FBI arrests extortion
suspect at library
The man wrote e-mails to a company
threatening to release company secrets
unless it paid him $1-million, the FBI says.
By KATHERINE GAZELLA
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2000
TARPON SPRINGS -- The man using the Internet at the
Tarpon Springs Public Library looked inconspicuous. In
recent weeks, he came and went from the library, largely
unnoticed by the librarians.
But Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were watching
Michael Pitelis closely. They watched as he drove from his
Tarpon Point Condominium complex to the library earlier
this week. An agent looked at the computer screen as he
typed the words "payment in full," "cold war" and "PTC" in
an e-mail message Monday.
Tuesday afternoon, they closed in. About a dozen of them
encircled Pitelis at the library, handcuffed him and
him on charges that he tried to extort more than $1-million
from a Massachusetts software company.
Pitelis, 39, had threatened top executives at Parametric
Technology Corp., telling them he would post information on
the Internet that would allow people to use the company's
software without paying, according to a sworn statement by
FBI Special Agent Nenette L. Day.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Pizzo on Wednesday set
Pitelis' bail at $25,000. Pitelis was being held at the
Hillsborough County Jail on Wednesday.
Pitelis' contact with the company began Aug. 3, records
show. He sent an e-mail to Richard Harrison, the company's
chief executive, in which he detailed the installation
instructions for the PTC software package Pro/Engineer,
PTC develops, markets and supports software packages
that help manufacturing companies design and develop new
products. For example, Dynasty Motorcar Corp. recently
announced it would use a version of Pro/Engineer to design
a new electric, low-speed vehicle.
PTC's software is sold on compact discs, and customers are
given passwords to access the functions on the CD they
If the information contained in the e-mail were posted on
Internet, users would have access to the full range of
functions contained in a Pro/Engineer CD, Day wrote. The
retail value of those functions is more than $100,000.
That e-mail and some subsequent messages were signed
"Bill Myers," but the messages were traced back to Pitelis.
He used the address firstname.lastname@example.org, until a PTC
employee contacted Yahoo and the account was canceled.
He then used email@example.com, records show.
In later messages, most of which he composed at a library
terminal, Pitelis wrote that an "unnamed individual" was
willing to pay $250,000 and, later, $400,000 for the
"We will initially accept a lump sum of $400,000 from PTC
to contain this information," he wrote in an Aug. 11 e-mail,
FBI records show. He also asked for a $40,000 monthly
"maintenance fee." He also wrote that an offshore account
had been set up to accept a wire transfer from PTC.
He later raised the stakes. In an e-mail dated Aug. 21, Day
said, Pitelis demanded $1-million from PTC. Federal agents
watched as he typed the message, and he was arrested the
Agents and PTC were able to trace Pitelis' e-mails through
the Internet service provider that passed along his e-mails.
First, PTC obtained a civil subpoena that it used to track
down the telephone number from which the first two e-mails
were sent. It was, according to the FBI, a phone in Pitelis'
name. Agents traced later e-mailed threats to the Tarpon
Pitelis' Web site, www.pitelis.com, lists him as the
and senior associate of Pitelis and Associates, P.O. Box
894 in Tarpon Springs. The company "specializes in the
application, training and support of (PTC) Pro/Engineer,"
Web site says.
The arrest involving about a dozen federal agents was
surprisingly quiet, said Elizabeth O'Brien, the library
"They really were very smooth about it," she said.
O'Brien and other library employees did not know about the
surveillance, she said. But the library had been contacted
its Internet service provider, who alerted them that one of
the machines was being used for illegal activity.
O'Brien did not know how long Pitelis had been going to the
library, but she guessed it hadn't been very long.
"We weren't sure whether he was a new customer, or if we
just hadn't noticed him," she said. "Nobody knew him."
- Times staff writer Larry Dougherty contributed to this
Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or
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