As the six-week amnesty period neared an end yesterday afternoon, more than 5,600 cable thieves in Baltimore County had turned themselves in to Comcast Cablevision.
David Nevins, a Comcast spokesman, said Comcast's switchboards were jammed this week with calls from cable pirates who waited until the last minute to confess.
Comcast operators fielded calls at the rate of 100 an hour yesterday, he said, making it by far one of the busiest days of the amnesty program.
"Apparently, a lot of people were waiting until the last minute to hold on to their free cable for as long as possible," Mr. Nevins said.
About half of the callers turning themselves in decided to retain cable services and start paying, joining Comcast's 160,000 paying subscribers in Baltimore County. The percentage of last-minute callers signing up for service was slightly higher -- about 65 percent, Mr. Nevins said.
Although the six-week program is officially over, Comcast said, its operators will accept late confessions over the weekend.
That gives cable thieves an extra two days to confess to having pirated the cable service -- with no questions asked.
But starting Monday, there will be no more Mr. Nice Guy: Comcast said it has auditors ready to begin a countywide, electronic house-by-house audit to find out who is receiving cable legitimately and who isn't.
The audit, which will be the most extensive ever conducted by Comcast, should be complete by the end of the year.
Cable pirates found out by auditors will be disconnected on the spot. Information on cable thieves will be forwarded to the state's attorney's office for possible prosecution.
Under Maryland law, theft of cable services is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Comcast also might press civil charges against any cable thieves it finds.