Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Thomas Biddix Acquitted On All Charges In Obama Phone Case

Thomas E. Biddix
Thomas E. Biddix

UPDATE: The Tampa Bay Times reported that Thomas Biddix has been acquitted of all charges without ever having to put on a defense.


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TAMPA, Florida —All but one charge has been voluntarily dismissed by federal prosecutors in a multi-million dollar Obama-phone fraud case that involved companies based in Brevard County, Florida.

In 2014, a federal indictment alleged that Thomas E. Biddix, 46, of Melbourne, Florida and two other men owned and operated Associated Telecommunications Management Services LLC (ATMS), a holding company based in Brevard County that owned and operated multiple subsidiary telephone companies that participated in the Lifeline Program, also known as "Obama-phones."

Federal authorities had contended that Biddix, chairman of the board at ATMS, and the other men allegedly caused the submission of falsely inflated claims to the Lifeline Program between September 2009 and March 2011 that resulted in ATMS fraudulently receiving more than $32 million.

However, according to court documents filed by prosecutors on Sunday, new evidence came to light that the government had not sufficiently reviewed whether or not audio files submitted by ATMS would have been accepted as a form of certification under the Lifeline Program.

Specifically, the government had not determined "... (1) whether the audio recordings in this case are legally and factually sufficient certifications for the purposes of the USAC Lifeline program and (2) whether the defendants were aware of and/or caused any deficiencies in the audio recordings..."

The prosecution's motion to dismiss was without prejudice, which means that the federal government could still refile charges at a later date. The motion noted that: 

" ... A preliminary review indicates that, like the written certifications, the audio files collected by ATMS were deficient in quality and quantity; however, the Government has not completed its investigation into these two issues and cannot today conclude with certainty that the audio certifications were deficient and defendants knew it... It is possible that the Government will be able to resolve the legal and factual issues raised by the defense, but it is also possible that the Government will not. Moreover, should the Government renew the charges in this case, defendants will of course maintain their ability to raise the same defenses in any such action..."

As a result of the dismissal, only one charge remains solely against Biddix who is alleged to have used the Lifeline government subsidy to pay a portion of salaries for employees of another company, Telecom Sevice Center (TSC) of Rockledge, Florida, that temporarily had over 90% of those wages paid by Brevard Workforce through an Obama administration federal grant known as "Florida Back To Work" at the height of the recession.

Allegedly, Biddix was prohibited from using federal money from the Lifeline program for TSC's remaining portion of those salaries subsidized by another government program.

Although publicly available information in early 2010 showed that ATMS was already under investigation for "atypical monthly growth in the amount of Lifeline disbursements received by ATMS companies" by the Florida Public Service Commission, the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast (EDC) and Brevard Workforce pushed through the "Florida Back To Work" grant money for TSC later that year.  EDC records show that Biddix was an EDC Board Member during that time and also belonged to the EDC Executive Committee.


Brevard Workforce, the agency that administered the grant to TSC, remains under investigation since 2011 by the U.S. Department of Labor for possible cronyism involving the award of federal grant contracts to companies connected with Brevard Workforce board members.  

Brevard Workforce, along with 23 other local Florida workforce agencies, changed its name in a re-branding effort after programs in Tampa and Orlando misspent public money and "workforce" developed image problems. Brevard Workforce is now re-branded as CareerSource Brevard.

Brevard Workforce/CareerSource Brevard President, Lisa Rice, told FLORIDA TODAY last year that the agency was fully cooperating with federal prosecutors in the Biddix case and that Brevard Workforce was only "involved tangentially" with ATMS through the administration of the Florida Back To Work program. In addition to ATMS, the agency has been connected in one way or another with all of the major scandals in Brevard County in recent years:

1. Former Brevard Public School Superintendent Dr. Brian Bingelli was a Brevard Workforce's Board of Director. A multi-million dollar software purchase made by Brevard Public Schools during his administration is now under criminal investigation.

2. BlueWare CEO Rose Harr,  was also Brevard Workforce Board of Director whose company qualified for Brevard Workforce training funds, but never used those funds.  Harr now faces bribery charges related to a multi-million dollar scanning contract involving former Brevard County Clerk of Court Mitch Needelman.

3. Everest University was given a Board of Director seat at Brevard Workforce and was awarded up to $25,000 in grant money in 2013, even though the private university's parent company faced allegations from several states' attorney generals that it engaged in exaggerated job placement rates and inflated grade and attendance in its marketing pitches. It should be noted that Everest University came under new ownership in 2015 following the scandal.

Biddix still remains under investigation by the Brevard County Sheriff's Office following a WFTV Channel 9 investigation back in August 2015 after allegations arose that USA Auto and Lending was selling cars on consignment but never remitting the sales proceeds to the owners.

Photo credit: Seminole County Jail booking photo