Michigan man made racist, homophobic slurs in radio transmissions to Coast Guard
mlive.com November 1, 2023
BAY CITY, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — Earlier this year, the U.S. Coast Guard received numerous harassing radio transmissions. Falsely crying mayday and letting loose racial and homophobic slurs, the prankster caused military personnel to search the Saginaw Bay.
Months after a voice analysis implicated him, an amateur radio operator from Huron County is facing federal charges for the ill-advised hoax.
According to an affidavit, a special agent with the U.S. Coast Guard on March 20 was assigned to investigate two incidents of false distress transmissions made via marine radio VHF Channel 16.
Investigators believed the transmissions were made by the same person. The channel is designated by the Federal Communications Commission as the national distress, safety, and calling frequency.
The first incident began about 11 a.m. on March 14, when the Coast Guard Sector Detroit Command Center received four radio transmissions within a 12-minute span.
“Did somebody let a giant g**dam fart?” the transmitter asked. Shortly thereafter, the voice uttered vulgarities and a racial slur.
Coast Guard personnel told the man to cease his transmissions, advising him he was breaking federal law. In response, the man told them to “eat a big pile of” expletive.
When they asked if he needed assistance, he claimed there was a man in the water near the Bay City Yacht Club. Based on this, personnel deployed rescue assets, with a boat launched by the Coast Guard Station Saginaw River in Essexville.
The Coast Guard searched the area for an hour, finding no one in distress. They categorized the matter as a probable hoax.
Minutes after midnight on March 19, the Coast Guard Sector Detroit Command Center received three more transmissions on the same radio channel.
“How about you shift to your (expletive) (expletive), you (expletive) (homophobic slur),” the man said. Later, he began stating, “Mayday, mayday, mayday.”
Asked if he needed assistance, the man stopped replying.
Once again, the Coast Guard prepared to dispatch resources near the Bay City Yacht Club. They also pinpointed the transmissions as coming from the area of 10th Street in Sebewaing, within Huron County.
At this, the Coast Guard determined the transmissions were likely another hoax and declined to dispatch rescue assets.
On March 24, authorities went to the home of Matthew M. Bills, 40, in the 300 block of 10th Street. Bills is known as an amateur radio operator and had a large antenna on his residence, the affidavit states.
Bills later met with investigators at the Sebewaing Harbor Marina. He provided them with a valid amateur FCC license. Bills denied making the transmissions or even having the capacity to do so, though he later said he could monitor and transmit from VHF Channel 16 on his boat.
Investigators later sent recordings of the radio transmissions and recordings of Bills’ voice to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh for voice analysis. The college in June completed their analysis, indicating a greater than 98% chance Bills’ voice matched that of the man who made the bogus transmissions.
Bills on Oct. 25 had his initial appearance before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris, who informed him prosecutors had charged him with making a false distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard and making false statements to a federal officer. Both charges are five-year felonies.
Morris freed Bills on a $10,000 unsecured bond. She set his case for a preliminary examination on Nov. 15.
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