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Hacker who sent bogus threats to LAX, school districts gets prison sentence

Los Angeles International Airport
Los Angeles International Airport.
(Los Angeles Times)

A hacker who issued dozens of phony bombing and shooting threats — including to LAX and Southern California schools — and who made a false hijacking report about a California-bound jetliner has been sentenced to nearly eight years in federal prison.

Timothy Dalton Vaughn, 22, of Winston-Salem, N.C., was sentenced Monday by a federal judge for conspiracy, hacking and possession of hundreds of items of child pornography. Vaughn had pleaded guilty to federal charges last fall after his arrest in February 2019.

Vaughn was a member of the “Apophis Squad,” which prosecutors described as a worldwide hacker collective that sent threatening phone calls and false email reports of violent school attacks.

Vaughn and others sent emails to at least 86 school districts that threatened attacks, including “the imminent detonation of a bomb made with ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, rocket-propelled grenade heads placed under school buses, and the placement of land mines on sports fields,” according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California.

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Among the school districts targeted were ones in Anaheim, El Segundo, Redlands, Tustin, Garden Grove, Mission Viejo, Santa Ana, Riverside, Chino and Lompoc.

Vaughn also falsely reported in August 2018 that armed men had hijacked an airliner bound for San Francisco, prosecutors said.

In that incident, he teamed up with a fellow Apophis Squad member in Britain, George Duke-Cohan, who called the San Francisco airport claiming to be the father of a passenger aboard a United Airlines flight en route from London, according to the indictment unsealed after Vaughn’s arrest by FBI agents. Duke-Cohan said that the plane had been hijacked by four men with weapons and explosives.

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The indictment also alleged that Vaughn hacked into the website of Hoonigan Industries, a Long Beach-based motorsports company, launching a denial-of-service attack in January 2018 that shut down the firm’s computer network for three days by flooding it with large amounts of data.


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