Pay phone owner guilty of $4 million scheme

GREENBELT, Md. — A businessman pleaded guilty Tuesday to rigging pay phones he owned to robotically call toll-free numbers repeatedly so he could collect the 50-cent fee owed for each call, illegally racking up $4 million.

Nicolaos Kantartzis acknowledged using more than 100 pay phones he controlled in the Washington, D.C., area to make phantom calls to toll-free numbers belonging to companies and the government. Because the calls are free to legitimate users, the entity on the receiving end must pay costs that include a cut for the company that operates the pay phone. As a result, Kantartzis was paid each time his phones rang the numbers, even though most calls lasted only a few seconds and no one was on the other end of the line. Authorities say the scheme spanned six years and 8 million bogus calls.

Kantartzis, 62, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Maryland to wire fraud, which could carry a prison term of up to 20 years and a $250,000 fine. His attorney, David Irwin, said after the hearing that Kantartzis has repaid the money he earned from the scheme and agreed to forfeit his phones, which have been disconnected. He said federal sentencing guidelines would recommend a sentence of five or six years, though he plans to ask for less when Kantartzis is sentenced Jan. 4.

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