Crime does pay, but the payout sometimes carries a hefty price tag, as Willoughby Farr, 46, of West Palm Beach, Fla., has learned.
Farr has been sentenced to 262 months – roughly 21 years – in prison and three years of supervised release for perpetrating a “cramming scheme,” which was designed to place charges on consumers’ telephone bills for collect calls that were not made.
According to court documents, from April 2003 to December 2005, Farr used three West Palm Beach companies – Nationwide Connections Inc., Access One Communications Inc., and Connect One Communications Inc. – to defraud consumers.
Through these companies, Farr arranged for telephone companies to falsely bill consumers for approximately $35 million in collect calls. Because the charges typically appeared on the last page of consumers’ telephone bills, many did not notice and paid the charges without complaint.
Farr pleaded guilty in May 2010 to two counts of mail fraud related to the scheme. In pleading guilty, Farr admitted that he committed the crimes while he was incarcerated in the West Palm Beach County Jail.
Hid his ownership
Investigators said Farr hid his ownership of the three firms from jail officials. He also hid his ownership because other firms had cut off his ability to bill for calls due to consumer complaints and the fact that state regulators had sued him for illegitimate billing.
“When the unscrupulous and the dishonest line their pockets with consumers’ hard-earned money, we will hold them accountable,” said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. “As this sentence demonstrates, the Justice Department has put a priority on protecting the public from fraudulent schemes. This case should also remind consumers to carefully review their telephone bills for unauthorized charges.”
In February 2006, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a cramming suit against several firms and individuals, including Farr. That suit resulted in a $34,547,140 civil judgment against Farr.
“The Postal Inspection Service did a superb job investigating this case,” said Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “The FTC first uncovered this scheme and brought it to the Justice Department’s attention. The case demonstrates the effectiveness of cooperative law enforcement efforts which can put an end to fraudulent schemes, and then bring wrongdoers to justice.”
“Crammers like Farr are eager to post bogus charges to consumers’ accounts,” said Inspector in Charge Henry Gutierrez. “The Postal Inspection Service will work tirelessly with its law enforcement partners to deter fraudulent use of the mails and to protect the American consumer.”