Anthony Mowl, the former assistant vice president of business development for Viable Communications Inc. (Viable), and Donald Tropp, the former human resources manager for Viable, pleaded guilty today to engaging in a conspiracy to defraud the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Video Relay Service (VRS) program of more than $2.5 million, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division.
Today, Mowl, 25, and Tropp, 25, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Joel A. Pisano in Trenton, N.J., to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Mowl and Tropp were indicted on Nov. 19, 2009, along with Viable’s president, John T.C. Yeh; Viable’s vice president of corporate strategy, Joseph Yeh; and the Viable corporate entity.
In pleading guilty, Mowl and Tropp admitted that beginning in approximately fall of 2007 and continuing through approximately January 2009, they conspired with others to pay individuals to make fraudulent VRS phone calls using Viable’s VRS service. According to the pleas, John and Joseph Yeh paid Mowl and Tropp who would then pay people for using Viable’s VRS service. Mowl and Tropp kept a portion of the payments for themselves and distributed the remainder to the paid callers. Viable then caused the submission of fraudulent call minute claims to the FCC, causing the FCC to pay those claims at a rate of approximately $390 per hour for each of the VRS calls that it processed.
According to the indictment, VRS is an online video translation service that allows people with hearing disabilities to communicate with hearing individuals through the use of interpreters and web cameras. A person with a hearing disability who wants to communicate with a hearing person can do so by contacting 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.
According to information contained in the plea documents, Mowl and Tropp admitted that their role in defrauding the FCC’s VRS program led to a total of between $2.5 million and $7 million in fraudulent billing to the program. At sentencing, both Mowl and Tropp face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, as well as mandatory restitution and forfeiture. A sentencing date has not yet been set by the court.
Co-defendants John T.C. Yeh, Joseph Yeh and Viable are scheduled to stand trial on the charges in the indictment on May 24, 2010. An indictment is merely an accusation, and defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty at trial beyond a reasonable doubt.
In addition to the indictment charging the Yehs, Mowl, Tropp and Viable, five indictments were unsealed on Nov. 19, 2009, charging an additional 22 people with engaging in a scheme to steal millions of dollars from the FCC’s VRS program. The indictments charge owners and employees of the following six companies with engaging in a scheme to defraud the FCC’s VRS program:
- Master Communications LLC, of Las Vegas;
- KL Communications LLC, of Phoenix;
- Mascom LLC of Austin, Texas;
- Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Interpreting Services Inc. (DHIS), of New York and New Jersey;
- Innovative Communication Services for the Deaf Corp. (ICSD), of Miami Lakes, Fla.; and
- Deaf Studio 29 of Huntington Beach, Calif.
These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant Chief Hank Bond Walther and Trial Attorney Brigham Cannon of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The cases are being investigated by FBI’s Washington Field Office, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FCC Office of Inspector General.