So, Who's Going to Jail For T-Mobile's Crimes?

The FTC has charged T-Mobile with stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of their customers' money by billing them for services they didn't sign up for. Okay. So. Which T-Mobile executive will be going to jail?

I mean, this seems like a fairly straightforward case, right? This wasn't an accident. This was purposeful theft, on a grand scale. The FTC says that T-Mobile routinely placed charges on customers' bills for "premium" text messaging services "that, in many cases, were bogus charges that were never authorized by its customers." It was a classic crooked kickback scheme:

The FTC alleges that T-Mobile received anywhere from 35 to 40 percent of the total amount charged to consumers for subscriptions for content such as flirting tips, horoscope information or celebrity gossip that typically cost $9.99 per month. According to the FTC's complaint, T-Mobile in some cases continued to bill its customers for these services offered by scammers years after becoming aware of signs that the charges were fraudulent.

T-Mobile is disputing the allegations. But let's assume for a moment, for the sake of argument, that the FTC's charges are true. Is there any real moral argument—one based on justice, not on legalese—for a high-ranking executive of T-Mobile not to go to jail for this? The company, under the direction of its executives, was stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from people who had put their trust in it. Not only that, but they were purposely making it difficult for any customer to know that they were being slowly bled. From the NY Times:

For example, one type of unauthorized charges appeared on bills with the service listed as "8888906150BmStorm23918," the F.T.C. said. Consumers who had prepaid phone plans do not receive a bill at all; therefore, the amount was simply deducted from their accounts, according to the agency.

We have a crime, and we have a coverup. An obscure, hidden scheme involving bogus billing and kickbacks does not arise accidentally. It takes a good deal of planning and execution. This crime, if true, was a deliberate one.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere made nearly $30 million last year. Much of that bounty can certainly be attributed to the fact that in the past two years—the time period in which T-Mobile knew this scam was going on but failed to stop it, according to the FTC—the company's stock has more than doubled. John Legere has profited in quite a direct manner from his company's good fortune.

If a store owner is found to be fraudulently billing his customers' credit cards for tens of thousands of dollars, he goes to jail. If you steal someone's credit card and use it to run up a thousand dollars in bills, you go to jail. But the CEO of T-Mobile will, no doubt, walk away scot free if his company is found to have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from its customers in the same way. That is not justice. John Legere is paid handsomely to run his company. I see only two fair outcomes if these charges are true:

1. John Legere goes to jail for overseeing and profiting from a theft ring.

2. John Legere admits that despite his enormous salary he does not know what is going on at his own company, resigns in disgrace, and repays his salary to T-Mobile shareholders.

That would be nice for a change.

[Photo: AP]