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Engineers who hacked into L.A. traffic signal computer, jamming streets, sentenced

December 1, 2009 |  7:17 am

Two L.A. traffic engineers who pleaded guilty to hacking into the city's signal system and slowing traffic at key intersections as part of a labor protest have been sentenced to two years' probation.

Authorities said that Gabriel Murillo, 40, and Kartik Patel, 37, hacked into the system in 2006 despite the city's efforts to block access during a labor action.

Fearful that the strikers could wreak havoc, the city temporarily blocked all engineers from access to the computer that controls traffic signals.

But authorities said Patel and Murillo found a way in and picked their targets with care -- intersections they knew would cause significant backups because they were close to freeways and major destinations.

The engineers programmed the signals so that red lights for several days starting Aug. 21, 2006 would be extremely long on the most congested approaches to the intersections, causing gridlock. Cars backed up at Los Angeles International Airport, at a key intersection in Studio City, at access onto the clogged Glendale Freeway and throughout the streets of Little Tokyo and the L.A. Civic Center area, sources told The Times at the time. No accidents occurred as a result.

As part of their plea deal, the engineers agreed to pay $6,250 in restitution and completed 240 hours of community service.

-- Shelby Grad