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AT&T Accused of Bilking Uncle Sam

DALLAS (CN) - AT&T fraudulently billed the federal government "tens of millions of dollars" for services for the hearing and speech-impaired, a shareholder says in a derivative complaint.

Lead plaintiff Samuel Montini claims in Dallas County Court that AT&T requested millions of dollars in false certifications and illegal reimbursements, while failing to follow guidelines and allowing non-impaired people outside of the United States to abuse the company's telecommunications relay services (TRS), to get the "lucrative reimbursements" for the services.

"In a typical Internet Protocol Relay, one form of TRS, a hearing-impaired or speech-impaired person would connect with an AT&T Communications Assistant online, inform the CA of the telephone number he or she wished to call, and then have the CA verbally relay the messages the hearing-impaired person would type to the intended party," the complaint states. "Considering the purpose of the program and the government budget used to fund it, only hearing-impaired and speech-impaired individuals in the United States were eligible for TRS."

But Montini claims that AT&T's systems were "blatantly inadequate" for authenticating users, resulting in thousands of calls being made by users registered with fake names and addresses.

He claims the did not tighten controls even after the company's 2004 internal analysis found that a substantial amount of IP Relay calls originated from overseas, that 10 of the service's top 12 users were calling from Nigeria and that the "top Internet abuser" was in Nigeria and placed over 100 hours of IP Relay calls in just two days. The analysis found that up to 45 percent of the service's use was suspicious and that the worst abusers generated "over 10,000 minutes per day of usage."

The Department of Justice intervened in a whistleblower qui tam suit against AT&T in March, seeking "tens of millions of dollars" in overcharges, Montini claims, and the Justice Department confirmed in a statement.

Montini wants AT&T ordered to stop its "illegal IP Relay service practices," reform itself, and fined enough money "to prevent and deter future illegal conduct."

He is represented by Joe Kendall.

Follow @davejourno
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