FCC Investigations – Enforcement Bureau
Enforcement Bureau, FCC Field Offices & Office of Inspector General
For licensees or persons facing an FCC Investigation for a violation of the Federal Communication Act, simply responding to an LOI, NOV or Subpoena from the FCC Office of Inspector General is not so simple. Materials, documents and facts may be cross-referred within the FCC to other enforcement divisions, or referred outright to the Department of Justice of state district attorneys. The information and details is not strictly limited to the FCC.
Maldonado Law has represented clients undergoing investigations by the FCC on a wide range of alleged violations. At times, the matter can be resolved at the Investigation phase. At times, it is best to answer and wait until a formal NAL or action is determined. Then there are times that the investigation itself is on a single track toward a NAL or a wide sweep of enforcement within an industry by the FCC.
An LOI and Subpoena from the FCC Office of Inspector General is time sensitive. The FCC may be asking for records that are kept as confidential or as a business trade secret. Certain limitations of the records should be preserved so that all your business matters are not available on the Public Record or through the FCC’s website for all to see. Maldonado Law represents clients under Investigation by the FCC. Contact us for a confidential consultation on the nature of the LOI or Subpoena from the FCC Office of Inspector General and the facts of your particular matter. As a matter of context, below is some helpful information regarding FCC Investigations and the various bureau’s and divisions that may be seeking information from you in such an investigation.
FCC Enforcement Bureau
The FCC Enforcement Bureau (or EB) is the main arm of the FCC for the enforcement of the Federal Communications Act (FCA) and the Commission’s Rules by the FCC. The Enforcement Bureau may issue an LOI to any party with regard to their investigations. The LOI can request the production of records and answers to questions with regard to an alleged violation of the FCA. The Enforcement Bureau may request an interview from parties of interest as well. Supplemental LOIs may be issued by the Enforcement Bureau based upon your response. When violations appear to be widespread to the Enforcement Bureau, it may expand its Investigation without notice to you. Matters addressed in an LOI are to be kept strictly confidential until conclusion of the investigation. The final results of an investigation can vary. Some result in Consent Decrees wherein the party admits liability for the violation for an agreed penalty. However, a party must request such an alternative early in the EB’s Investigation. A NAL may be issued imposing a proposed fine under the Commissions’ guidelines or an enhanced fine based upon some intentional or willful conduct. The NAL is a proposed fine that may or may not be the final determination of the Commission based upon advocacy further in the Enforcement Action proceedings. The Investigation may also result in no direct action by the EB, but instead referral of the matter to other agencies or the Department of Justice depending on the nature of the matter.
Field Office Violations
The FCC Enforcement Bureau maintains inspectors (or FCC Agents) throughout the country to do on-site inspections of compliance, alleged violations, and based upon complaints made to the FCC. The FCC Agents report to Field Offices within their region of the country. FCC Agents do not have to announce their inspection and may come at any time. Information given to FCC Agents on site is equivalent to a statement to the FCC, so the information they gather is important to potential investigations. FCC Agents also sue testing equipment to verify compliance or that a licensee is operating within their authorized authority. An FCC Agent can inspect any record of a licensee if it is material to compliance with the FCA. If the FCC Agents discover a technical violation he or she may issue a NOV. If the broadcast or operation is unlicensed, they may issue a Notice of Unlicensed Operation (NUO) ordering that the broadcast or conduct be immediately ceased. Since the FCC Agents are just that, Agents of the FCC, they may be sent out for other fact finding tasks, although this is not common. Any NOV or NUO that is not answer or complied with is referred to the Enforcement Bureau for further action. In the State of Florida, unlicensed operation of a radio station or radio frequency is a third degree felony. FCC Agents may refer unlicensed operators to the local State Attorney for criminal prosecution.
Office of Inspector General
The FCC Office of Inspector General (OIG) is tasked with investigating the expenditures and policies of the FCC. Investigations by the OIG with parties outside the FCC typically involve the receipt of government subsidies from the FCC for Universal Service projects mandated by Congress. Their investigations and subpoenas operate outside the FCA and have jurisdiction under the Federal Inspector General Act. Non-compliance with an OIG subpoena is referred to the Department of Justice in the District Court where the subpoenaed party resides. OIG subpoenas tend to be electronic court document (ESI) heavy as the OIG is looking for records of fraud and waste of government subsidies under the administration of the FCC. Any third-party may be subpoenaed for records or information. This includes affiliates, venders, and others who did business with the recipient of the subsidies or funds. Investigations of fraud are not limited to companies or licensees and may extend to owners, management and even employees. Each may be subpoenaed by the OIG. Based on the results of the Investigation, the matter may be referred to the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, the Department of Justice for potential prosecution under the Federal False Claims Act or other criminal statutes, or both.
Contact Maldonado Law to schedule a confidential initial consultation about any FCC NAL, NOV, LOI you have received, or if you have received a subpoena from the FCC Inspector General and learn about our rates and experience.
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