Convict who faked bomb threats in online feud loses appeal

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A New Mexico man whose online feud with a Delaware man led to bomb threats against an elementary school and a Walmart has lost his appeal.

A federal appeals court last week affirmed the 27-month sentence Stephen Scott Landes received after pleading guilty in November 2019 to engaging in several instances of “swatting.”

Prosecutors said Landes, while posing as his online rival Rodney Allen Phipps, falsely reported in May 2018 that he had planted bombs at the school and store, prompting police and SWAT teams to respond to the fake emergencies.

Landes had argued that his sentence was unreasonable because the judge imposed a three-month upward variance and failed to properly consider his mental history as a significant mitigating factor.

The court noted that the trial judge clearly stated that he had read the psychological report for Landes, acknowledging a mental disorder that should be taken into account. Judge Richard Andrews noted, however, that Landes’ diagnoses seemed to have nothing to do with the crimes he committed.

Andrews also noted Landes’ mental state was only one of several factors to be considered. The others included the fact that his bomb threats interrupted the education of thousands of school children, traumatized their parents, and harmed innocent people caught in the middle of his online feud.

Authorities said Phipps, of Georgetown, Delaware, falsely reported shootings and other emergencies in several states that led armed police to respond to unsuspecting people’s homes. Among his targets were Landes and his wife in Roswell, New Mexico. Phipps was sentenced in November to more than three years in prison after pleading guilty to a six-count indictment.