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Police given email account information in Los Angeles hoax threat

NEW YORK -- Information about an email account used to issue hoax threats to U.S. school districts -- leading Los Angeles schools to close Tuesday -- has been given to police by the owner of the email service.

Vincent Canfield posted to Twitter a subpoena sent to him Tuesday by the New York Police Department, seeking account information after his email hosting service, cock.li, was used to send bomb threats to members of the Los Angeles school board.

Canfield told 48 Hours' Crimesider that the account has been locked.

"The account can't be logged into. It means that the user can't send email (and) can't delete anything," Canfield said. "So the account is pretty much just frozen at this point in time."

Various media outlets reported Tuesday that the threat was traced back to Frankfurt, Germany. Canfield said that's actually where his hosting service is based, and not necessarily an indicator of where the emails of any of its approximately 60,000 user accounts are sent from.

But Canfield said he did send location information for the alleged hoax threat account to New York City officials, who received an email similar to the one sent to Los Angeles. The message warned that pressure cooker bombs were placed in backpacks, and that, "every school in [the] Los Angeles school district is being targeted."

Canfield, who said he lives in Romania but is from Augusta, Maine, was surprised Los Angeles shut down schools after receiving an email from a service often used for jokes and pranks.

"C'mon, it says <expletive> in the name, and you're going to shut down a school district as a result," Canfield said. "Take a look at the domain name, look at the site, look at where it comes from. Look at where my users are from."

New York officials apparently agreed. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced Tuesday that officials in the city quickly determined the threat was a hoax, but New York detectives still joined the investigation to track down the sender.

Though the subpoena sent by the New York Police Department warns Canfield "not to disclose or notify any customer or third party of the existence of this subpoena," he soon posted it on social media. He also posted two audio recordings of phone calls he says he made to police personnel, in which they acknowledge that the subpoena was not confidential.

Asked by a man who identifies himself as an NYPD detective why he was recording the call, Canfield replied that it is part of his transparency policy to record and publish all communication with law enforcement.

48 Hours' Crimesider asked the police department if it was aware that Canfield posted the subpoena and audio recordings; the department has not yet responded. It is not clear if police have a suspect in the hoax threat case.

Canfield has retained Jesselyn Radack, an attorney who specializes in defending whistle blowers, but says right now he isn't taking any legal action, and has complied fully with the subpoena.

"It's mostly just as a precaution. If anything were to happen, if I were to receive a gag order for example, or anything else that I could require a lawyer for, Jesselyn would be here to represent me," Canfield told Crimesider.