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PIRATES OF HOLLYWOOD
or, The Curse of the Green-Glow Camcorder

07/20/05

Johnny Ray Gasca video pirating equipmentIn today's multi-billion dollar movie pirating enterprises, largely dominated by global criminal networks, he was essentially a lone wolf. Just one guy with a digital camcorder, sitting in theaters filming movies. What harm could he do?

Plenty.

Meet Johnny Ray Gasca, the so-called "prince of pirates." This native New Yorker already had a bad track record when he moved to Hollywood in 2002. He'd been convicted of petit larceny and assault with intent to cause serious injury with a weapon after shooting someone in the face with a handgun, and had served time in a New York prison. Now he'd come to Hollywood with a special dream: to put himself behind the camera--not to make movies, but to steal them.

His modus operandi? Chutzpah. He'd hang around theaters where advance screenings were scheduled...pose as a movie industry insider...find his way into the theater...rig his camera to the arm rest for stability...and start filming when the lights went down. His high-end sound and recording equipment—creating a distinctive green glow—produced extraordinarily good quality master recordings, and he'd rush home to mass produce them on 11 interlinked VCRs then sell them over the Internet. By beating the public release of blockbuster films, he claimed in his diary to be clearing as much as $4,500 a week.

Fortunately, he had a habit of getting caught. Burbank police arrested him when he was caught at a screening of The Core. Then at Anger Management. Then 8 Mile. Our law enforcement partners called us in to search Gasca's apartment and there it all was: things like two video camcorders, a micro-camera built onto a trouser belt, two DVD recorders, the 11 linked VCRs, a stolen Social Security card, and his two diaries, which happily chronicled all the bad things he'd been doing.

Hollywood ending. Gasca later threatened to sell up to 20 more unreleased movies online and "laugh all the way to jail" unless the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) helped him get his equipment back. He was charged in April 2003 (the first person ever indicted on federal charges of movie piracy)...and was placed in his lawyer's custody to discuss legal strategy...at which point he disappeared without a trace. Two years passed before U.S. Marshals got a tip and chased him down at a motel in Kissimmee, Florida. What was he doing? Illegally copying movies. Of course.

Gasca was tried in Los Angeles and found guilty on eight criminal counts. He faces a maximum of 33 years in prison, with his sentencing scheduled for this September.

Moral of the story. In the words of President and CEO of the MPAA to Johnny and his fellow pirates: "There is nowhere to hide, and you will be caught."

Links: Press release | More cyber stories | Other recent cases: Operation D-Elite | Operation Site Down