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Department of Justice sues man who robocalled residents of Iowa town with threatening messages

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wednesday, the Department of Justice served a complaint filed against a Montana man to recover a $9.9 million penalty imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for nearly 5,000 unlawful and malicious “spoofed” robocalls.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, the government alleged that Scott Rhodes, 52, of Libby, Montana, made 4,959 illegal robocalls with falsified caller ID information, with the intent to cause harm. The targets of the alleged robocall campaigns included individuals across the United States, many of whom complained to law enforcement regarding unwanted and harassing calls. An investigation by the FCC culminated in the imposition by the agency of over $9.9 million forfeiture penalty against Rhodes. The lawsuit seeks to recover that penalty and obtain an injunction that would prevent Rhodes from committing any further violations of the Truth in Caller ID Act.

According to the FCC’s investigation, Rhodes’ unlawful spoofed robocalls allegedly included highly inflammatory messages indicative of Rhodes’ intent to cause harm. For example, hundreds of Rhodes’ spoofed robocalls targeted residents of Brooklyn, Iowa, in the aftermath of a local woman’s murder. Those spoofed robocalls allegedly included a message that the local woman had been murdered by a “biological hybrid of white and savage Aztec ancestors” and that if she “could be brought back to life for just one moment,” she would ask the listener to “kill them all.” Over two thousand of the spoofed robocalls allegedly targeted residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, during the investigation and prosecution of James Alex Fields Jr., who was responsible for killing one woman and injuring dozens during the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017. The spoofed robocalls included a message that Charlottesville’s “Jew Mayor” and “his pet Negro Police Chief” were responsible for the death of the “unhealthy, morbidly obese” victim. The message also stated, “We’re no longer going to tolerate a Jewish lying press, and Jew corruption of an American legal system.”

“It is unlawful to spoof caller ID numbers to trick consumers into answering unwanted phone calls with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The department will work with its agency partners to vigorously enforce the telemarketing laws that prohibit these practices.”

“Combatting illegal robocalls is a top consumer protection priority of the FCC,” said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel of the FCC. “In this case, the FCC’s investigation found an ugly pattern of spoofing used to bombard and target communities with malicious robocalls. Working with the Department of Justice, the FCC will stand by this fine and demand payment.  I also welcome the department’s decision to seek an injunction to put a stop to this unlawful behavior.”

Senior Litigation Counsel Patrick Runkle and Trial Attorney Michael Wadden of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Assistant U.S. Attorney Shannon Clarke for the District of Montana.

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