It was an Internet fraud scheme that in just seven months cost telephone and Internet service providers throughout the country more than $9 million, prosecutors say.
But Monday a judge ordered a Riverside businessman to pay it all back. Gregory D. Evans, 33, will also serve two years in federal prison on charges of federal conspiracy and wire fraud.
"This was a very serious case," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Angela Davis, "not only because it defrauded huge, powerful interstate communication carriers, but it also defrauded mom-and-pop Internet service companies."
From November 1996 to June 1997, Evans ran a company called Connect America, which specialized in selling toll-free numbers for a flat rate. But authorities said the numbers actually belonged to AT&T or MCI.
Evans opened more than 125 toll-free lines through the phone companies, setting up the accounts with false names and billing addresses. He then charged his own customers about $2,500 for access to the lines, but never paid AT&T or MCI. When the phone companies tried to mail out bills for the lines, the envelopes came back marked "return to sender."
As the lines would shut down for nonpayment, Evans would set up new accounts, again using false names and addresses.
"He found a glitch in the system and took advantage of it," Davis said. "It used to be very easy to set up an 800 number. You just gave a name and address and nobody verified that information. I don't think that glitch exists anymore."
Evans pleaded guilty to the fraud and conspiracy charges in 1998. Davis said the long gap between a guilty plea and sentencing is not unusual.