Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

February 15–22, 1996

city beat

Bernie Burned

The never-ending-saga of Ed Cummings, aka "Bernie S.," lands the computer hacker behind bars. Again.

By Scott Farmelant


Fresh off a seven month prison stint, a smiling Ed Cummings dropped by City Paper last October to chat about his "bad karma," sharing a prison cell block with Dumbfella John Stanfa, and "crimes."

Cummings grinned despite his run in with Secret Service and Havertown cops, who earlier nabbed him for having equipment that can potentially defraud telephone companies. Cummings, the first person ever sent away under a new federal law (even though he owned his stuff before Congress outlawed it), seemed glad to put prison behind him.

Suddenly, Cummings blurted a warning: "Be careful what you do today. Tomorrow, they can go back and charge you."

Instead, Cummings has learned about paying for yesterday's acts. For as Cummings discovered, the law can strike twice. Three months after tasting freedom, Cummings, known as Bernie S. in Philly hacker circles, is behind bars.

The odds say Cummings will not get out anytime soon.

Northampton County Judge Jack A. Panella locked Cummings up on Jan. 12 on $250,000 bail for violating probation. On March 5, Panella will decide whether to put Cummings away for upwards of two years for a 1993 misdemeanor charge. Under state law, the Secret Service/Havertown charge constitutes an automatic probation violation.

The hacker community and Cummings' lawyer, are extremely angry at the second jail term, blaming the Secret Service for Cummings' latest woe.

"This is a case based on... a sick vendetta by a government agency," wrote Emmanuel Goldstein, publisher of the Long Island-based 2600 hacker magazine, in a recent Internet posting. "[Cummings] is in [jail] with murderers and rapists. The conditions are appalling."

The Secret Service "has taken more than a passing interest on this case," says Attorney Ken Trujillo. "For them to continue to claim that he's dangerous when they know he's not dangerous, that's absurd."

Neither of the two leading investigators, Secret Service Agent Thomas Varney or Havertown Detective John Morris, would comment. But one law enforcement source, speaking on conditions of anonymity, both defends and questions Cummings' treatment.

"Do we consider [Cummings] dangerous?" says the official. "I think the question is, dangerous to who? What do you do with somebody who flagrantly violates the law? Do we just say more probation? He was given a break the first time and he didn't take it. So what's the answer? Who knows?"

The source adds that Cummings' personal journals suggest "totally unrelated felonies" which are still being investigated and will be revealed on March 5. Trujillo denies this assertion.

"There's a lot of stuff in those journals but nothing that would constitute a crime," says the lawyer. "I don't remember any confessions being in there."

Moreover, Trujillo says there is no evidence that Cummings is a threat to hurt anybody or to flee. At a Jan. 26 hearing (where Panella dropped bail to $100,000), Varney and Morris labeled Cummings as dangerous because he had the Anarchist's Cookbook, which tells how to make bombs, obtains material showing how to create a false identity, plus includes the 1983 Secret Service code name for President Reagan, which Cummings found in an old Monitoring Times article.

Varney also said Cummings had material resembling C-4 plastic explosives (it was, in fact, material used to mold dentures). Varney admitted Cummings did not have guns or explosives, had not issued threats, and did not harm anybody since his October release.

While Varney isn't saying why he portrayed Cummings as dangerous, confiscated photos might shed some light on why the Secret Service is after Cummings. The pictures, taken by Philly hackers and circulated throughout that community, show Secret Service agents on an undercover assignment. One shot reveals an agent picking his nose. The photos have aired on FOX-29.

In any event, it seems doubtful that Cummings will escape more prison time at his March 5 hearing. Sources familiar with Northampton's courts say probation violators are routinely jailed. Further, Panella is described in Northampton legal circles as "Father Time."

"Ed fully expected to wind up in jail on the [probation] violation," sighs Trujillo. "He's not a happy guy."

Cummings currently sits in a maximum wing of an Easton, PA, jail, housed with high-bail prisoners, including criminals like the notorious Joseph Henry, who sexually mutilated a woman before strangling her with a slinky. Cummings reports cold and filthy conditions at the aged facility (built right after the Civil War), including roach infestation.

Those following Cummings' case pray the public sits up and takes notice.

"The only positive development is that more people are slowly starting to realize what's happening," says Goldstein.

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