House Dem questions FCC chairman over former adviser's wire fraud indictment

House Dem questions FCC chairman over former adviser's wire fraud indictment
© Greg Nash

A House Democrat is pressing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai for answers after a former agency adviser was arrested on charges of wire fraud.

Rep. Keith EllisonKeith Maurice EllisonMinnesota sues Juul over rise in youth vaping Jane Fonda calls for protecting water resources at weekly DC climate protest Progressives ramp up fight against Facebook MORE (D-Minn.) sent a letter to Pai on Wednesday asking for details on the nature of Elizabeth Ann Pierce’s appointment as chairwoman of an FCC advisory committee. Law enforcement officials are alleging that Pierce, the former CEO of an Alaska telecommunications firm called Quintillion, used forged customer contracts to try to attract investors.

“[If] the allegations are true, it appears that Ms. Pierce may have been engaging in fraudulent behavior related to her own telecommunications company at the same time she was chosen by you to lead — and was leading — an important FCC committee,” Ellison wrote in his letter. “This is deeply troubling, raising questions about the process by which members of the committee were chosen, its deliberations, and its recommendations to the FCC commissioners.”

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A spokeswoman for Pai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The FCC chairman appointed Pierce in April 2017 to a newly created panel called the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), which was tasked with presenting recommendations to the commission on how to expand broadband access to communities that lack options for high-speed internet providers.

In September, Pai announced that Pierce had stepped down from her role on the BDAC due to “personal reasons.” The month before, Pierce had resigned from Quintillion with the same explanation.

Prosecutors say that in May and July 2017, Pierce presented investors with forged sales contracts to persuade them to invest more than $250 million in a fiber-optic deployment project.

In his letter on Wednesday, Ellison included a list of questions about the nature of Pierce’s work for the commission. The Democrat also pressed Pai on whether he was aware of the impending allegations while she was advising the FCC.

“I am concerned that Ms. Pierce’s involvement in the process of the BDAC irreparably taints any recommendations made by the Committee,” Ellison wrote.