January 26, 2006

Businessman fined for selling stolen signals
Darren Bernhardt, The StarPhoenix

Selling stolen satellite signals has cost a local businessman $47,000 in fines plus thousands more in seized equipment.

Darren Minisofer and his company, Saskatoon Satellite Warehouse and Communications Ltd., were set to go to trial in early December 2005 on 126 charges under the Radio Communications Act and the Criminal Code.

Instead, a plea bargain was struck between the defence and Crown "at the 11th hour," said defence lawyer Kevin Hill.

On Wednesday in provincial court, Minisofer pleaded guilty to 10 charges against himself and two against the company for selling equipment that permits the unlawful interception of satellite signals.

In return, one charge was withdrawn and the rest were stayed by the Crown.

"This is the result of some very extensive discussions," Crown prosecutor Barrie Miller told Judge Barry Singer.

The plea not only "brought resolution to a long, protracted matter," it saved time and money for the judicial system by avoiding a trial that would have lasted three weeks and heard from 75 to 80 witnesses as well as police and expert testimony, Miller said.

Satellite Warehouse was one of seven Saskatchewan companies charged in October 2003 after legitimate distributors of Star Choice and Bell Express View complained of the unauthorized sale of the signals.

The companies involved in the black-market activity charged about $250 for illegal DirecTV RCA satellite systems with programmed cards. Star Choice and Bell Express View would periodically change the codes on access cards to scramble the signals, but those involved learned how to illicitly reprogram cards for about $20.

Undercover RCMP officers visited Satellite Warehouse on two occasions and observed Minisofer, 42, modifying access cards. On one visit, 54 people were served, Miller said. On the second visit, seven people had their cards modified.

Miller said it is difficult to estimate the revenue lost to legitimate satellite distributors, but it would be "a very, very large figure." Similarly, the personal gain made by Minisofer "was substantial," Miller said.

"The business, if I can put it this way, was booming. It had the potential to provide a healthy income."

Police also seized $3,275 in cash from Minosfer's business along with equipment such as satellite receivers, dishes, computers and software used to modify the cards (valued at $120,000.00). Satellite Warehouse shut down shortly after the charges were laid and Minisofer now owns and operates The Roxy nightclub on Broadway Avenue.

"There's not a lot of profit-making going on in his life right now," Hill told Singer in requesting the maximum time possible for his client to pay the fines.

The present net annual income for Minisofer was estimated by Hill to be about $8,000, as the nightclub "is still getting on its feet."

Singer gave a deadline of Jan. 5, 2007, to pay the fine, but left the door open for Minisofer to return to court at that time and request an extension. Hill said that is likely to happen.

In November 2005, Baron Technologies, owned by Kevin Baronowski, was fined $50,000 for the illegal sale of satellite television signals. That figure included the value of items seized from the store by police. In Minisofer's case, the value of the equipment -- for which the lawyers did not have a figure -- is over and above the fines.

Businesses in Unity and Kerrobert, and three in Regina, were also charged after the 2003 investigation. Jarret Stewart of Saskatoon pleaded guilty in 2005 to one count of unauthorized distribution of satellite signals and was fined $3,000.

The theft of satellite signals has a huge impact on legitimate distributors. A 2002 report prepared by the Canadian Motion Pictures Distributors Association estimated there are 600,000 unauthorized users of satellite dishes, which translated into $300 million to $400 million per year in lost revenues.