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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Prank phone caller gets 4-year prison sentence

    ORLANDO, Fla. — In November 2008, 20-year-old Nicholas Barbati pretended to be a Coast Guard lieutenant commander, called into a secure line and reported a supposed threat to space shuttle Endeavor less than an hour before it was set to launch, federal authorities said.

    The day before, as he sat in his Daytona Beach home, Barbati made a distress call to the Coast Guard and claimed to be onboard a 32-foot yacht carrying “”10 souls”” that was taking on water off the New York coast.

    As it turned out, Barbati was making a lot of hoax calls via his computer — more than 500, according to his plea agreement — including to emergency dispatchers in other countries.

    On Tuesday, Barbati was sentenced to four years in prison during a hearing that included testimony from NASA space shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach.

    And if the prank calls weren’t odd enough, authorities say, Barbati was running a prostitution service through Craigslist, took the women’s personal information, and then filed more than a dozen false tax returns under their names.

    Federal prosecutors in Orlando filed charges against Barbati for the shuttle hoax, the fake distress call off the New York coast and the false tax claims. He pleaded guilty this summer to the three federal charges.



    On Nov. 14, 2008, space shuttle Endeavor was set to launch at 7:55 p.m.

    Seven astronauts were on board, the aircraft door was closed and deemed to be “”in flight”” when the command post at Patrick Air Force Base received a call between 7:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. from a man — authorities later identified as Barbati — claiming to be “”Lt. Commander James Leary”” of the Coast Guard.

    “”James Leary”” claimed he could see an inbound threat to the shuttle about two miles off shore and needed to talk to a watch officer. The information was related to NASA at Cape Canaveral.

    Security sweeps of the area were ordered, but nothing was found. Just five minutes prior to launch, officials determined there was no viable threat to the shuttle, and the aircraft was allowed to launch.

    An investigation revealed there was no “”James Leary”” in the Coast Guard or working with the shuttle launch crew.



    A man who was later identified as Barbati called U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. about 4:35 p.m. on Nov. 13, 2008, and said he was on a yacht that was taking on water about three nautical miles off the coast of Fire Island, N.Y.

    The dispatcher connected Barbati to the Coast Guard unit in Long Island, N.Y., and Barbati repeated the false information.

    The Coast Guard dispatched a rescue boat and a helicopter and crews searched for hours, but there was no sign of the sinking yacht. The estimated cost of the search: $66,577.

    The Coast Guard investigated to see who made the calls and obtained Skype records that showed Barbati made the fake distress call. Skype is a software application that allows users to make calls over the Internet. Records show Barbati, using the screen name “”warsmith31,”” used Skype to make 584 prank calls to the Coast Guard between Oct. 23, 2008 and Dec. 8, 2008.



    Daytona Beach police received information suggesting Barbati was filing false tax returns for the prostitutes he employed via Craigslist.

    One person, identified in court records as “”A.P.,”” said Barbati took identification out of the prostitutes’ purses without their knowledge.

    The IRS identified 20 tax returns associated with Barbati for the 2007, 2008 and 2009 tax years. Two of those were his own, and the remaining 18 were filed for 10 women.

    Tax refunds totaling $106,717 were claimed on the returns, which were filed electronically.


    During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, several federal officials testified that valuable security resources were wasted looking for the supposed threat off the Florida coast minutes before the Endeavor launch.

    Mark Borsi, the Special Agent-in-Charge of security at Kennedy Space Center, said Barbati’s prank call caused 45 minutes of “”sheer hard work”” to vet the threat.

    Barbati, now 22, also spoke briefly and apologized to NASA and the Coast Guard.

    “”I’m in the process of changing,”” he said. He also told the judge that he has skills he could use outside prison and is learning to change his behavior.

    Barbati’s sentencing-guideline range was two years in prison. But Chief U.S. District Judge Anne C. Conway sentenced him above the range, giving him four years in federal prison.

    She also sentenced Barbati to three years supervised release, 50 hours of community service and ordered him to pay more than $100,000 in restitution to the Coast Guard.

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