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Feds detail Free Radio Santa Cruz complaint

By GWEN MICKELSON
Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ — Free Radio Santa Cruz was warned to stop broadcasting at least four times before its equipment was seized this week, according to a federal court complaint released Friday.

The Department of Justice civil forfeiture complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Northern District, led to Wednesday’s raid of Free Radio Santa Cruz by armed U.S. marshals and Federal Communications Commission officials.

Agencies used a high-tech radio wave signal locating device to find the station’s home at 807 Laurel St.

They first discovered it in May, five days after station operators moved, but waited more than four months to shut down the station that has been operating without an FCC license for a decade.

The complaint sought forfeiture of radio station equipment, which radio operators say is valued at $5,000. According to the complaint, the warnings state that because the station was unlicensed, the operators were subject to a criminal fine of $10,000 and/or one year imprisonment, and that the station equipment was subject to seizure.

The complaint alleged that Vincent A. Lombardo and others had been broadcasting radio signals on 101.1 FM from 807 Laurel St. in Santa Cruz without a license from the Federal Communications Commission. On its Web site, freakradio.org, the station proclaims its commercial-free broadcasts are "in defiance of federal regulations."

Also filed was an affidavit in support of the complaint written by David Doon, an FCC electronics engineer in San Francisco.

In the affidavit, Doon asserted that warning letters for operating an unlicensed FM radio station were served when the station broadcast at 89.3 FM, 96.3 FM and 101.1 FM. Those letters were served at 163 Pryce St., 706 Frederick St. and 307 Chestnut St. in Santa Cruz and to various people associated with the station from 1996 to 2000.

Despite the radio station’s frequent moves, agents were able to find it by using radio receivers mounted in a vehicle.

When the vehicle’s equipment detects a radio signal, agents see a visual display of the signal and its relative strength, according to Doon. Agents can travel around the source until they find it.

The Department of Justice has not filed criminal charges against anyone involved in the case, according to Department of Justice spokesman Luke Macaulay. He declined to comment whether charges would be filed.

If the owners file a claim, they have to prove they were not willfully and knowingly operating an unlicensed radio station, said Macaulay.

Friday night, Louis LaFortune, a member of the Free Radio Santa Cruz collective, said "We are broadcasting on the Internet."

The station was off the air for little more than 24 hours, LaFortune said, though they have yet to get back on FM airwaves.

"We plan to broadcast again, to acquire new transmitting equipment and get back on the air," LaFortune said.

"It may be a few days, may be weeks," though not surprisingly he declined to say where they would be located and where they are broadcasting from now.

LaFortune said he did not know if members of the collective had been threatened with criminal charges, but he said warrants served in the past named individuals. This week’s warrant named only equipment.

Contact Gwen Mickelson at gmickelson@santacruzsentinel.com.

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