WASHINGTON – A former owner of two Illinois-based technology companies has pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to defraud the federal E-Rate program by providing bribes and kickbacks to school officials in Arkansas, Illinois and Louisiana, the Department of Justice announced today.
Gloria Harper was originally charged in U.S. District Court in New Orleans on Nov. 18, 2010, for her role in the conspiracy to defraud the E-Rate program. Harper, a former co-owner of Global Networking Technologies Inc. (GNT) and former owner of Computer Training Associates (CTA), pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in New Orleans to the conspiracy charges.
As a result of the Antitrust Division’s investigation into fraud and anticompetitive conduct in the E-Rate program, including today’s plea, a total of seven companies and 24 individuals have pleaded guilty, been convicted at trial or entered civil settlements. Those companies and individuals have been sentenced to pay criminal fines and restitution totaling more than $40 million. Fifteen individuals have been sentenced to serve jail time.
The department said that Harper, who acted on her own behalf and on behalf of GNT and CTA, participated in the conspiracy beginning on or about December 2001 through September 2005. According to the court document, Harper participated in the conspiracy to provide bribes and kickbacks to school officials and employees responsible for the procurement of Internet access services at certain schools in Arkansas, Illinois and Louisiana. In return, those individuals ceded control of the E-Rate competitive bidding process to Harper and a co-conspirator, ultimately allowing them to ensure E-Rate contracts at these schools were awarded to their companies.
The schools and school districts affected by the conspiracy are: in Arkansas – Gould and Holly Grove public school districts; in Illinois – Antioch Center, Fairfield Center, Ingleside Center, St. Mary’s Center, Waukegan Center, Zion Center and Niles Terrace Center; and in Louisiana – All Saints School, St. Augustine High School, St. David School and St. Monica School.
The E-Rate program was created by Congress in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, under the oversight of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The program provides subsidies to economically disadvantaged schools and libraries. Depending on the financial needs of the applicant schools, the program pays 20 to 90 percent of the cost for Internet access and telecommunications services, as well as internal computer and communications networks.
Harper is charged with conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 criminal fine for individuals. The maximum fine may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either amount is greater than the statutory maximum fine.
The plea announced today resulted from an investigation by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s Dallas Field Office, the FBI’s Dallas Field Office and the FCC’s Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Anyone with information concerning violations of the E-Rate program is urged to call the Antitrust Division’s Dallas Field Office at 214-661-8600 or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm.