Video Game Plant Worker Used Access to Steal Pre-Release Copies of Game

A Gloucester Township man who took copies of the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas from a South Jersey production plant and e-mailed pictures of the game to other enthusiasts pleaded guilty to copyright infringement yesterday.

Stephen Dottoli, 24, admitted in federal court in Camden that he stole the copies on Oct. 12 and sent the pictures out prior to the game's Oct. 26 release date.

Dottoli, who worked at a compact disc processing plant in Pitman, Gloucester County, also operated a Web site for video games devotees, specializing in news and commentary on games.

On Oct. 13, the Web site notified readers that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had "gone gold," which meant that the game would be released soon.

The online posting said the game's release had been confirmed by the site's "own Steve Dottoli" and predicted that the game would be "as popular if not more than its prequels."

Dottoli also stole the game's retail packaging, which included a manual, a promotional poster and a map. He photographed the materials with a digital camera and e-mailed some of those pictures to confirm his claims about the game's imminent release, authorties said.

Later, a copy of the game itself was illegally posted on the Internet, and Dottoli became a suspect, said Dottoli's attorney, Michael N. Huff. Authorities searched Dottoli's home and computer, but found no evidence that he had posted the game.

"My guy was adamant with me that he had not done that," Huff said. "He's a bright young kid, knows a lot about computers... . It's a shame he made a very, very bad mistake in judgment."

Dottoli was charged in Pitman with theft, but that charge was dropped in light of the federal prosecution.

A spokesman for Rockstar Games, which produced the game, did not return a phone message left yesterday afternoon. Federal authorities said the company spent "millions of dollars" developing the game, including security measures to stop the early release of information.

The Grand Theft Auto series has been wildly popular, yet highly controversial for its violence. The latest version, which has been heavily advertised on television, follows the exploits of a character in a fictional gangland.

Huff said his client was probably trying to attract attention to his Web site, which has paid advertising, with his original posting, in which he essentially offered a confession.

Dottoli could face up to five years in prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 22, but Huff is hoping his client receives probation.

"I guess that will reflect the seriousness, or the lack thereof, of the offense," he said.