Money manager settles spectrum auction fraud case

Wall Street money manager Mario Gabelli and associates will pay US$130 million to settle charges that they defrauded the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during radio spectrum auctions between 1995 and 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Gabelli and 38 other people or entities were accused of participating in a scheme to enter eight auctions in which small or very small businesses were allowed to bid or to qualify for bidding credits or favorable financing, the DOJ said in a press release. Gabelli and his affiliated companies did not qualify for the auctions, the DOJ said.

In order to participate in the auctions, various friends and relatives of Gabelli's were recruited to serve as officers of bogus small businesses that existed only on paper, solely to certify that they met the FCC's eligibility rules, the DOJ said.

The DOJ alleged that these purported telecommunications entrepreneurs included a former aerobics instructor, the caretaker of Gabelli's vacation home, a retired professional basketball player and a relative of Gabelli's who did not know the meaning of "spectrum" or what "FCC" stood for, the DOJ said in its complaint.

The supposed businesses were never controlled by these individuals, but that control always remained with Gabelli and his affiliated companies, the DOJ said. On several occasions, the licenses were eventually transferred to third parties at a substantial profit, the DOJ said.

The complaint charged that the defendants violated the U.S. False Claims Act. The lawsuit was originally filed by a private citizen under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. That provision allows the whistleblower to receive a portion of the settlement if the government takes the case and prosecutes it successfully.

Telecom lawyer R.C. Taylor III, who alerted the government to the case, is entitled to $32.2 million of the recovery, the DOJ said.

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