Friday, April 12, 2024

DOJ imposes $9.9M penalty for Montana man who targeted communities with robocalls

by By BLAIR MILLER Daily Montanan
| April 2, 2024 7:00 AM

A federal court in Montana last week imposed a nearly $10 million penalty against a Libby man who sent thousands of harassing and malicious spoofed robocalls that targeted people and communities in several states specifically following tragedies that included people’s murders.

Scott Rhodes, who lived in Libby and in Idaho, had the judgment imposed against him last Tuesday – three years after the Federal Communications Commission imposed the $9.9 forfeiture penalty against Rhodes and after the Department of Justice sued him to collect the money.

“In placing thousands of harassing and malicious spoofing calls to consumers across the country, Rhodes showed a blatant disregard to caller ID and telephone consumer protection laws designed to prevent this sort of conduct,” District of Montana U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said in a statement.

In addition to the penalty, a judge ordered an injunction that prohibits Rhodes from violating the Truth in Caller ID Act and Telephone Consumer Protection Act in the future lest he face further penalties.

According to the FCC and U.S. Department of Justice, Rhodes would spoof local numbers and use recorded messages to target specific communities in Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa and Virginia in 2018 with nearly 5,000 robocalls made with false caller identification information.

After Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts was stabbed to death in 2018, Rhodes made robocalls to people living in the town where she was living and other towns nearby containing xenophobic messages about the suspect being an undocumented immigrant, saying the woman was murdered by a “biological hybrid of white and savage Aztec ancestors.”

The court never confirmed the suspect was living legally in the U.S., and he was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

When self-avowed neo-Nazi James Fields Jr., was arrested for running over and killing Heather Heyer with a vehicle during a protest against the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Rhodes sent robocalls to the area making racist statements about the city’s mayor and police chief and denigrating statements about Heyer.

“We’re no longer going to tolerate a Jewish lying press, and Jew corruption of an American legal system,” one of the messages said, according to the DOJ.

Rhodes robocalled people in Sandpoint, Idaho, then attacked the local newspaper when it published his identity, and also spoofed robocalls attacking gubernatorial candidates in Florida and Georgia. People who received the calls in the various states filed complaints with law enforcement and the FCC, which led to the federal investigation.

After the FCC handed down its fines for Rhodes in January 2021, the DOJ sued that October to try to recover the money and keep Rhodes from violating FCC rules and the law in the future.

Last October, the DOJ asked for summary judgment to impose the full $9.91 million penalty against Rhodes, which was granted last week along with the injunction.

“We are very pleased by the court’s judgment, and we will continue working with the FCC and other agency partners to vigorously enforce the telemarketing laws that prohibit these practices,” said Justice Department Civil Division Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton.