An Oklahoma telephone company and its owner pleaded guilty Thursday to charges stemming from a scheme to defraud a federal subsidy program out of more than $25 million.
Icon Telecom Inc. President Wes Yui Chew admitted the company submitted fabricated forms to the Universal Service Administrative Co. as part of an audit into its involvement in the Lifeline program, which subsidizes cellphone service for low-income customers.
Chew, 53, also admitted he moved more than $20 million from an Icon bank account to his personal account. He acknowledged the money was derived from the fraud scheme.
Icon was convicted of making false statements on 58 customer certification forms, which carries up to five years of probation and a $250,000 fine. Chew faces up to 10 years in prison and a hefty fine after being convicted of money laundering.
Icon and Chew must pay restitution in the case, which could add up to more than $27 million, according to their plea agreements with federal prosecutors in Oklahoma City.
Authorities seized that amount last fall from three bank accounts controlled by Chew. The money will be credited toward the restitution owed by Icon and Chew, according to the plea agreements.
Defense attorney Dan Webber said they also have refunded $5.7 million to the Lifeline program, so they may end up paying more than the law requires.
Icon and Chew will be sentenced in a few months.
A Mexican man accused of helping them defraud the Lifeline program is set for trial in August.
Oscar Enrique Perez-Zumaeta, 55, pleaded not guilty Monday to 10 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering.
He and his company, PSPS Sales LLC, allegedly provided Icon with thousands of forged signatures for phony Lifeline customers.
That helped Icon boost the number of wireless customers it had enrolled in the program from 2,200 in September 2011 to 135,000 in November 2013, according to prosecutors. The company received more than $58.2 million in Lifeline reimbursements between 2011 and 2013.
Icon pulled out of the Lifeline program and a state version in October after coming under fire from regulators.