A broadband advisor selected by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to run a federal advisory committee was arrested last week on claims she tricked investors into pouring money into a multi-million dollar investment fraud scheme, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The advisor, Elizabeth Pierce, is the former chief executive of Quintillion, an Alaska-based fiber optic cable provider operating out of Anchorage. In her capacity as CEO, Pierce allegedly raised more than $250 million from two New York-based investment companies using forged contracts with other companies guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars in future revenue. Pierce resigned from Quintillion in August of last year, and she stepped down from her role in Pai’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) the following month.
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“As it turned out, those sales agreements were worthless because the customers had not signed them,” US attorney Geoffrey Berman said in prepared remarks, as reported by the WSJ. “Instead, as alleged, Pierce had forged counter-party signatures on contract after contract. As a result of Pierce’s deception, the investment companies were left with a system that is worth far less than Pierce had led them to believe.” Pierce was trying to raise money to help build out a fiber optic system that would wire Alaska with high-speed internet and better help connect it to networks in other US states. Pierce was charged with wire fraud last Thursday and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Pierce was tapped by Pai in April of last year to be the chair of the BDAC, which he formed “to accelerate the deployment of high-speed internet access, or broadband, by reducing and removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.” According to broadband industry news and advocacy website Stop the Cap, Pierce may have gotten on Pai’s radar by complaining about how cumbersome it was to bring internet access to parts of the country like Alaska.
In a statement issued last week, Quintillion says it began cooperating with the Department of Justice as soon as allegations against Pierce surfaced last year. “Quintillion became aware of the situation regarding the alleged actions of Ms. Pierce last year, took swift action and self-reported to the Department of Justice (DOJ). Quintillion has been cooperating fully with the authorities during this ongoing investigation,” reads the company’s press release on the charges. The company goes on to say that “the ongoing investigation has not impacted Quintillion’s operations nor the quality of its services,” and that it “continues to move aggressively to extend its network and provide world-class telecommunications to Alaska and beyond.”