AT&T Accused of Improperly Billing U.S. Program for Deaf
By Tom Schoenberg – Mar 22, 2012 10:45 AM ET
A unit of AT&T Inc. (T) is accused of improperly billing the U.S. for millions of dollars in reimbursements of text-based communications under a federal program for the hearing-impaired.
The U.S. Justice Department yesterday intervened in a whistle-blower lawsuit in federal court in Pittsburgh that alleged the phone company violated the False Claims Act. AT&T failed to ensure that users of the Federal Communications Commission program were eligible, the U.S. alleges.
“Federal funding for Telecommunications Relay Services is intended to help the hearing- and speech-impaired in the United States,” Stuart Delery, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division, said today in a statement. “We will pursue those who seek to gain by knowingly allowing others to abuse this program.”
According to the complaint, AT&T allowed thousands of calls to be made on the system by users in Nigeria and other countries seeking to defraud U.S. merchants.
Marty Richter, a spokesman for Dallas-based AT&T, said in a statement that the company followed the FCC’s rules for providing Internet Protocol Relay services and for seeking reimbursement for those services.
“As the FCC is aware, it is always possible for an individual to misuse IP Relay services, just as someone can misuse the postal system or an e-mail account, but FCC rules require that we complete all calls by customers who identify themselves as disabled,” Richter said.
The case is Lyttle v. AT&T Communications of Pennsylvania, 10-01376, U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh).
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