NEWINGTON, CT, Dec 9, 2005–A US District Court jury has found Jack Gerritsen of Bell, California, guilty on six counts that included transmitting without a license and willful and malicious interference with radio transmissions. Gerritsen, 69, who briefly held the amateur call sign KG6IRO, will face sentencing March 6, according to the office of Debra W. Yang, US Attorney for the Central District of California. He could receive up to 15 years in federal prison.
“The Federal Communication Commission investigated illegal radio transmissions linked to Gerritsen for four years,” said a statement from Yang’s office after the verdict. “According to court documents filed in this case, the FCC investigation revealed that Gerritsen transmitted his prerecorded messages, as well as real-time harassment and profanity, for hours at a time, often making it impossible for licensed radio operators to use the public frequencies.” A federal grand jury indicted Gerritsen last spring.
Gerritsen had earlier turned down the offer of a public defender and served as his own attorney in the federal court trial. The government’s case, presented by Assistant US Attorney Lamar Baker, went to the jury December 8, and the jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning its verdict today. US District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner revoked Gerritsen’s bail, and the defendant was taken into custody following the verdict.
Gerritsen was found guilty of interfering with a Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) communication last March and interfering with American Red Cross communications last January–both misdemeanors–and of interfering with US Coast Guard communications in October 2004, a felony.
Those familiar with the court proceedings, which got under way December 6, said Gerritsen tended to focus on freedom of speech issues and sometimes confused those giving testimony. Among those testifying at length on behalf of the government was FCC Senior Agent Steven Pierce, who discussed his use of mobile direction-finding equipment and techniques used in tracking the source of the illegal and interfering transmissions.
Just days before the trial began, the FCC affirmed a total of $42,000 in additional fines it had levied on Gerritsen, releasing two $21,000 Forfeiture Orders (NOFs). In affirming the fines, the FCC rebuffed every argument Gerritsen had offered in responding to each Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL), including his insistent “freedom of speech” claim.
“His unlicensed operation on amateur frequencies is not protected by the US Constitution as it is well established that the right to free speech does not include the right to use radio facilities without a license,” the FCC said in a footnote in one of the NOFs. The federal court jury in California apparently agreed.
In late November, Klausner denied Gerritsen’s motion to dismiss the three counts of transmitting without a license, turning away Gerritsen’s argument that the FCC could not set aside his Amateur Radio license without a hearing. Klausner declared that the effect of the FCC’s 2001 set aside of KG6IRO “was to treat the application as if it had never been granted.” Since Gerritsen never held an Amateur Radio license, he never had the right to a hearing, the judge reasoned.
One of the recent $21,000 NOFs involved alleged willful and repeated malicious interference with Amateur Radio communications. The second focused on allegations of willful and repeated interference with the radio communications of a US Coast Guard Auxiliary officer attempting to use Amateur Radio frequencies to assist a sailboat in distress. Last March, the FCC upheld a $10,000 fine against Gerritsen for interfering with Amateur Radio communications. The government has yet to collect.
FBI agents, accompanied by FCC staff, arrested Gerritsen without incident last May and seized his radio equipment. Released on $250,000 bond while awaiting trial, Gerritsen remained in home detention, barred from possessing any radio equipment.
Gerritsen’s history of radio-related legal problems go back to 2000 when he was convicted for intercepting, obstructing and/or interfering with California Highway Patrol radio communications. In November 2001, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau issued, then quickly rescinded, Gerritsen’s Technician license, KG6IRO, because of his earlier conviction. While transmitting on various Los Angeles-area repeaters, Gerritsen continued to identify as KG6IRO, however.
Radio amateurs on the West Coast complained for months about the slow pace of enforcement action in the Gerritsen case. Los Angeles-area repeater owners had taken to shutting down their machines to avoid the nearly constant barrage of malicious interference and lengthy political tirades attributed to Gerritsen.