FCC fell victim to $2.5M video relay scam

The former employees of two video relay service companies pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiring to defraud the FCC's Video Relay Service program of more than $2.5 million, according to the Justice Department.

The Video Relay Service program is an online video translation service that allows people with hearing disabilities communicate with others through the use of interpreters and Web cameras. Many deaf consumers use the service to make phone calls.

The service provider employs interpreters to translate sign language to the hearing person and signing to the deaf person. The services are funded by fees from telecom companies. The FCC reimburses the service providers at a rate of about $6.50 per minute, or $390 per hour.

Three defendants admitted they "conspired with others to pay individuals to make fraudulent phone calls and to process fraudulent phone calls that were billed to the FCC" through video relay service company Viable Communications, based in Rockville, Md.

The former employees said their role in defrauding the FCC led to a total loss of between $2.5 million and $7 million. Each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and other mandatory restitution. Sentencing is scheduled for June 28.

The FBI's Washington field office and the FCC Office of Inspector General are investigating the cases, the Justice Department said.