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'Hacker collective' member sentenced to nearly 8 years

Timothy Dalton Vaughn, now 22, was accused in threats to dozens of schools, a bogus plane hijacking claim and an attempt to extort a California business.

A North Carolina man who was part of a "hacker collective" and involved in threats to dozens of school districts and other crimes was sentenced to nearly eight years in prison Monday, officials said.

Timothy Dalton Vaughn, 22, was a member of “Apophis Squad,” which prosecutors described as a group of computer hackers and swatters, and went by online names that included "WantedbyFeds."

He and others sent threats to more than 80 school districts; Vaughn helped report a fake hijacking of a London-to-San Francisco plane; he also tried to extort around $20,000 in the cryptocurrency bitcoin from a California business and when he was refused he made the company's website inaccessible, federal prosecutors said.

Vaughn also had sexually explicit images of children, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Central District of California said. He pleaded guilty to a child pornography charge and other counts in November 2019.

Vaughn was arrested by the FBI in February 2019, and he and a British man, George Duke-Cohan, then 19, were charged in the United States.

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Duke-Cohan was already serving a sentence in the U.K. related to the hoax threats, and that sentence handed down in December of 2018 has been reported to be three years.

He is the one who called in the fake hijacking to San Francisco police, but Vaughn was accused of assisting in the bogus claim, according to an indictment. When the passenger plane landed at San Francisco it was quarantined for hours for security checks.

Vaughn, who was 19 and 20 at the time of the crimes and has autism spectrum disorder, "had lost himself inside of his computer," his federal public defender wrote in a court filing prior to sentencing. Vaughn has said his arrest was for the best and that he "was in the rabbit hole, and ... near the bottom," according to the public defender's filing.