Man charged with making hoax bomb threats, leading to SWAT team responses

A 21-year-old Connecticut man has been arrested on federal charges for allegedly making hoax calls to generate unneeded responses by emergency crews, including one that led to a multi-hour lockdown at the UConn campus in Storrs earlier this year.

Matthew Tollis, 21, of Wethersfield was arrested Sept. 10 on a federal criminal complaint charging him with participating in a series of “swatting” incidents that occurred in 2014.

“Swatting” is the making of a hoax call to any emergency service to elicit an emergency response based on the false report of an ongoing critical incident. Incidents can lead to the deployment of SWAT units, bomb squads and other police units, as well as the evacuations of schools, businesses and residences.

Many units responded to UConn campus

On April 3, Tollis is alleged to have been involved in a bomb threat to University of Connecticut’s Admissions Department that resulted in a multi-hour, campus-wide lockdown and required the UConn police and the Connecticut State Police’s bomb squad, emergency services unit and SWAT teams to respond.

Deirdre M. Daly, U.S. attorney for Connecticut, said “swatting” incidents waste law enforcement’s time and resources, and cause emotional distress for victims. “The felony charges announced today, as well as the ongoing investigation here and abroad, make clear that this is not a game,” Daly said.

Patricia M. Ferrick, special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Haven Division, said “swatting” is not “some kind of modern-day harmless prank ... It is a serious federal crime and will be investigated and prosecuted as such.”

Group of X-Box gamers

As alleged in the criminal complaint, Tollis was a member of a group primarily consisting of Microsoft X-Box gamers who referred to themselves as “TCOD” (TeAM CrucifiX or Die).

The investigation revealed that Tollis and his TCOD associates have used the Internet communication service Skype to make hoax threats involving bombs, hostage taking, firearms, and mass murder, federal prosecutors said.

Officials said Tollis has been identified as a participant in at least six of these swatting incidents, including bomb threats to schools and other locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida and Texas.

In addition to the UConn incident, the ongoing federal investigation has revealed that TCOD members also are allegedly responsible for at least six additional swatting incidents in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

It is believed that three members of TCOD reside in the United Kingdom and have made swatting calls from the U.K., officials said. The FBI is actively working with authorities in the U.K. to identify these individuals.

Three federal charges

The federal criminal complaint charges Tollis with:

— one count of conspiring to engage in a bomb threat hoax;

— one count of aiding and abetting a bomb threat hoax

— one count of aiding and abetting the malicious conveying of false information regarding an attempt or alleged attempt to kill, injure or intimidate any individual, or to unlawfully damage or destroy any building or other real or personal property by means of an explosive.

Each of these charges carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.

Now being held in custody

Following his arrest on federal charges, Tollis appeared in Bridgeport federal court and he is currently detained. A detention hearing is scheduled for Sept. 12.

On Sept. 3, Tollis had been arrested on state charges stemming from the UConn swatting incident.

Many agencies involved in investigation

This matter is being investigated by the FBI’s New Haven, Newark and Boston field offices; UConn Police Department; Connecticut Intelligence Center; Monroe Police Department; Willimantic Police Department; Boston University Police Department; Harvard University Police Department; Newton (Mass.) Police Department; Cambridge (Mass.) Police Department, and other state and local law enforcement agencies.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Connecticut is working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey on the case.