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The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a $12.9 million fine for a robocall operator whose spoofed calls allegedly included conspiracy theories, attempts to influence a jury and racist and anti-Semitic elements.

The FCC accused Scott Rhodes (also known as Scott Platek) of sending thousands of robocalls in targeted efforts that focused on voters in three states during high-profile political campaigns, or residents “in communities that had experienced major news events relating to or involving white nationalism, immigration, or other public controversies.”

An investigation by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau found half a dozen robocall campaigns that were apparently initiated by Rhodes.

He is accused of starting off with robocalls designed to inflame tensions around race and immigration in Brooklyn, Iowa, by making nearly 830 spoofed robocalls following the murder of a local college student, Mollie Tibbetts, and the arrest of an undocumented Mexican immigrant for the crime.

“As if this tragedy were not enough, just two days after her funeral, Mollie’s family, friends, and the close-knit community of Brooklyn began to receive a barrage of spoofed robocalls,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Preying on the tragedy, the calls contained inflammatory prerecorded messages and a woman’s voice apparently intended to impersonate Mollie Tibbetts saying ‘kill them all’—the ‘them’ referring to illegal aliens from Mexico. Rhodes apparently used spoofed caller IDs that matched the area code and central office code for Brooklyn to mislead consumers into thinking that they were receiving a local call. Sadly, that is exactly what Mollie’s father thought when he answered Rhodes’s robocall. Family members said that listening to the robocalls caused them to suffer emotional distress and caused Mollie’s stepmother to become physically ill.”

In Virginia, Rohdes made more than 2,000 spoofed robocalls to residents of Charlottesville, Virginia during the trial of white supremacist James Fields, who was ultimately convicted of murdering Heather Heyer by driving an automobile into a crowd of protesters. The calls “articulated a racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, which blamed local officials for the crime”, according to the FCC, and “the timing of the calls suggests an attempt by the caller to influence the jury.” The judge in Fields’ trial asked jurors about those calls and “explicitly instructed the jury pool to ignore” them, the FCC noted.

Rhodes also allegedly targeted 750 threatening, spoofed robocalls to residents of Sandpoint, Idaho, after the local newspaper exposed his identity as the one behind some of the calling campaigns. The calls identified the newspaper publisher by name and called on residents to “Burn out the cancer.”

In three other cases, the FCC said, the spoofed robocallers targeted voters in California, Georgia and Florida and attacked Democratic candidates during political campaigns. Rhodes is accused of making nearly 1,500 spoofed robocalls to target Senator Dianne Feinstein with anti-Semitic attacks, as well as hundreds of calls using racist caricature that claimed to be from Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and nearly 600 calls in Georgia which attacked gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and “pretended to be from Oprah Winfrey and concerned a racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.”

Rhodes, according to an FCC statement, was “apparently motivated by a belief that these actions would result in media notoriety and accordingly would enable him to increase publicity for his website and personal brand. In the process, he apparently broke the law.”

The proposed fine was agreed to by four of the five FCC commissioners. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel dissented — but only because she felt the fine was not high enough. She said that the FCC “should throw the book at” robocall scam artists and “should fine them to the hills. … Yet the fine in this enforcement action is nowhere near as high as it should be given that the individual behind this mass of robocalls was responsible for no less than six separate spoofing campaigns. In fact, it falls far short of the maximum fine the agency could have levied.”

Rhodes will have a chance to respond to the FCC’s claims before the commission takes final action on the proposed fine.

The post FCC proposes $12.9 million fine for spoofed robocalls appeared first on RCR Wireless News.



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