A Washington-area pay phone owner who rigged phones to automatically dial toll-free numbers, fraudulently ringing up $4 million in 50-cent fees, was sentenced Wednesday to three months in prison.
Nicolaos Kantartzis pleaded guilty in September to using more than 100 pay phones to make phantom calls. Because the calls are free to legitimate users, the party getting the call pays costs that include a cut for the pay phone operator. Kantartzis, 63, was paid each time his phones rang the numbers, even though most calls lasted only a few seconds.
Authorities said his scheme spanned six years and some 8 million bogus calls.
Kantartzis' attorney, David Irwin, said his client repaid the millions he earned from the scheme and forfeited his phones, which have since been disconnected. Irwin told a federal judge in Maryland that the fraud had ruined his client and that he would eventually be moving back to his native Greece with his wife, a former diplomat, because it is less expensive to live there.
Kantartzis told the judge he accepted responsibility and had been motivated by his "failing business" as pay phones became less profitable with the use of cell phones.
Federal sentencing guidelines recommended that Kantartzis serve approximately five to six years in prison, but Judge Roger W. Titus disagreed, noting in part that Kantartzis had repaid the money.
The judge said Kantartzis had picked a dying industry and that the courthouse, once teeming with pay phones, had gotten rid of many. Kantartzis will also serve three months on home confinement and pay a $20,000 fine.
Prosecutors wrote in court documents that Kantartzis has owned a pay-phone company since 1995 and controlled at least 165 phones in Washington and nearby Maryland. Starting in January 2005, he used a computer at his home in Bethesda to program the phones to place calls to toll-free numbers for government agencies, companies including Dell and multiple airlines.
Kantartzis was caught after an employee at the government's General Services Administration noticed an irregular pattern of incoming calls on the agency's toll free line and launched an investigation. Inspector General Brian D. Miller said in a statement he hopes Kantartzis' sentence serves as a warning to others.
Kantartzis scheme isn't unique. Two Wisconsin men were charged last year with a similar but smaller operation. Prosecutors say they fraudulently obtained more than $1 million over three years.
Jessica Gresko can be reached at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko