Saturday, May 12, 2001

Harmon Lee, left, and Lawrence Seu, center, stood before
Judge Richard Perkins yesterday to hear their sentences.
With them was their attorney, Scott Collins.

Golfers who ‘cut
in line’ sentenced

By Debra Barayuga

It wasn't a matter of simply hitting a white ball into a hole that motivated two Verizon employees to hack into the city's automated tee-time system.

It was more the "getting together" with the rest of the guys for a round or two and drinks later, said Harmon Lee. They never imagined it would get them into trouble.

That's probably because no one had been prosecuted under a 17-year-old state law governing unauthorized computer use, until now, prosecutors say.

Back in 1984 when the law was enacted, computers were still an unknown. Even as computers gained popularity in the early 1990s, crimes involving their use were not common here until people started conducting their lives with them, from paying bills to making purchases, said Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee.

Lee said investigations into computer crimes take time, but he is seeing more "sophisticated" cases popping up.

People are using scanners to create fake IDs or blank checks or to lift a signature and place it on a document to make it look official. "The computer age is good, but a few bad guys can make it tough for everybody else," Lee said.

Most people are not aware of computer-related crimes unless they become a victim. Golfing buddies Harmon Lee and Lawrence Seu only learned their conduct was criminal when they were arrested last October, and immediately took responsibility and pleaded guilty.

For accessing the computer system without permission, both were banned from the city's golf courses for five years and sentenced each to 250 hours of community service.

Circuit Judge Richard Perkins also deferred their guilty plea for a period of five years, enabling them to erase the conviction if they comply with certain conditions.

Unauthorized access to a computer system is a Class C felony, punishable by a maximum five-year prison term and a $25,000 fine.

It is unlikely the two would have received jail time, because they had not been in trouble with the law before, said Lee.

In letters to the court, family members described the two as outstanding fathers, husbands and friends who had committed a serious lapse in judgment.

Their attorney, Scott Collins, said their conduct was "inappropriate," but it did not rise to the level of felony criminal conduct. He characterized his clients' actions as "cutting in line."

If golfers had to physically show up and sign up for tee times, and they somehow managed to cut in front of others who arrived before them, it would not have been illegal, he said. But because they accessed a computer system, their actions went from cutting in line to conduct that is considered criminal under state statutes, Lee said.

They did not steal any money, but they did steal the public's trust in a system that was set up to ensure fairness for all golfers, he said.

"When you start circumventing the system, you're no longer treating everybody fairly," he said.

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