A San Diego-based telemarketer was fined nearly $10 million by the Federal Communications Commission for making more than 47,000 robocalls over a two-day period leveling false accusations against a local state Assembly candidate and manipulating caller ID information to appear as though a competitor was making the calls.
Kenneth Moser and his company, Marketing Support Systems, were fined $9,997,750 for making the calls over a two-day period beginning May 30, 2018, about one week prior to that year's primary election, in which Philip Graham unsuccessfully sought to represent the 76th Assembly District.
Shortly before the primary, Niki Burgan said Graham kissed her without consent in the First Street Bar in Encinitas on the evening of May 14 and followed her outside of the bar where he attempted to have her touch him sexually. Those allegations triggered a sheriff's department investigation that concluded the claim was unfounded. Burgan admitted in court that those accusations were false and pleaded guilty to filing a false report.
According to the FCC, the robocall messages repeated Burgan's claim and caller ID information was manipulated to make the calls appear as though they originated from another telemarketing company, HomeyTel, described as a competitor to Moser's company. As a result, HomeyTel received "a multitude of angry complaints" from people who received the calls, as well as a cease-and-desist letter from Graham, according to the FCC.
The agency said 47,610 robocalls were made during the two-day period, with multiple calls sometimes sent to the same recipients.
The calls violated the Truth in Caller ID Act prohibiting manipulation of caller ID information -- otherwise known as spoofing -- with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value, according to the FCC.
In a victim impact statement read by Graham in court in February 2019, Graham, a San Diego businessman, said Burgan's false accusations interfered with an election, and, "In a free and democratic society, this is a reprehensible crime."
"Simply do a Google search and ugly stories pop right up. Yes, there will be stories of Ms. Burgan pleading guilty, but those other stories will always be there, and sadly, even though the evidence of falsification and lying to law enforcement is clear, that alone will never suffice to eradicate doubt," the statement read in part.
Graham went on to say that he believes the accusations cost him the election, and also thousands of dollars.
"My life has been forever changed because of the intentional, false actions of Ms. Burgan; I ask the court to take this impact into consideration in its [sentencing] decision," Graham asked.
Burgan was sentenced to 48 hours in jail, three years of probation and 10 days of community service.