Icon Telecom and Its Owner Sentenced for Money Laundering and Making False Statements in Connection with Federal Wireless Telephone Program Subsidies
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK—WES YUI CHEW, of Edmond, Oklahoma, and his company, ICON TELECOM, INC., also of Edmond, were sentenced today by United States District Judge Tim DeGiusti for money laundering and making a false statement to the Federal Communications Commission in connection with the federal Lifeline Program, announced Sanford C. Coats, United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.
Judge DeGiusti ordered that Chew serve 48 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and pay a fine of $117,166.48 (which is the anticipated cost of his federal imprisonment). Chew’s company, Icon Telecom, was sentenced to three years of probation. Chew and Icon agreed not to contest the forfeiture of more than $27 million seized during the investigation.
The current Lifeline Program, which was created in 1985, furthers the FCC’s mission to provide all Americans with access to a basic level of telephone service. Since 2005, Lifeline has provided subsidies to participating telephone companies not only for landline service, but also for wireless service for qualifying low-income customers. The Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) administers the Lifeline Program on behalf of the FCC and under detailed federal regulations. To pay for the program, USAC collects fees from telephone companies, which often pass the fees on to customers as “universal service charges” on monthly telephone bills.
Most participating wireless telephone companies receive a subsidy of $9.25 per month for each qualifying low-income customer. If a qualifying customer lives on “Tribal Lands,” however, the company receives $34.25 per customer. Much of Oklahoma includes Tribal Lands that qualify for the higher monthly subsidy.
Before receiving reimbursement, participating telephone companies file forms with the FCC that report the number of Lifeline eligible customers they have served. Companies must also file annual reports to certify that customers who received Lifeline service at an earlier date remain eligible for the program.
Icon Telecom, owned exclusively by Chew, participated in the wireless Lifeline Program from July 2011 until September 2013. An information filed on June 3, 2014, alleged that in September 2011, Icon reported fewer than 2,200 wireless customers who qualified for the Lifeline program. By November 2012, that number had grown to 135,364. The information explains that although it had fewer than ten full-time employees, Icon received a total of $58,283,329 through the Lifeline Program during 2011, 2012, and 2013.
On June 12, 2014, Chew pled guilty to money laundering for his transfer of $20,455,829.10 on April 9, 2013, from an Icon account to a personal account. He admitted that when he made that transfer, he knew that Icon had tens of thousands fewer customers than it had reported to the FCC for the first three months of 2013.
Also on June 12, 2014, as the sole owner of Icon, Chew also entered a guilty to plea on behalf of the company to knowingly making a false statement to the FCC on May 13, 2013. Chew admitted that in response to a USAC audit request, Icon intentionally fabricated customer recertification forms, which included fictitious signatures.
As part of their plea, Chew and Icon agreed to the forfeiture of $20,542,740.73, which the United States seized on October 4, 2013, from a personal account at Ally Bank that belonged to Chew. They also agreed not to contest the forfeiture of $6,485,933.82 seized on October 7, 2013, from two Icon accounts at BancFirst.
The case against Chew and Icon is related to a June 3, 2014, indictment against OSCAR ENRIQUE PEREZ-ZUMAETA, of Cancun, Mexico, alleging that Perez-Zumaeta owned and managed PSPS Sales LLC, a California entity that recruited low-income individuals to apply for Lifeline service through Icon. According to the indictment, Icon paid over one million dollars to PSPS Sales from December 2011 through April 2013. Perez-Zumaeta is charged with directing PSPS Sales workers to enroll fictitious customers for Icon by using phone book listings and forging Lifeline application forms. He also allegedly directed workers in Mexico to falsify approximately 40,000 Lifeline recertification forms for use in Icon’s fraudulent scheme.
On November 7, 2014, Perez-Zumaeta pled guilty to money laundering by depositing a $52,390.00 check from Icon into a bank account of PSPS Sales on December 7, 2012. He admitted that when he made that deposit, he knew that more than $10,000.00 of those funds was the result of criminal fraud against the FCC.
Perez-Zumaeta has been in federal custody since April 25, 2014, when he was arrested at the San Francisco airport. A federal magistrate judge ordered him detained based on a risk of flight. Perez-Zumaeta is awaiting sentencing where he faces up to ten years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release.
These cases are the result of an investigation by the Office of Inspector General for the Federal Communications Commission; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chris M. Stephens and Scott E. Williams.
Reference is made to the information and other public filings for further information.