U.S. Accuses Sprint of Overcharging Government for Surveillance

U.S. Accuses Sprint of Overcharging Government for Surveillance

SAN FRANCISCO — The United States has sued Sprint Communications Inc. for charging too much to carry out court-authorized wiretaps and other surveillance.

Sprintinflated its bills to law enforcement agencies for wiretaps, pen registers and trap devices by 58 percent, running up more than $21 million in added costs to the government, according to a complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

“As alleged, Sprint overbilled law enforcement agencies for carrying out court-ordered intercepts, causing a significant loss to the government’s limited resources,” U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said in a statement.

The government seeks treble damages and civil penalties under the False Claims Act.

Sprint and other carriers are permitted to bill law enforcement agencies for the costs they incur complying with court-ordered surveillance. . In 2006, the Federal Communications Commission barred carriers from recovering the costs of upgrades they make to their equipment and facilities in order to comply with the requests. But Sprint continued to include those charges in its bills to the government from 2007 to 2010, according to the complaint in U.S. v. Sprint, 14-962.

The expenses escaped notice because Sprint did not break down its bill to the government, the suit alleges. Sprint has not given the government a refund.

A Sprint spokesman defended the company’s conduct.

“The invoices Sprint has submitted to the government fully comply with the law,” the spokesman said in a statement. “We have fully cooperated with this investigation and intend to defend this matter vigorously.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Saltiel is prosecuting the case, which emerged from an investigation by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General. No lawyers have entered appearances yet for Sprint.

Sprint allegedly submitted false claims to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Marshals Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, among other agencies.

Contact the reporter at jlove@alm.com.