca's diaries indicated he was making more than $4,500 per week selling tapes of movies before their theatrical release. He said the diaries did not indicate who Gasca's alleged customers were, and Gasca has not shown any willingness to identify them for investigators.

Johnson said the charge of communication of a threat to the MPAA was based on the suspect's reaction when the FBI kicked in his door and "smashed up" his video equipment.

"He called the MPAA and said, 'You stopped my livelihood and if I don't get all my machinery back, I'm going to make one phone call and set off the release of up to 30 motion pictures,'" said Johnson.

Gasca was also charged with witness retaliation for allegedly telling a postal carrier that she could be shot because she provided information to the FBI that became part of an affidavit in support of the search warrant.

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The U.S. Attorney's office said Gasca faces a maximum possible penalty of 28 years in federal prison if convicted of all charges.

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