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Montana Court Slaps $9.9 Million Penalty on Man Behind Malicious Robocalls

A federal court in Montana has ordered a penalty of $9.9 million against a man for making thousands of unlawful and malicious "spoofed" robocalls across the United States. The court also issued an injunction preventing future violations of the Truth in Caller ID Act and Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

The case originated from an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) into unlawful robocalls received by consumers in several states in 2018. These calls displayed false caller IDs from local numbers, tricking recipients into answering and listening to recorded messages containing highly offensive content, often targeting specific communities.

For example, hundreds of the spoofed robocalls targeted residents of the Brooklyn, Iowa, area in the aftermath of a local woman’s murder. Similarly, more than 2,000 of the spoofed robocalls targeted residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, during the investigation and prosecution of James Alex Fields Jr. for killing one woman and injuring dozens during the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017. Many consumers who received the calls submitted complaints to FCC and other law enforcement regarding unwanted and harassing robocalls.

The FCC traced the calls to Scott Rhodes, a resident of Idaho and Montana, and imposed a $9,918,000 penalty in January 2021. The Justice Department sued Rhodes in September 2021 to recover the penalty and obtain an injunction. In October 2023, the court granted summary judgment, upholding the penalty and issuing the injunction.

“The department is committed to protecting consumers from deceptive robocalls,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “We are very pleased by the court’s judgment, and we will continue working with the FCC and other agency partners to vigorously enforce the telemarketing laws that prohibit these practices.”

“Virtually every Montanan has been the subject of unwanted and harassing robocalls, and the person responsible for such calls usually escapes accountability,” said U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich for the District of Montana. “But not this time. In placing thousands of harassing and malicious spoofing calls to consumers across the country, Rhodes showed a blatant disregard to caller ID and telephone consumer protection laws designed to prevent this sort of conduct. I applaud the court’s injunction and nearly $10 million forfeiture penalty that hold Rhodes accountable. These results send the clear message that the Justice Department is determined to protect consumers.”

“When persistent and malicious robocallers break the law, it takes strong partnerships like this one to bring them to justice,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel of the FCC. “I thank the Justice Department team, in conjunction with FCC lawyers, for vigorously pursuing this penalty. I especially want to thank FCC investigators for tracking down this robocaller and building such a strong case. Our agency will continue to relentlessly pursue these unwanted robocalls and build on our multi-faceted collaborative approach with law enforcement agencies at home, as well as the growing partnerships we’re fostering with our counterparts abroad, so that we can quickly and effectively neutralize bad actors.”

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