The $70 million phone charge scam by a Montana family and their accountant has resulted in a criminal investigation. The Sann family and their accountant allegedly accumulated $70 million by adding bogus phone charges onto customers’ phone bills nationwide. In addition to the criminal investigation, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asked a judge for civil action. However, since a civil action cannot be pursued while a criminal investigation is under way, pursuing a civil action would be “improper” reports the Huffington Post on Jan. 21, 2013.
“In a court filing Friday, Sann's attorney, Sarah Rhoades, asked U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen for a stay in FTC civil action, saying there is a criminal investigation already under way.”
The $70 million bogus phone charge civil action is asking for a “preliminary injunction that will force the Sann family to stop operating the companies and freeze their assets.”
The Sann family, including Steven Sann, his wife Terry, son Nathan, and their accountant Robert Braach are accused of allegedly running nine different companies that accumulated $70 million dollars in phone charges.
The nine companies operated by the Sann family consist of “voice mail and electronic fax services that charge a customer's phone bill through an intermediary called a bill aggregator. The companies are American eVoice, Emerica Media Corp., FoneRight, Global Voice Mail, HearYou2, Network Assurance, SecuratDat, Techmax Solutions and Voice Mail Professionals.”
Unless a customer checks his phone bill closely, there might be a bogus charge of $14.95 added under any of the above nine company names. The charge appears most often towards the end of the phone bill.
As long as customers do not notice the extra charge and report it, the Sann family earns $14.95 for each undetected phone bill charge.
“Last April, the Sanns' companies had 119,810 voice mail accounts open, but only 12 customers actually accessed their accounts. From March 2010 to April 2012, fewer than 1 percent of the people purportedly with voice mail accounts through the companies actually accessed them.”
In the allegedly intricate scheme of having nine companies, the Sann operation would simply switch the name of the company on the phone bill with the name of another one of their companies and continue the charge if a customer reported a suspicious charge to their main phone company. So instead of being billed $14.95 by a company called American eVoice, the $14.95 could now be charged by FoneRight. Customers who did not follow up on the bogus phone charge under any of the potential nine company names contributed to the $70 million income for the Sann family.
According to the FTC complaint, “Hundreds of complaints have been filed against the Sanns' businesses with the FTC, the Better Business Bureau and with phone companies.”
Since 2008, the Sann family companies had to return more than $40 million because customers challenged the bogus phone charge on their phone bill. “But data collected by the federal agency show many more don't know that they're being charged.”
After accumulating the bogus phone charges nationwide, the money “earned” by Sann’s nine companies was first deposited “in the bank account of Bibliologic, a religious organization set up by Sann and Branch.” Montana Secretary of State registration records show that Bibliologic Ltd was incorporated in 2009 as a charitable religious organization without any members.
Some of the $70 million bogus phone charge income by the Sann family was allegedly spend to buy 94 acres of land in western Montana where Steven Sann runs a youth camp according to the FTC. Some of the money also went to Steven Sann’s legal defense bills in an unrelated medical marijuana case.
According to the Huffington Post report, “Steven Sann recently reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors investigating large medical marijuana operations. According to a federal affidavit, he was an investor in two medical marijuana dispensaries. Sann struck a deal with prosecutors in September to plead guilty to conspiracy to maintain drug-involved premises. He had been scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, but his attorney in that case has asked for a delay because of illness.”
Even though a criminal investigation is already under way in regard to the alleged $70 million phone charge scheme by the Sann’s nine companies, checking one’s phone bill for any of the companies’ names might save $14.94 each month.
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