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Ohio 'Entrepreneur' Lands in Hot Water

An Ohio prisoner will spend an additional three years and three months in prison after pleading guilty to theft charges stemming from an elaborate credit card and telephone scam he ran from behind bars.

Lonny Lee Bristow, 27, was already serving a 9year 11month sentence at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, OH, for retaliation, aiding an escape, harassment by an inmate and telephone harassment, when he was convicted September 5, 2000 of three counts of theft.

Prison officials began investigating Bristow in December 1999 after he'd lost his telephone privileges for making threats and throwing something at a guard. Informants also told prison investigators that Bristow had been using a bogus credit card to make mailorder purchase by phone.

An internal prison investigative report obtained by the Columbus Dispatch revealed that Bristow stole the identity of Praveen Arcot after reading Arcot's name in a newspaper announcement of his hiring as a software engineer by a Columbus company.

Prison investigator David See told the Dispatch that Bristow devised a way to bypass security features on the automated inmate telephone system. That allowed him to call the Nelsonville, Ohio police department and, posing as a deputy from California, obtain the personal information needed to get a credit card in Arcot's name.

To bypass phonesystem security controls Bristow would call the service lines at Atlantic Bell and Pacific Bell telephone companies, See said. Operators accepted collect calls from the automated system, thinking that Bristow was having trouble placing calls.

Once connected, Bristow would ask to be transferred to other departments, which were unaware that he was a prisoner making a collect call. Eventually, he'd ask a longdistance operator to connect him to whatever phone number he wanted to call and to bill the call to a law firm whose name he found in a legal directory in the prison law library. In one sixmonth period in 1999, Bristow placed 3,318 calls, See's investigative report said.

Prison officials have identified $14,749 in bogus charges wracked up by Bristow. That amount includes $4,972 in transactions charged to Arcot's credit cards. The rest of the telephone charges were billed to Arcot, telephone companies, law firms, and other third parties. The total is higher, but investigators were unable to identify all the callforwarding and thirdparty billing charges that Bristow incurred, See said.

Before he was caught, Bristow added several refinements to his scheme. In one instance, he obtained the address of a model apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, and had his own phone installed there. A few days later, he added customring and callforwarding features that prevented the prison's computer system from detecting heavy traffic to any one number, according to the Dispatch.

Bristow used Arcot's name to establish four other telephone lines, which he eventually split into 23 additional numbers by using the customring feature.

"He began selling the phone numbers to other inmates for a week or two at a time," See told the Dispatch. "Once the time he had sold the numbers for was up, he would call the phone company and have the numbers changed."

Bristow's scheme is the most elaborate uncovered in an Ohio prison, said Joe Andrews, spokesman for the state's prison department. New safeguards should prevent similar attempts to bypass the system, Andrews said.

Source: Columbus Dispatch

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