In Into the Wild, what did Chris's boss at the wheat fields get arrested for?

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poetrymfa | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Wayne Westerberg is a grain elevator operator who picks up the broke and hungry hitchhiker Chris McCandless (going by the name "Alex" at the time) on the drive to Carthage, South Dakota. After three days of working on Westerberg's crew, Wayne offers Chris a job if he ever needs one in the future. Chris eventually returns to Carthage and forges a family-like bond with Wayne, but only two weeks after he has begun this work, Wayne is arrested for pirating satellite television service through the construction of black boxes, a fate which is described in the book as follows:

Westerberg had been drawn into a scheme to build and sell "black boxes," which illegally unscramble satellite-television transmissions, allowing people to watch encrypted cable programming without paying for it. The FBI caught wind of this, set up a sting, and arrested Westerberg. Contrite, he copped a plea to a single felony count and on October 10, 1990, some two weeks after McCandless arrived in Carthage, began serving a four-month sentence in Sioux Falls. 

Without steady work to keep him in one place, Chris decided to go back on the road. However, before leaving Carthage, he gave Wayne his 1942 edition of Tolstoy's War and Peace with an inscription that read, "Transferred to Wayne Westerberg from Alexander. October, 1990. Listen to Pierre." Chris continued to periodically keep in touch with Wayne, and Wayne was the recipient of the final postcard Chris sent before his death.

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sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Chris McCandless's boss at this point in the text was Wayne Westerberg.  Westerberg owned a grain elevator in Carthage, South Dakota.  When he is not there, Westerberg operates a custom combine crew that follows the harvest every summer from Texas to Canada.  The text says that Westerberg is quite adept at just about anything that he does.  He is an actual "jack of all trades."  

A Renaissance man of the plains, he is a farmer, welder, businessman, machinist, ace mechanic, commodities speculator, licensed airplane pilot, computer programmer, electronics troubleshooter, video-game repairman.

It is probably because of those diverse skills that he got pulled into a scheme to build "black boxes."  Those boxes are devices that can find and unscramble the satellite signal being sent out to televisions.  In other words, if you have a black box, you get free satellite television.  The FBI deems that practice as illegal, so the FBI set up a sting to capture and arrest Westerberg.  He confessed to a single felony and was forced to serve a four month sentence.  That occurred only a few weeks after McCandless arrived, so without Westerberg in Carthage, McCandless returned to his nomadic lifestyle.  

dymatsuoka's profile pic

dymatsuoka | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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"Black boxes" are devices which unscramble satellite-television transmissions illegally.  They allow people to watch encrypted cable programming without paying for it.  Chris's boss at the wheat fields, Wayne Westerberg, had been in on a scheme to manufacture and sell these boxes, and was arrested in an FBI sting.  Westerberg pleaded guilty to a single felony count, and served a four-month sentence in prison (Chapter 3).

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