YouTube Video Has Arlington VA Felon in Trouble Again

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009

People who commit crimes usually try to cover their tracks. But an Arlington County man posted his on YouTube -- and it landed him in federal court.

Benjamin C. Hornstein, 37, appeared in a video on the popular Internet site wearing a black hood and holding a gun. Not such a good idea, considering Hornstein is a convicted felon, and felons are not supposed to have guns.

Hornstein was arrested and pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria to possessing a firearm, a charge that could send him to prison for up to 10 years.

More and more, people are displaying their criminal behavior for the world to see, federal officials said. Investigators regularly check YouTube and other sites, where people have been known to post videos of themselves starting fires and setting off pipe bombs.

"I'm amazed at what people will put on the computer," said Mike Campbell, a spokesman for the Washington field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which investigated Hornstein's case. "Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame."

Hornstein, who will be sentenced May 15, is still jailed.

His father, Roger Hornstein, said: "The felony conviction was many, many years ago, when he was 21, and it surprised me that it would be a basis for something now."

Court documents said the investigation began Jan. 19, when Arlington police received complaints about the video, titled "4am Luciferian Service and Prayers for Darling Little Nee our new Thai Convert." Detective Crystal Nosal, a police spokeswoman, said several residents called police because the video also showed Hornstein posed next to a life-size photo of a woman who was gagged.

The callers were familiar with Hornstein, who had made threats against public officials and members of a local church, Nosal said. "People were concerned that maybe now since he had a gun or access to a gun that made those threats more realistic," she said.

Concerned that the woman had been abducted, police arrived later that day at Hornstein's house on North Quebec Street. They found a 10mm Colt semiautomatic pistol -- apparently the one from the video -- in a carrying case under Hornstein's bed. Hornstein told officers he had borrowed it from a friend, court documents said.

Police also found the photograph of the young woman in the video, and Hornstein said he had downloaded the picture from a pornographic Web site, court documents said. There was no sign of the woman and no obvious crime, but investigators learned that Hornstein had been convicted in Arlington in 1994 of grand larceny and statutory burglary.

Since Colt weapons are manufactured outside Virginia, the incident became a federal crime, because interstate commerce was involved, according to an affidavit written by ATF agent Timothy J. Lee and filed in court. Hornstein pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, a charge frequently used in federal gun prosecutions.

Investigators said they will continue to closely monitor computer images for people who feel compelled to post their crimes. "We recognize that the Internet is fertile ground for criminal activities," said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Katherine Schweit, spokeswoman for the bureau's Washington field office, which also investigated Hornstein's case.

The video that got Hornstein in trouble had been removed from YouTube yesterday. But other videos of his remained, including one dated Jan. 19. "The police just came and took pictures of the girl. They think perhaps she is a victim or something," Hornstein said as he looked at the camera.

He concluded by saying he was closing his YouTube account. "This is not worth it to me. I just got better stuff to do," he said. "This is goodbye.''

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