Inmate "telespoofed" his way out of Jail


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Committing phone fraud might earn you a few years behind bars, but it got Neil Ramoutar a get-out-of-jail free card.

On Nov. 23, 2006, Ramoutar used a telephone hoax to trick jailers at the Clark County Detention Center into releasing him.

He should have been kept in the jail on a federal immigration charge, but he was able to use a scam known as "telespoofing" to convince jailers he was a federal agent. Telespoofing allows a caller to make the ID on the receiving end of a phone call show whatever phone number the caller wants to show.

In Ramoutar's case, he called the jail -- from inside it -- and posed as immigration agent Emerson Ashley, according to a federal indictment.

Las Vegas police Deputy Chief LeRoy Kirkegard said the staffer fell for Ramoutar's hoax because the caller ID appeared legitimate.

Kirkegard said the incident caused the Metropolitan Police Department, which is in charge of the jail, to change its policy. The jail now requires documentation, such as a written order, to lift any hold on an inmate.

Originally from Trinidad, Ramoutar was arrested on an immigration violation in Pennsylvania several months after he conned his way out of the Clark County jail.

Authorities later sent him back to Las Vegas, where he was indicted on charges of being in the country illegally and impersonating an employee of the United States, according to the indictment.

He pleaded guilty on Oct. 26 to the immigration violation and bank fraud for an earlier theft charge. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 25.

Even though it sounds shady, sending a bogus number into someone's caller ID isn't, in and of itself, illegal, Las Vegas police Detective Kim Thomas said. What is done with that capability can be illegal, however. Las Vegas police receive about two calls per month from people who believe they were the victims of telespoofing, Thomas said.

He said callers have posed as bank and credit card employees. They have even pretended to be police officers to find out what a witness told police.

"What could happen with this is endless," he said.

It's virtually impossible to track down the origin of the bogus numbers that pop up on caller ID, he said.

He recommends that people always attempt to verify the source of any suspicious telephone call. Thomas said, however, that people generally don't question who calls them.

"We're kind of a trusting society," he said. "We want to believe."

Ramoutar is now hoping that U.S. District Judge James Mahan will believe him. Mahan is presiding over Ramoutar's case, and in an Oct. 18 letter to Mahan, Ramoutar wrote that he had grown up in extreme poverty in Trinidad.

His house, he wrote, had no plumbing or electricity and he was working full time by the time he was 15. His mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, his uncle sexually abused him, schoolmates beat him and he was diagnosed with a "severe depression disorder," he wrote.

Ramoutar -- who had previously been arrested in Las Vegas on charges of impersonating a police officer, theft and using another person's identity -- also wrote to the judge that he is now contrite.

"I'm confident this experience will help me make wiser and more sensible decisions when it comes to my life," he wrote. "There are no words to describe how much I regret my foolish actions."