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FCC Investigation Defense

We Defend Companies, Executives, Employees, and Others in FCC Investigations

Dr. Nick Oberheiden
Attorney Nick Oberheiden FCC Investigation Defense Team Lead
envelope iconContact Nick

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigates companies and individuals for a broad range of offenses. This includes companies operating in the private sector as well as FCC contractors, and it includes both private citizens and FCC employees. FCC investigations can present substantial risks, and companies and individuals targeted in these investigations need to rely on experienced counsel to assert an effective defense.

Our former federal prosecutors and career federal defense lawyers have extensive experience representing clients in high-stakes federal investigations, including investigations involving the FCC. We take a proactive and strategic approach to FCC investigation defense that involves protecting our clients by all means available. We also seek to achieve the most efficient resolution available—and this means resolving our clients’ investigations without formal charges whenever possible.

Understanding the FCC Investigation Process

The FCC has multiple offices and bureaus that conduct investigations. Each of these offices and bureaus is responsible for its own discrete area of enforcement, and identifying the office or bureau that is spearheading an investigation can provide key insight into the nature and scope of the allegations at issue. For example, FCC investigations often involve:

  • FCC Enforcement Bureau (EB)
  • FCC Investigations & Hearings Division (IHD)
  • FCC Office of Investigations (OI)
  • FCC Office of Inspector General (OIG)

Each of the FCC’s enforcement arms has a specific set of priorities, and they each rely upon a broad set of investigative tools to gather evidence in support of their enforcement efforts. As the OI notes, this includes “traditional investigative tools such as subpoenas and witness interviews, [as well as] advanced data analytics tools to proactively uncover systemic fraud in FCC programs and build cases against wrongdoers.” Depending on the office or bureau involved, FCC investigations can present risks for both administrative and civil penalties (including civil monetary penalties), and the FCC will refer investigations to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for criminal prosecution in appropriate cases.

Put our highly experienced team on your side

Dr. Nick Oberheiden
Dr. Nick Oberheiden

Founder

Attorney-at-Law

Lynette S. Byrd
Lynette S. Byrd

Former DOJ Trial Attorney

Partner

Brian J. Kuester
Brian J. Kuester

Former U.S. Attorney

Amanda Marshall
Amanda Marshall

Former U.S. Attorney

Local Counsel

Joe Brown
Joe Brown

Former U.S. Attorney

Local Counsel

John W. Sellers
John W. Sellers

Former Senior DOJ Trial Attorney

Linda Julin McNamara
Linda Julin McNamara

Federal Appeals Attorney

Aaron L. Wiley
Aaron L. Wiley

Former DOJ attorney

Local Counsel

Roger Bach
Roger Bach

Former Special Agent (DOJ)

Chris Quick
Chris J. Quick

Former Special Agent (FBI & IRS-CI)

Michael S. Koslow
Michael S. Koslow

Former Supervisory Special Agent (DOD-OIG)

Ray Yuen
Ray Yuen

Former Supervisory Special Agent (FBI)

Common Issues in FCC Investigations

The FCC is responsible for regulating interstate and international communications originating from and being transmitted to the United States and its territories. Under this umbrella, the FCC is tasked with promoting competition, protecting consumers, and administering various programs in furtherance of its missions. The FCC undertakes enforcement efforts in each of these areas as well, and it works actively to ensure that the U.S. communications industry and its telecommunications systems are competitive, secure, and free of fraud and abuse.

To this end, the FCC conducts investigations targeting a broad range of statutory and regulatory offenses. For example, we provide FCC investigation defense services in the areas of:

Consumer Fraud

The FCC is one of several federal agencies responsible for protecting U.S. consumers from fraud. FCC investigations regularly target companies and individuals for engaging in fraudulent activities that utilize U.S. telecommunications systems. Some examples include:

  • Caller ID spoofing
  • Collect call scams
  • Cramming
  • IP relay fraud
  • Post-disaster scams
  • Robocall scams
  • Warranty scams

When conducting consumer fraud investigations, the FCC frequently works alongside other agencies, such as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In these cases, the scope of the government’s inquiry can be extremely broad, and executing an effective defense requires a similarly all-encompassing approach.

Consumer Privacy Violations

Consumer privacy is a top enforcement priority for the FCC and other federal agencies. The FCC investigates possible consumer privacy violations involving cybersecurity breaches, scams, frauds, and other events and criminal acts. When consumer privacy violations have criminal implications, the companies and individuals targeted in FCC investigations can face statutory fines and prison time in addition to FCC-imposed administrative and civil penalties.

False Claims Act Violations and FCC Program Fraud

The FCC investigates violations of the False Claims Act involving claims submitted under the Commission’s programs. It also investigates other forms of FCC program fraud. This includes false claims and other forms of fraud involving:

  • E-Rate Program
  • Lifeline Program
  • Rural Health Care Program

Investigations targeting FCC program fraud lead to criminal prosecution in many cases. There are several recent examples of company executives and other individuals being sentenced to substantial fines and prison time for their roles in perpetrating fraudulent schemes (or conspiring to perpetrate fraudulent schemes) to take advantage of the E-Rate, Lifeline, and Rural Health Care Programs. The dollar values at issue in these cases have ranged from hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of dollars.

Misconduct By FCC Employees and Contractors

The FCC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigates cases involving suspected fraud and other forms of misconduct by FCC employees and contractors. These investigations can lead to disciplinary action (for FCC employees) and contract termination (for FCC contractors), as well as the potential for criminal prosecution in appropriate cases. The FCC’s OIG investigates all forms of misconduct, including:

  • Bribery, kickbacks, threats, and other forms of public corruption
  • Computer crimes “affecting FCC infrastructure”
  • Fraud, waste and abuse (FWA)
  • Government contract fraud
  • Theft of government property
  • Time and attendance fraud
  • Travel and purchase card fraud

The FCC’s OIG conducts both audits and investigations, and it has the authority to recommend both corrective action and criminal prosecution. As a result, FCC OIG investigations can present substantial risks for both companies and individuals, and an effective defense strategy is critical for avoiding unnecessary consequences.

Identity Theft and Related Crimes

Along with investigating companies and individuals for the violations listed above, the FCC also conducts and participates in investigations targeting identity theft, wire fraud, criminal conspiracy, and other related types of federal crimes. In addition to our experience in FCC-specific matters, we have extensive experience in the area of federal criminal defense as well, and we can provide strategic and effective representation regardless of the scope and severity of the allegations at issue.

FAQs: Defending Against an FCC Investigation

What triggers an FCC investigation?

FCC investigations can have several triggers, including whistleblower complaints, complaints filed with the FCC’s OIG Hotline, information gathered through FCC audits, and information received from Congress and other federal agencies. When building an FCC investigation defense strategy, understanding what triggered the FCC’s inquiry can provide key insights. This includes insights into not only the focus of the investigation, but also into the scope of the risks involved.

What are the potential consequences of an FCC investigation?

FCC investigations can have a wide range of consequences. One of the keys to determining what is at stake is understanding whether the FCC is focusing on penalties that are administrative, civil, or criminal in nature. The consequences of an FCC investigation can range from a citation, admonishment, notice of violation, or cease-and-desist order to property seizures, civil monetary fines (CMP), criminal fines, and even federal imprisonment.

Of course, resolving an FCC investigation without penalties is a possibility as well. Not all FCC investigations warrant the imposition of penalties. For targeted companies and individuals, avoiding unnecessary consequences starts with engaging experienced FCC investigation defense counsel, and it involves working closely with their counsel to assess risks, seize opportunities, and steer the investigation toward a favorable resolution.

Is it possible to resolve an FCC investigation without charges?

Yes, it is possible to resolve an FCC investigation without charges. At Oberheiden P.C., we have extensive experience resolving a broad range of federal investigations without any charges for our clients. In many cases, this has involved insulating our clients from liability entirely. When this outcome is not possible, we then focus on negotiating a settlement with the FCC that minimizes the ramifications for our clients while also building a strong relationship with the FCC for the future. For example, by showing that our clients have proactively undertaken measures to remedy any past compliance failures, we can demonstrate to the FCC that our clients will not represent enforcement concerns going forward.

Do I need to engage defense counsel for an FCC investigation?

If the FCC is targeting your company (or you personally) in an investigation, it is strongly in your best interests to engage experienced defense counsel promptly. A proactive approach is critical for resolving the investigation as quickly, favorably, and quietly as possible. At Oberheiden P.C., we can use our federal defense experience to get to work immediately, and our former federal prosecutors can rely on their insights to provide a strategic and forward-thinking defense.

Should I cooperate with the FCC during its investigation?

While cooperating with an FCC investigation can be an effective defense strategy in some cases, it can also be risky. Although targets of FCC investigations must generally comply with subpoenas and other similar types of judicially enforceable requests for documents and testimony, voluntary cooperation requires careful consideration and planning. Ultimately, whether (and to what extent) it makes sense to cooperate must be determined based on the specific facts and circumstances of each individual situation.


Contact the FCC Investigation Defense Lawyers at Oberheiden P.C.

If you need defense counsel for an FCC investigation, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information. To speak with a senior FCC investigation defense lawyer at Oberheiden P.C. in confidence, call 888-680-1745 or request a complimentary consultation online today.

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