December 26, 2014 By Paul Wallin

Who doesn’t love a good practical joke? More often than not, the local police and district attorneys lack a sense of humor, which is why every now and then, a practical joke spirals out of control, leading to unintended consequences. Here are some pranks that started out as fun and ended with an arrest.

1. The Market Crasher

Emulex, a Costa Mesa data-storage company, was the victim of a news story concerning its earnings report. The story claimed that the company’s CEO had resigned amid allegations of accounting irregularities, and that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating the company. Within two hours, the company’s stock price lost more than 60 percent of its value, dropping from $113.06 to $43.

It was soon revealed that the news story was completely fabricated by a 23-year-old day-trader named Mark Jakob, who worked for an Internet news organization that ‘leaked’ the information. In a scheme right out of a James Bond movie, Jakob also made over $250,000 from the prank by short selling his shares. The FBI traced the story to him, and Jakob eventually pled guilty to securities and wire fraud. He was sentenced to 44 months in prison, forced to give up the profits, and pay an additional $103,000 in fines. 1

2. The Blow Up Over the Blow-Up Doll

Practical joke results in criminal charges.
Did school authorities overreact over a harmless practical joke?

Tyell Morton thought it would be funny to sneak into his high school and put a blow-up sex doll in a bathroom stall. The 18-year-old wore a hooded sweatshirt, black latex gloves, and carried a package into the bathroom. When surveillance cameras showed him leaving without the package, school authorities locked down the campus and called in a bomb squad. 2

Morton soon found himself charged with criminal mischief, a felony that could result in up to eight years in prison. The case gained national attention, as legal experts heavily criticized the State of Indiana for overreacting. Morton was able to enter a diversionary agreement with the state, and the charges have since been expunged from his record. 3

3. Don’t Leave Me Hanging

New Yorker Randy Wood wanted to show his ex-wife just how miserable she had made him. He called her and asked her to come over because he wanted to show her something. When she arrived, she found her ex-husband hanging by his neck from a tree in the front yard.

The panic-stricken ex-wife called 911, and police and fire officials soon discovered the hidden harness that was supporting Randy’s body weight. The joke was then on him, as he was fined $1,000 and sentenced to one year in jail for faking an incident that caused emergency services to be dispatched.

4. Come At Me, Bro

A 17-year-old “Call of Duty” player on Long Island got the scare of his life when more than 60 police officers and other emergency personnel swarmed his home while he was in the shower. The police had received a tip that the boy had killed his mother and brother, and was possibly holding another person hostage.

It turned out to be a case of “swatting,” which is a trend in video gaming where a sore loser of an online game will gather up personal information on his unsuspecting opponent and send police to their home as revenge. All told, this incident cost taxpayers $100,000 for police and emergency personnel, and deprived the county of over a third of its emergency responders during the hoax. No arrest has been made yet as the caller has not been identified. 4

In California, an anti-swatting law took effect Jan. 1. It amended California Penal Code Section 653.01, and calls for swatters to bear the full cost of emergency response crews who report to the scene.

5. Coach ‘Em Up

California eavesdropping laws - California Penal Code Section 632
In California, it is illegal to record someone else without their knowledge.

Kenneth Tarr has an unusual hobby. He likes to call up prominent football and basketball coaches with phony job offers to coach high-profile teams, and record the coaches’ reactions without their knowledge. He has targeted coaches such as former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and former Golden State Warriors Coach Mark Jackson, and released their recorded conversations to sports news outlets like Deadspin.

What Tarr may not have realized (at least, not until he was arrested) is that this hobby is against California law. Recording a conversation without the other person’s knowledge is a violation of California Penal Code Section 632, which makes eavesdropping by recording the conversation a crime. If convicted of felony, Tarr could face up to three years in jail. A misdemeanor conviction could be punished by up to one year in jail and fines of up $2,500. 5

6. The “High” School Muffin Kerfuffle

Joseph Tellini and Ian Walker thought it would be fun to see what would happen if their teachers got stoned at work, so they baked marijuana into a batch of muffins and gave them to teachers and school administration officials. The prank went south from there, as 19 of the people who ate the muffins soon found themselves in the emergency room.

The two young men pleaded guilty to a combined total of two felonies and eight misdemeanors for tampering with consumer products and assault by recklessly causing bodily harm, and served a combined total of 260 hours of community service. They also split a restitution payment of over $13,000 to the victims. 6

7. The Kidnapping That Wasn’t

College athletes can find themselves bored on long road trips. Morrisville College field hockey player Stephanie Smith decided that the boredom could be broken with a prank. As the team’s two vans passed each other, the players in one van would play jokes on the other team van. Smith placed medical tape over her mouth and held up a sign that read, “HELP! I’VE BEEN KIDNAPPED!” Not being in on the joke, other drivers on the road began calling 911 to report a kidnapping in progress. New York state troopers stopped both vans. Smith was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. 7

8. The Contagious Joke

Practical jokes could end up getting you in big trouble.
You may think your practical joke is funny, but the police probably won’t.

“Ebola” is a word that sets people on edge, given the publicity that the disease received earlier this year. It is especially troubling to people who know nothing about the symptoms or how it spreads. Such was the case when a couple of friends in Horn Lake, Mississippi decided to play with another friend’s ignorance.

Robert Moltz had a rash, and when the other friend noticed it, Moltz and Allen Beard decided to make their friend nervous by telling him it was “Ebola-eating scabes.” The victim of the prank panicked, poured two gallons of bleach on his body, and called 911. Soon, the entire county was in a state of emergency, and quarantined Moltz and Beard in the parking lot of the local fire department.

Mayor Allen Latimer, furious over the prank, stated, “This cost taxpayer’s money. There’s nothing funny about this at all. In fact, we’re investigating and any and all charges we can bring against these individuals involved, we’re going to do it.” 8

Moltz and Beard have been charged with felony counts under a Mississippi law that makes it illegal to cause someone to falsely believe they have been exposed to a harmful biological substance. 9

Call the Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today

You may think you’re pulling a harmless prank, but the next you thing you know, you could be facing severe consequences. You need to speak with an experienced attorney at Wallin & Klarich right away. Our skilled attorneys have been successfully defending our clients facing criminal charges for over 40 years. We can help you today.

With offices located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich federal attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.

Call our offices at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

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AUTHOR: Paul Wallin

Paul Wallin is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Southern California. His vast experience, zealous advocacy for his clients and extensive knowledge of many areas of the law make Mr. Wallin a premiere Southern California attorney. Mr. Wallin founded Wallin & Klarich in 1981. As the senior partner of Wallin & Klarich, Mr. Wallin has been successfully representing clients for more than 30 years. Clients come to him for help in matters involving assault and battery, drug crimes, juvenile crimes, theft, manslaughter, sex offenses, murder, violent crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Wallin also helps clients with family law matters such as divorce and child custody.

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