Twenty-six employees of seven companies that provide translation services to the deaf and hearing impaired have been charged in a nationwide scheme to defraud the government of millions of dollars, the Justice Department announced today.
Indictments against owners and employees of the companies, including businesses in Maryland, Texas, California and New Jersey, were unsealed today. Prosecutors say the defendants were part of a scheme in which fraudulent video relay service (VRS) bills were submitted to the Federal Communications Commission for reimbursement.
VRS providers help deaf and hearing impaired individuals to communicate with others through the use of Web cameras and interpreters. The service, which is free for the user, is funded by fees assessed on telephone customers. In 2008, the FCC paid $540 million to VRS providers. An hour-long call is billed at nearly $400. FCC officials said billing irregularities prompted the investigation.
“That people would prey upon the program for their own greed is just absolutely inexcusable,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said today at a news conference.
Authorities said the investigation is ongoing. But an FBI supervisor declined to say whether any other companies will be charged. “As this investigation moves forward, we plan to leave no stone unturned, and we will investigate the propriety of all other funds paid,” said Joseph Persichini Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s Washington field office.
FCC chief of staff Edward Lazarus said the FCC is implementing stricter oversight of the VRS program. There will be enhanced auditing and stepped-up scrutiny to identify and act on irregularities.
Prosecutors Hank Walther and Brigham Cannon from the Justice Department’s Fraud Section are handling the case. Charges were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.