FCC: Internet program for deaf cheated out of millions of dollars

FCC charges 26 people in 9 states with fraud of its Video Relay Service

In court the Federal Communications Commission has charged 26 people with defrauding the agency of "tens of millions of dollars" from its program that lets people with hearing disabilities to communicate with hearing individuals through the use of interpreters and Web cameras. 

Specifically indictments were unsealed against 26 people charged with engaging in a scheme to steal millions of dollars from the FCC's Video Relay Service (VRS) program by submitting false and fraudulent claims for VRS calls, causing the FCC to reimburse the defendants at a rate of approximately $390 per hour, the FCC stated. 

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The FCC says the indictments allege that the defendants made, caused others to make, or processed fraudulent VRS calls that were then submitted to the FCC for reimbursement. These calls, often referred to as "r calls," "rest calls" or "run calls," served no purpose other than to generate call minutes that would be billed to the FCC's VRS Fund, the FCC stated. 

VRS lets a person with a hearing disability who wants to communicate with a hearing person contact a VRS provider through an audio and video Internet connection. The VRS provider, in turn, employs a video interpreter to view and interpret the hearing disabled person's signed conversation and relay the signed conversation orally to a hearing person. VRS is funded by fees assessed by telecommunications providers to telephone customers, and is provided at no cost to the VRS user, the FCC stated. 

The indictments charge owners and employees of the following seven companies with engaging in a scheme to defraud the FCC's VRS program:

  • Viable Communications Inc., of Rockville, Md.;
  • Master Communications LLC, of Las Vegas;
  • KL Communications LLC, of Phoenix;
  • Mascom LLC of Austin, Texas;
  • Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Interpreting Services Inc., of New York and New Jersey;
  • Innovative Communication Services for the Deaf Corp., of Miami Lakes, Fla.;
  • Deaf Studio 29 of Huntington Beach, Calif.

"These defendants are alleged to have generated fraudulent call minutes by making it appear that deaf Americans were engaging in legitimate calls with hearing persons, when in reality, the defendants were simply attempting to steal money from an FCC program that is funded by every single American who pays their telephone bills. The Department of Justice will not stand by and let corporate executives and others line their pockets with money that should be used to help deaf Americans," said Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer in a statement. 

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