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Extortion Trial Defendants Used ‘Big Ears,’ Witness Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two men charged with sending “pay-or-die” letters to prominent Lancaster residents conducted regular nocturnal excursions with what appeared to be electronic surveillance equipment before the mass mailing in November, 1988, a former neighbor testified Wednesday.

Michael Kilgore of Lancaster also testified that defendant Roman Makuch pointed a gun at Kilgore at the door of Makuch’s home and refused him entry on a day in October, 1988.

Kilgore said he spotted a computer printer and boxes of computer paper behind Makuch, who Kilgore testified always carried a gun.

Makuch, 28, and Richard Faroni, 27, are former Rockwell International electronics technicians accused of conspiracy and attempted extortion in the mailing of threatening letters to 265 people. No money was ever collected.

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The diminutive Faroni and the towering Makuch, described by sheriff’s investigators as intelligent eccentrics who went by the nicknames “Rocky” and “Bullwinkle,” face eight years in prison if convicted.

Under questioning by Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen L. Cooley, Kilgore said he befriended Faroni and Makuch because all three kept late hours. About six times a week during the summer and fall, Kilgore said, Makuch and Faroni would pack CB radios and a long-distance eavesdropping device known as a “big ears” into a car and head out on long drives.

The two gave him the impression that they conducted surveillance operations for a bounty hunter and bail bondsman, Kilgore said.

Cooley said the testimony is crucial because the extortion letters contained personal details he believes the suspects gathered by spying on the recipients. Defense attorney William Clark said the evidence shows only that Makuch and Faroni “live in a different world than most of us.”

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Cooley and Clark disagreed on the incident in which Makuch allegedly blocked Kilgore’s entry into Makuch’s house at gunpoint.

In addition to seeing computer paper and the printer behind Makuch, Kilgore said he smelled an odor that computers give off after extended use. He said he is familiar with that smell because of his work in electronics in the Air Force and aerospace industry.

It is significant that Makuch acted secretive and appeared to be engaged in a computer project shortly before the mailing, Cooley said. But Clark said there was “nothing sinister about it.”


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