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A businessman allegedly hacked into a doctors' answering service run by a competitor so that patients heard either a busy signal or sexual grunts when they tried to leave a message, according to a criminal complaint.

Gerald Martin, 37, of Pawling in New York State, is also accused of making crank calls to his rival's staff, sending a moving truck to its headquarters and mailing forged papers to discredit its financial standing during a sustained campaign to put Statcomm Medical Communications out of business. Stuart Hayman, president of the Westchester County Medical Society, said Martin's alleged interference "could have prevented thousands of patients from reaching their physicians in emergency situations".

District Attorney Jeanine Pirro cited the case of a Californian patient who had to be rushed to hospital for emergency treatment after being left unable to reach a doctor by phone because of the alleged tampering. Martin interfered with "the sacrosanct ability of a patient to call a doctor," Pirro said, AP reports.

Martin, vice president of Emergency Response Answering Service, founded the company after leaving Statcomm of White Plains on bad terms. According to a criminal complaint, Martin "interfered with the ability of Statcomm to conduct business" for three days last November after hacking into its systems.

Martin is charged with "computer tampering and possession of a forged instrument", AP reports. If convicted he faces between two and seven years imprisonment. Martin is yet to respond to the charges. ®

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