The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Thursday that it was serving a Montana man with $9.9 million in fines for allegedly making close to 5,000 anti-Semitic, xenophobic and racist robocalls to residents in several states.
Scott Rhodes, 52, of Libby, Montana is being fined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for thousands of “unlawful and malicious spoofed robocalls” that allegedly targeted individuals with “harmful pre-recorded messages” dating back to 2017.
In January, the FCC said in a statement that the “robocalls included xenophobic fearmongering (including to a victim’s family), racist attacks on political candidates, an apparent attempt to influence the jury in a domestic terrorism case, and threatening language toward a local journalist.”
According to the DOJ, the government’s complaint alleged that Rhodes 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,” said the DOJ. “An investigation by the FCC culminated in the imposition by the agency of over $9.9 million forfeiture penalty against Rhodes.”
The DOJ’s 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 agency’s claims, Rhodes’ robocalls included “highly inflammatory messages indicative of Rhodes’ intent to cause harm.”
DOJ officials said that over 2,000 robocalls targeted residents of Charlottesville, Virginia during the prosecution of James Alex Fields Jr., who was responsible for killing a woman and injuring others during the “Unite the Right" rally in 2017.
The robocalls contained a message that Charlottesville’s “Jew Mayor” was the cause of the death of the “unhealthy, morbidly obese” victim.
The automatic call went on to state: “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 in a statement. “The department will work with its agency partners to vigorously enforce the telemarketing laws that prohibit these practices.”
FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel described “combatting illegal robocalls” as a “top consumer protection priority” for her agency.
“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,” Rosenworcel said in a statement.