US Air Force veteran made thousands helping others illegally stream TV shows, feds say


The 40-year-old man, of Melbourne, Florida, is believed to be the first person in the US convicted under the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act, which went into effect in 2021 to crack down on those who profit off of illegal streaming services, according to prosecutors. — Unsplash

A US Air Force veteran’s business allowed paying subscribers to illegally stream TV shows, movies and pay-per-view sports events – making him hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to prosecutors.

It also landed him a federal prison sentence, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina announced in a May 2 news release.

The 40-year-old man, of Melbourne, Florida, is believed to be the first person in the US convicted under the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act, which went into effect in 2021 to crack down on those who profit off of illegal streaming services, according to prosecutors.

After enlisting in the Air Force at 18, he served in the military for 20 years as a “highly decorated Airman” before he was honorably discharged, according to court documents submitted by his South Carolina-based defense attorney, Christopher John Gramiccioni. He is a “100% disabled veteran”, Gramiccioni wrote.

According to prosecutors, the man became involved in a “scheme” to sell access to copyrighted content from the video libraries of Dish Network and Sling TV when he was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, South Carolina.

With his company, Fenix, he illegally sold access codes for about US$10 a month to help customers watch the TV network’s shows and movies, court documents state. He also gave his subscribers websites and apps to watch the content, prosecutors said.

“(He) made a terrible decision, driven in large part by concerns over an inability to financially support his family upon military retirement,” Gramiccioni wrote of his client in a sentencing memorandum.

The man has been sentenced to one year and one day in prison for providing illegal access to digital streaming services after entering a guilty plea, the US attorney’s office said in the release.

Gramiccioni told McClatchy News on May 3 that “this prosecution is the first of its kind following implementation” of the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act.

“While we respect the judge’s decision-making authority, the history of this non-violent offense classified as a misdemeanor prior to 2021, coupled with our client’s valiant military service and otherwise impeccable record, make the imposition of jail time wholly inappropriate in this matter,” Gramiccioni said in an emailed statement.

It’s unclear how much money the man made from his streaming services, according to prosecutors, who didn’t specify an exact amount he earned.

Following his retirement from the Air Force as a staff sergeant, the man was “woefully unprepared for this unanticipated loss of income, and it immediately stressed the family’s financial capabilities”, Gramiccioni wrote in sentencing papers.

The man supports his wife, three children and his mother-in-law, according to Gramiccioni, who had argued in support of a sentence that didn’t involve prison time, decided by the court.

His wife of 17 years issued a statement ahead of his sentencing.

“Since retiring my husband has taken the backseat to help support me in my career as a Dept of the Air Force employee by taking on the ‘stay at home dad’/caregiver role. He has shown his commitment and dedication to our family by putting our family’s needs first. My children and I rely heavily on his presence every day....”

As ordered by US District Judge Mary G. Lewis, the man must pay US$22,639.27 (RM106,042) in restitution and a US$250,000 (RM1.17mil) fine as part of his sentencing, the US attorney’s office said. – The Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service

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