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HRDC FCC comment on GTL and Mississippi - Oct 2015

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Human Rights Defense Center

October 4, 2015

The Honorable Tom Wheeler, Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th St. S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
Re: Comment for WC Docket 12-375
Dear Chairman Wheeler:
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), publisher of Prison Legal News (PLN) respectfully
submits this comment for WC Docket No. 12-375 regarding the abuse, corruption, and lack of
accountability by Inmate Calling Service (ICS) providers and this nation’s correctional facilities
and the critical need for the Commission to address this issue as part of comprehensive ICS
In April 2007, we filed our first comment on CC Docket 96-128 that detailed instances of abuse,
corruption, and the lack of accountability in the prison phone industry due to the lack of
oversight over the ICS industry and the absence of market competition that results in extremely
lucrative monopoly contracts with legal kickbacks to the government agencies that run this
nation’s correctional facilities. (Attachment 1 at pages 5-6)
Unfortunately, nothing has changed in the eight years since our first filing. A recent criminal
case involving a Global Tel*Link (GTL) employee who bribed the former Commissioner of the
Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) to award/retain contracts to GTL not only
heightens the need for comprehensive reform to eliminate this type of corruption for which
HRDC has long lobbied, but takes it to the next level.
GTL employee Sam Waggoner was charged by Information in U.S. District Court on August 19,
2015 with bribing Christopher B. Epps, the former MDOC Commissioner to contract/retain GTL
as its ICS provider1 (Attachment 2); Mr. Waggoner pled guilty to all charges two days later
(Attachment 3); and the same day he also forfeited the amount of $200,000 to the U.S.

United States of America v. Sam Waggoner, USDC S. Dist Mississippi, Northern Division, Case No.

P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
Phone: 561-360-2523 Fax: 866-735-7136

Page |2
Government (Attachment 4), representing “the proceeds he obtained as a result of the illegal
conduct.” (Attachment 5)
While employed by GTL as a consultant, Sam Waggoner:
“did knowingly and corruptly give, offer, or agree to give something of
value to CHRISTOPHER B. EPPS, with intent to influence or reward
CHRISTOPHER B. EPPS in connection with the business, transaction, or series
of transactions of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, involving something
of value of $5,000.00 or more, that is, the awarding and the retention of contracts
to WAGGONER’S employer, GTL, for inmate telephone services at MDOC
facilities. Specifically, on or about July 30, 2014 and on or about August 26,
2014, the defendant SAM WAGGONER, paid kickbacks in the form of cash
generated by his monthly commission from GTL to CHRISTOPHER B. EPPS.”
(Attachment 2 at Paragraph 6)
While employed as a consultant for GTL, Mr. Waggoner was paid “five (5) percent of the
revenue generated by the inmate telephone services contracts it had with the State of
Mississippi.” Mr. Waggoner was charged with and pled guilty to paying “kickbacks in the form
of cash generated by his monthly commission from GTL to CHRISTOPHER B. EPPS.”
(Attachment 2 at Paragraph 6). The five percent kickback paid Mr. Waggoner was separate
and in addition to kickbacks in excess of $1,500,000 that GTL pays annually to MDOC under the
terms of the most recent ICS contract. Due to the lack of transparency inherent in the ICS
industry, we have no way of knowing if GTL employs other consultants paid to influence the
decisions of correctional facilities with respect to ICS under the same type of compensation
arrangements or through outright bribery and criminal corruption. Mr. Waggoner’s current
employment status is unclear as he faces a maximum prison penalty of 10 years in prison and a
$250,000 fine. (Attachment 5)
GTL and MDOC are not strangers to secretive practices. As noted in an earlier comment filed
by HRDC on this Docket2, Global Tel*Link (GTL) and the Mississippi Department of
Corrections refused to produce ICS contracts and related records under the guise of a protective
order, HRDC was forced to file a lawsuit in order to obtain the records.3 The case settled in May
2009 and the records were finally produced. Given the criminal activity at hand by MDOC and
GTL employees, it is clear to see why they fought so hard to avoid disclosing public records as
required by law.
That GTL would hire a consultant who bribed the head of a state prison system is not
speculative; it is a fact. Yet, in the many thousands of documents filed on this Docket, this is the
first we’ve heard of ICS providers hiring paid consultants to influence state prison system
decision-makers. Is Mr. Waggoner the only consultant ever hired by GTL for this purpose? Do
other ICS providers employ consultants who are compensated based on the gross revenues
generated by correctional facilities? If so, it is clearly in the consultant’s best interest to generate
the highest revenues possible to result in the highest compensation paid to that individual.


Human Rights Defense Center, Comment filed on WC Docket 12-375, filed July 15, 2015 at 2.
Prison Legal News v. Mississippi Department of Corrections and Global Tel*Link Corporation, Hinds County,
Mississippi, Civil Action No. G2009-391 T/1.


Page |3
This is only one example of corruption in the ICS industry that stems directly from the lack of
oversight and transparency in the ICS industry; we would not be surprised to hear that there are
more. The fact that GTL paid Mr. Waggoner 5% of the revenues generated by MDOC not only
tells us that GTL must be taking huge profits to justify paying such a high percentage to a
consultant. We should also mention the consultant’s incentive to jack up the ICS rates as high as
possible to increase their personal compensation. How many prisoners and their families have
been forced to pay artificially high ICS rates as the result of an ICS provider’s paid consultant
dealing with a correctional facility? This prosecution should be a red flag to us all about the
inherent corruption that exists with this practice, as evidenced by the Waggoner case.
There is much more we could say, but instead we will let the attached documents speak for
themselves and allow the Commission to draw its own conclusion.
We are calling on the Commission to use its subpoena power to further investigate the practice of
ICS providers hiring “consultants” to lobby correctional facilities for monopoly contracts. In
light of the Waggoner case, at a minimum, we further request that the FCC require all ICS
providers to identify all paid consultants assigned to each correctional facility as well as their
compensation structure.

Paul Wright
Executive Director, HRDC
Attachments 1-5

Dedicated to Protecting Human Rights

2400 NW 80th Street #148, Seattle WA 98117 — 206-246-1022 fax: 515-581-0776
Please Reply to Tennessee Office:
Direct Dial: 615-255-5357
5341 Mt. View Rd. #130
Antioch, TN 37013

April 18, 2007

Ms. Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554
RE: Comment Regarding CC Docket No. 96-128 (Implementation
of Pay Telephone Reclassification and Compensation Provisions
of the Telecommunications Act of 1996)
Dear Ms. Dortch:
I am contacting you in my capacity as Associate Editor for Prison Legal News (PLN), a
nationally-distributed monthly publication that reports on criminal justice and corrections-related
issues, in reference to CC Docket No. 96-128.
Docket No. 96-128, referred to as the Wright petition, requests that the FCC enact rules
to require competition among prison phone service providers by prohibiting such providers from
entering into exclusive service agreements with contracting government agencies, and from imposing
other restrictions on prison phone calling options. The FCC has the authority to implement such rules
pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 201(b).
PLN has reported extensively on prison phone services, including litigation, legislation and
reform efforts, and our experience in this area leads us to make the following remarks in support of
granting the rule-making requested in the Wright petition:

1. Competition, or Lack Thereof
Upon entering into contracts with correctional agencies, prison phone service providers
enjoy a complete monopoly on phone services within the jurisdiction controlled by the contract.
This legalized monopoly, with a resultant lack of competition, is in effect during the term of the
contract. And while such contracts may be rebid, the company that currently holds the contract
has a significant advantage in terms of winning the rebid and maintaining its monopoly, since
competitors must factor in start-up costs and equipment costs.

In a free market economy, competition acts to lower prices to the benefit of consumers.
In the prison phone service market, however, competition exists only when a contract is initially
bid, and perhaps during rebids. Even this level of competition makes a mockery of free market
economics, however, as the lowest cost for providing prison phone services is rarely taken into
account as a contract requirement.
This lack of consumer-friendly competition is due to the industry-standard practice of
providing “commissions” to the contracting governmental agencies, which is the polite term for
contractually-agreed kickbacks. Prison phone service providers agree to pay a certain percentage
of their revenues to the contracting agency as a type of profit-sharing agreement – with these
commissions ranging up to 60% of billed phone revenues. Such collusive arrangements, which
result in millions of dollars in “commissions,” create a vested interest by the contracting agency
to maximize the rates charged to consumers in order to increase the resulting shared profits; or,
at least, not to actively seek lower rates that would decrease their kickback.
These “commissions” are passed on to consumers in the form of higher phone rates.
Notably, the consumers who actually pay the inflated rates – primarily the family members and
friends of prisoners, not the prisoners themselves – have no say whatsoever in the contracting
process or the selection of the phone service provider.
While phone rates available to the general public have dropped dramatically in recent
years, with phone companies routinely touting long distance rates of $.10 per minute or less,
competition in the prison phone service industry has, to quote one writer, “worked in precisely
the opposite direction, with companies offering the highest bids (in terms of rates and commissions) routinely awarded contracts, the costs of which are passed on to the (literally) captive
market.” [Steven J. Jackson, “Ex-Communication: Competition and Collusion in the U.S. Prison
Telephone Industry”].
In 2005, Virginia received $7 million in commissions from MCI’s prison phone service,
at a 40% commission rate. New York has reaped more than $200 million in prison phone service
profits since 1996 under a 57.5% commission. At least ten states reportedly take in $10 million
or more each year from prison phone commissions; California alone receives over $20 million in
annual prison phone profits. The states that have the most expensive prison phone rates include
Washington, Montana, Arizona, Kansas, New Jersey and Arkansas.
MCI has acknowledged that commissions of 20-63% are “customary.” Consider what this
means in terms of prison phone service providers’ profits in comparison to their billed phone
rates. Since these companies generate a profit despite paying hefty kickbacks to the contracting
agencies, absent such “commissions” they could provide the same phone services, and still make
a profit, at rates up to 40-60% lower than those presently billed. The higher rates charged under
exclusive prison phone service contracts represent excess profit paid to the contracting agency at
the expense of consumers, who have no say in the contracting process.


2. Impact on Families of Prisoners
Price gouging is an ugly phrase, but as indicated above, that is exactly what prisoners’
family members and friends experience when they accept collect calls from their imprisoned
loved ones. An estimated 1.5 million children have a parent in prison, and almost 500,000
women are married to incarcerated spouses. Sixty-five percent of female prisoners have minor
children. These families and children, and their incarcerated family members, do not live in a
Phone calls are a vital resource for maintaining parental and spousal relationships over
years of incarceration. Yet prisoners’ families are subject to extortionate rates charged by prison
phone service providers and the agencies they contract with – rates that often average over a
dollar a minute for long distance calls when the connection fee is included. A fifteen-minute call
can cost as much as $17.77. Under the Arkansas Dept of Correction’s contract with MCI, prison
calls are billed at $.89 per minute with a $3.95 connection fee for interstate collect calls ($30.65
for a 30-minute phone call). This results in socio-economic disparity – families who can afford to
accept such expensive phone calls do so, while impoverished families do not.
Such grossly inflated rates are not justified except as a means of monopolistic pricegouging; as indicated above, if the contractual kickbacks were excluded, prison phone service
providers could charge about half the current rates and still remain profitable. This is fact, not
theory. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), for example, does not accept prison phone service
commissions; consequently, the rate for out-of-state debit calls from BOP facilities is $.17 per
minute. The prison phone service industry’s argument that technical expenses and equipment
costs justify high phone rates does not explain why such rates vary widely from one jurisdiction
to another, with states that forgo “commission” kickbacks having the lowest rates.
There have been many reported cases of families having to cut off telephone contact with
their imprisoned loved ones due to outrageous phone bills – bills that exceed $700 per month for
some families. In one case, a concerned mother was billed $7,000 over a ten-month period after
accepting calls from her 18-year-old son jailed in Panama City, Florida. Certainly consumers
have a responsibility to budget for the phone services they accept. But what mother would refuse
a phone call from her imprisoned son? And what choice does she have as to the cost of those
calls if there is only one prison phone service provider, and only one rate?
The inflated rates charged by prison phone service companies should not be borne on the
backs of prisoners’ families, who are overwhelmingly the ones who must pay such exorbitant
costs and the least able, financially, to make such payments. Families of prisoners, whose only
“crime” is having a loved one in prison, should not be punished for that familial relationship by
having to pay exorbitant phone rates. As stated by Madeleine Severin, there is “something fundamentally unjust about families of prisoners being charged outrageous prices solely because they
accept collect calls from people in prison.” [“Is There a Winning Argument Against Excessive
Rates for Collect Calls from Prisoners?” 25 Cardozo L. Rev. 1469 (2004)].


3. Impact on Prisoners and Society – Rehabilitation
Research has indicated that of the 2.2 million men and women held in our nation’s
correctional facilities, almost 70% perform at the lowest levels of reading and are considered
functionally illiterate (more than triple the rate in the general population). For these prisoners,
writing letters is not a viable substitute for contacting family members and maintaining family
and parental relationships.
Further, many prisons, both state and federal, are located in rural areas; prisoners may be
housed far across the state from their families or, in terms of federal prisoners, clear across the
country. There has also been a growing trend over the past several decades to transfer prisoners
to other states under contracts with private prison companies. Thus, Hawaiian prisoners have
been moved to prisons in Mississippi and Oklahoma, California prisoners have been shipped to
Indiana, Alaskan and Washington prisoners have been moved to Arizona, etc. As of July 1, 2005,
at least seven states housed prisoners in out-of-state prisons. For these prisoners, family visits are
not a viable option for maintaining family and parental relationships.
Such prisoners who cannot adequately read or write, or who are unable to receive visits,
must rely on prison phone services. And when the cost of such phone services is excessively
high the ability to make such calls is diminished or even extinguished, with family contact and
relationships suffering as a result. This impacts more than just prisoners and their loved ones.
Several studies have shown that practices and programs which “facilitate and strengthen
family connections during incarceration” can “reduce the strain of parental separation, reduce
recidivism rates, and increase the likelihood of successful re-entry” of prisoners after they are
released. [Re-Entry Policy Council Report, 2005].
According to a 2004 study by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute, "Our analysis
found that [released prisoners] with closer family relationships, stronger family support, and
fewer negative dynamics in relationships with intimate partners were more likely to have worked
after release and were less likely to have used drugs." The study authors, Christy Visher, Vera
Kachnowski, Nancy La Vigne and Jeremy Travis, noted that "It is evident that family support,
when it exists, is a strong asset that can be brought to the table in the reentry planning process."
For many prisoners, phone calls to their families and children are the primary means of maintaining family ties and parental relationships during their incarceration.
These findings are recognized by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which states, in its
institutional policy regarding phone services, that “[t]elephone privileges are a supplemental
means of maintaining community and family ties that will contribute to an inmate's personal
development ... [and are] a valuable tool in the overall correctional process.” Further, Donal
Campbell, former Commissioner of the Tennessee Dept. of Corrections, stated in reference to
prison phone calls, “As you know, maintaining contact with family and friends in the free world
is an important part of an inmate’s rehabilitation and preparation to return to the community.”


An estimated 95% of prisoners currently in custody will one day be released. To the
extent that strong family support and relationships during incarceration result in lower recidivism
rates (e.g., less crime), this issue affects society as a whole. And to the extent that prison phone
calls are a primary means to maintain such strong family relationships during incarceration, the
affordability of such phone calls is also an issue that affects society as a whole.

4. Abuse, Corruption and Lack of Accountability.
There is little oversight over prison phone service providers or their prison phone service
contracts, other than through the contracting government agencies. The “commissions” paid to
such agencies cited above result in a natural incentive to maintain a hands-off approach in terms
of investigating abuses by prison phone service providers, as such investigations or scrutiny may
jeopardize the lucrative kickbacks that the contracting agencies receive.
While state public utility regulatory agencies may have the authority to investigate and
make rules related to prison phone services, in practice this is rarely done. Prison phone services
are not a significant issue for state regulatory agencies; also, prison phone service companies
employ many attorneys and lobbyists to protect their business interests, while there is no similar
representation for the consumers – primarily prisoners’ family members – who are most affected
by exorbitant prison phone rates. When state public utility regulatory agencies have intervened,
however, they frequently uncover gross abuses by prison phone service providers.
The prison phone service industry has been repeatedly sanctioned for overcharging and
fraudulent practices. In Louisiana, the state Public Service Commission ordered prison phone
service provider Global Tel*Link to refund $1.2 million in overcharges from June 1993 to May
1994. In 1996, North American Intelecom agreed to refund $400,000 overcharged to members
of the public who accepted prison phone calls, following an investigation by the Florida Public
Service Commission. The following year, the Florida Public Service Commission ordered MCI
to refund overcharges on collect calls made from state prisons; to settle the claims, MCI paid a
$10,000 fine and placed $189,482 into a prisoner trust fund. More recently, on May 4, 2001, the
California Public Utility Commission ordered MCI to refund $522,458 in overcharges on collect
calls made by California prisoners between June 1996 and July 1999.
The prison phone service industry has also been plagued by conflicts of interest and
outright criminal practices. In October 2001, the Georgia Public Service Commission opened an
investigation into complaints that MCI was charging separate connection and per-minute fees,
which violated state tariff rules. As part of this investigation, the State Ethics Commission noted
that Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker’s family-owned business, CresTech, was an MCI
subcontractor that was involved in the state’s prison phone services under a multi-million dollar
contract. Walker had failed to disclose his interest in CresTech.
In Florida, a 1996 report faulted the state Dept. of Correction for a prison phone contract
with WorldCom because the contract was not competitively bid. WorldCom lobbyist Liddon
Albert Woodard, Jr. was a personal friend of Deputy DOC Secretary William Thurber, which,
according to the state Attorney General’s office, created an "appearance of impropriety."


Former Alabama state auditor Terry Ellis, former Mobile County Commissioner Dan
Wiley and another defendant pleaded guilty in July 1999 to federal charges of tax evasion and
money laundering related to a prison pay phone scam involving Global Tel*Link. Two other
defendants, including lobbyist Willie Hamner, were also implicated. Ellis was a co-owner of the
phone company, then known as National Telcoin, from 1990 to 1995; Hamner was a salesman
for the company. Ellis hid his interest in the company to avoid an apparent conflict of interest.
The federal indictment further stated that Global Tel*Link added extra time to bills for collect
calls originating from prisons and jails, usually one or two minutes, and added an extra charge of
about 25 cents to each call. Ellis, Hamner and Wiley submitted fake accounting reports to hide
the excess billed revenue.
And in North Carolina, a scandal involving the North Carolina Coin Tel Company’s $1.2
million contract to provide prison phone services resulted in criminal charges. Former North
Carolina DOC director of departmental services D.R. Hursey and AT&T employee Michael A.
Weaver, who was one of the owners of Coin Tel, were indicted in 1993; six other state officials
resigned, retired or were transferred to other jobs. Hursey and Weaver were accused of engaging
in a bid rigging conspiracy involving prison pay phones, as well as fraudulent billing.
Due to the lack of effective regulation and oversight of the prison phone service industry,
such abuses, overcharges and outright criminal enterprises are difficult to detect, with the result
that consumers are defrauded and subjected to overcharges with little or no recourse.

5. Absence of Other Regulatory Means
With rare exceptions, state and federal courts have failed to provide relief related to
prison phone services, “commission” kickbacks, high rates charged to prisoners’ families, etc.
Generally, such issues do not raise constitutional claims on the federal level and are often dismissed under the filed rate or primary jurisdiction doctrines. As noted above, in some cases state
public utility regulatory agencies have taken action; however, in other cases even that avenue of
redress is blocked. For example, in 1998 the Colorado Supreme Court held that the state’s Public
Utilities Commission lacked jurisdiction over the Dept. of Corrections in regard to excessive
prison phone rates charged by Sprint Communications, as Sprint was providing an “unregulated
utility.” See: Powell v. Colorado Public Utilities Commission, 956 P.2d 608 (Colo. 1998).
Some state Departments of Correction have voluntarily reduced prison phone rates,
including Nebraska, New Hampshire and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia.
Recently, Florida DOC Secretary James McDonough reduced prison phone rates by about 30%.
Such voluntary rate reductions, often by forgoing lucrative “commissions,” are dependent on the
stance of individual state policymakers in regard to economic fairness and social responsibility.
The vast majority of states prefer to keep prison phone rates high so as to maximize their share
of the profits generated by prison phone calls.
Legislative regulation on the state level is extremely difficult to achieve, as prisoners are
a disfavored population who have no political voice (e.g., they cannot vote), and their family
members have no political advocacy group to speak on their behalf. Further, lawmakers have


little desire to be seen advocating for prisoners or their families, lest they be perceived as “soft
on crime.” In fact, bills addressing prison phone rates have been introduced in only three states
(New Jersey, Oklahoma and Washington). Considering that most states receive millions of
dollars from prison phone service providers, which helps reduce ballooning state budgets, there
is little incentive for state lawmakers to provide relief from exorbitant prison phone rates.
Professional organizations such as the American Correctional Association (ACA) and the
American Bar Association (ABA) have passed resolutions against excessive prison phone rates;
the ACA specifically stated that “[c]orrectional agencies should discourage profiteering on tariffs
placed on phone calls which are far in excess of the actual cost of the call, and which could
discourage or hinder family or community contacts.” However, these organizations carry little
weight in terms of effecting institutional policy change.
With a hands-off policy by the courts, infrequent actions taken by state regulatory
agencies, the lack of a strong lobby for prisoners’ families who are victimized by excessively
high prison phone rates, and unreceptive lawmakers who are unwilling to take a stand on this
issue, there is virtually no effective regulation of prison phone service providers.

Prison Legal News strongly encourages the FCC to consider the above comments when
reaching a decision regarding the rule-making requested in the Wright petition, CC Docket No.
96-128. We urge the FCC to grant the remedies outlined in the Wright petition pursuant to the
authority granted under 47 U.S.C. § 201(b), including the establishment of reasonable benchmark rates and rate caps, as well as other appropriate actions to protect against price-gouging and
monopolistic practices of prison phone service providers.
Such action is necessary because free market forces have consistently failed to provide
reasonable, competitive phone rates for the captive market that consists of prisoners and their
families, to the detriment of consumers and society as a whole.


Alex Friedmann
Associate Editor, PLN
cc: Paul Wright, PLN Editor