They’re called “phreakers,” and they can do with a phone what hackers can do with computers. Few were more skilled—or more feared—than Matt Weigman, a blind teenager from East Boston. Using his heightened senses, he made himself untouchable. What he lacked, the FBI says, was the good sense to know when to hang up.
Weigman found a sympathetic ear and a ride to Smith’s house in Sean Benton. The pair had met on a party line in 2004. But they didn’t really get to know each other until Benton showed up at Weigman’s front door—a short trip from his place in Malden—in the fall of 2005, after Weigman had made some disparaging remarks about a friend. For a young man who showed a good deal of bravado on the phone, Weigman was sheepish when confronted. Benton, then 19 and four years older than Weigman, says he told Weigman he was too young to get caught up in this kind of stuff. After that they stayed in contact and by last spring were hanging out in person.
They left for New Hampshire on May 18, 2008, just days after their fellow party-liners were sentenced to prison—and just a month after Weigman turned 18. Weigman got the address, Benton pulled the directions, and Weigman’s older brother tagged along with an ulterior motive: a stop at the Atlas Fireworks Factory in Londonderry.
Whatever plan they may have plotted during the hour-or-so drive, it fell apart nearly immediately. Arriving at Smith’s house, they caught him out on his lawn. Weigman walked up and introduced himself. A look of concern flashed across Smith’s face, and he told the boys to hold on for a moment while he ran inside. As he did so, Benton says, the trio conferred: This was a mistake. They realized what Smith was doing. He was calling the cops.
The police showed up in short order. When they did, Weigman told officers that he was being harassed, that he had come to discuss the Verizon agent’s “vendetta” against him. In an affidavit later filed in court, Lynd says that Weigman admitted to having made SWATting calls, and that he said he was continuing to do so.
The young men were sent back toward Boston. Two weeks later, agents from the Boston FBI office swarmed Weigman’s home and arrested him. He was charged with intimidating a federal witness and attempting to influence his testimony—the alleged crimes for which he’ll stand trial this month.
To those who regard Matt Weigman as a protective son, a supportive boyfriend, a shy blind teenager who walks with his head down—to the few people who know what he’s like in person—the charges against him seem almost comically unbelievable. Death threats against infants. Conspiring to instigate police shootouts. You wonder if even Weigman recognizes himself in the picture that the FBI paints of Li’l Hacker.
Not too long ago, Chastity took a call from the jail in Mansfield, Texas, where Weigman has been doing a lot of thinking. Chastity says he’s got a plan for when he gets out—whenever he gets out. He wants to work with the blind, just like the people who helped him learn how to take care of himself when he was growing up. He told her that he wants to embrace his handicap and help others embrace theirs; he wants to teach them to be able to operate in the real world so maybe they won’t have to create their own. As he has gone about this self-reflection, it has no doubt helped that Weigman, like all his fellow inmates, has limited access to the phone.
[sidebar]Freelance writer Dan Morrell wrote about philanthropic venture-capitalist John Simon in the March 2008 issue.