Three individuals have pleaded guilty in a federal court to scamming the Federal Communications Commission out of over $2.5 million with organizations they owned that were designed to help people with hearing impairments.
The FCC has a program called Video Relay Service (VRS) for deaf people and those with related hearing problems. It partners with local organizations to provide interpreting services over the Internet to allow these people to communicate with others through webcams and other video-to-video channels. The local organizations pay their interpreters and are then reimbursed by the FCC for providing the service, at a generous rate of $390 per hour ($6.50 per minute).
What happened in this case is that three people conspired together to “hire” others to make bogus phone calls using VRS, and then everyone split the “reimbursement” money from the FCC. In total, thousands of hours of fraudulent calls were recorded.
Yosebel Buscaron, 25, and Lazaro Fernandez, 35, are co-owners of Florida-based Innovative Communication Services for the Deaf (ICSD). Natan Zfati is a 32-year-old video interpreter for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Interpreting Services (DHIS). These three people alone, along with the eight (at least) other people who were involved, caused the FCC to lose $2.5 million, according to their guilty pleas. However, reports suggest that actual losses may be closer to $7.5 million.
Each defendant could be required to pay as much as a $250,000 fine in addition to full restitution of the fraudulent call money, and up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for June 29.