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Hours of Surveillance Led to Music Piracy Arrest

An arrest affidavit shows that two brothers were under surveillance for months in connection with a music piracy case.

Surveillance teams poured hours into following suspects named “Little Mike” or "Big Mike,” also known as “DJ Big Mike,” trailing them for miles. Local police executed search warrants on three homes in Danbury, Bethel and Newtown, in addition to conducting numerous interviews with suspected accomplices.

This was some of what went into a lengthy investigation that began two years ago and culminated last week with the arrest of two brothers, Michael Willcox, 33, of Danbury and Stephen Sabato, 21, of Sandy Hook, on music piracy charges.

More arrests are expected, according to officials and an affidavit, which was filed in state Superior Court in Danbury and made available Monday.

The two brothers and their representatives could not be reached for comment Monday.

The arrest affidavit details a lengthy surveillance of Michael Willcox, also known as "Big Mike" or "DJ Big Mike" and his half brother Stephen Sabato, and their respective homes on Stetson Place in Danbury and Washington Avenue in Sandy Hook.

The investigation began with the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group that sent its own team of investigators to conduct a surveillance of a suspected "burner lab" at 27 Stetson Place in Danbury where pirated CDs were alleged being made and distributed, according to the affidavit.

The trade group is comprised of record companies that create, manufacture and distribute about 85-percent of all legitimate sound recordings made and sold in the United States, according to the affidavit. Three investigators from RIAA began the surveillance in Feburary of 2009.

The investigators allegedly followed a 1995 Ford Explorer registered to Willcox from his Danbury home to a residence at 12 George St., Mount Vernon, NY, which was suspected of supplying the materials and equipment used to manufacture recordable CDs and DVDs, according to the affidavit.

The surveillance team said Willcox appeared to have no other employment, though he was recorded as the property owner of the Stetson Place home, according to the affidavit.

Through further surveillance, an RIAA investigator allegedly followed Willcox to a Queens, NY check cashing establishment and later bought two CDss from a stack he allegedly had seen Willcox bringing in labeled “Big Mike DJ Mixes,” according to the affidavit.

Later, another RIAA investigator conducting a surveillance on the Danbury home saw a suspect identified only as “Little Mike” carrying a handful of CDs into a Gulf gas station at 113 North St. in Danbury and when she went in she was able to purchase one of those CDs for $5, according to the affidavit.

The CD bought in Queens and the one bought in Danbury apparently held the same content and later examination showed they were pirated recordings, according to the affidavit.

A search warrant was then executed on the Steson Place home where Danbury police found about 3,500 disks suspected of containing pirated music and inserts to make about 40,000 items, according to the affidavit. Songs by Lil Wayne, Mya, The Dream and G Unit and other Universal artists were part of what was found, according to the affidavit.

Titles of the CDs that were seized included “Blue Label That was my joint,” “Hard Knock Life,” “New York Struggle,” R&B Jump Off 50,” “Red Apples Falling” and “Trapaholics.”

Danbury detectives then interviewed an associate of Willcox, whose name was associated with a post office box used by Willcox and whose name shows up on mail delivered to the Danbury house, according to the affidavit. The associate said the master CD was mixed at another home and then burned into CD-Rs intended for distribution at the Washington Avenue, Sandy Hook residence where Sabato lives with his and Willcox's mother.

Meanwhile, RIAA continued its surveillance through July of 2009 where its investigators said they allegedly followed Sabato to an establishment in Stamford and later purchased CDs for $5 that were determined to be pirated music, according to the affidavit.

Later, Newtown police execute a search warrant on the Sabato residence at 18 Washington Ave. where they found 383 CDs with pirated music and boxes that were labeled to contain burner towers, according to the affidavit.

While police were executing the search warrant, an investigator with RIAA was keeping a surveillance on Willcox's Danbury home where she allegedly observed them quickly loading brown boxes into a car and then bringing them to an apartment in Bethel, according to the affidavit. Later they allegedly were seen throwing out CD disk inserts, the affidavit said.

A search warrant then was executed on the 32 Durant Ave., Bethel home where hundreds of CD-Rs and several thousand disc jacket inserts were found, the affidavit said.

Also based on UPS shipping records for Willcox, the three companies that he used to distribute the CDs collected a total of more than $600,000 for UPS cash on deliveries made between 2007 and 2009, the affidavit said.

At some point, some shipping invoices also showed that an ESPN account was being used to ship materials but that had not been authorized by ESPN, according to the affidavit. An ESPN representative told authorities the company believed the shipping information has been passed around the disc jockey industry, according to the affidavit.

A Newtown police officer also apparently reported a conversation he had with Sabato and another man in 2008 where the two said they spent a lot of time burning CDs on behalf of Willcox. The report said that Willcox mixes 10 songs every month onto a CD, which costs $.20 to make but is sold at $3 each, netting about $30,000 a month.

Sabato is out on a $1,000 bond and is to appear Wednesday, June 15 while Willcox was released on a promise to appear June 21.

Karl June 15, 2011 at 01:34 PM
There's also the issue of "derivative works" and "Substantially Similar" works. For example, if a photographer takes a unique picture, and some other photographer looks at it and recreates it, the second photographer may be infringing the copyright that the first photographer holds.
john June 16, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Flyrock Records, a record label that has pretty much written free music into its business plan. They represent artist driven and underground music. They are making huge waves in the Northeast. No way around it. Take the music. It's all good. Check out the new business plan for music. Flyrock Records. It makes this story irrelevant.
Ken June 17, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Are you guys aware that many of the artist on these"pirated cds"actually want their songs on djs mixtapes as a form of publicity.
Bother June 17, 2011 at 12:54 PM
There is a variation on the standard copyright called "creative commons". An artist or author may use this designation to allow the work to be used without prior written consent in certain predefined situations. I have photos I have put on Wikipedia under such license. The photos may be used with the proviso that a credit accompany the work and that it is not included in a product that is for profit or for sale. I think that if an artist wanted his music distributed for free he would do so, as many artists have. I just downloaded a performance by a band that I like which the band posted for its fans to download. Many, many others simply have their work stolen and sold. I believe that is what is being alleged. The RIAA would probably not pursue this if the copyright holder wanted his work to be taken and sold by someone else. Fair use is an issue sometimes, as with the student copying an article from a magazine, but it never includes selling someone elses work without prior permission.
Johnna Lavery February 05, 2013 at 02:54 PM
Is this what Newtown police were focused on before the shootings? Maybe they could've been looking into the trafficking of drugs, mainly pharmaceutical, running though their town. Wow!

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