The FCC has proposed a penalty of $235,668 against Aura Holdings of Wisconsin, Inc. for the willful and repeated failure to provide truthful and accurate information to the Commission in submitting false and misleading information in 10 different change in ownership applications on the FCC’s antenna structure registration (ASR) website.
Last June, Wireless Estimator broke the story of the FCC investigation of Aura’s president, William Nix, who allegedly changed the ownership of more than 40 towers from multiple carriers and tower owners into his company’s name during a five-month period without the rightful owners being notified by the Commission.
However, the FCC might find it difficult to effectuate notification service with their certified letter to Aura since it was sent to an address that Nix illegally uses for his corporate address – a rural tower site off of Patton Rd. in Deforest, Wisc. owned by Subcarrier Communications of New Jersey.
In June or earlier, the FCC became aware that Nix was illegally using that self-supporting tower site address and did not have any tenancy or other interests in the property that has a small unmanned equipment shelter.
In addition, even if Nix is served through a substitute service, it is unlikely that he will be able to pay the fine since he reportedly oftentimes sleeps in his vehicle, an equipment building or other transient location.
Aura Holdings incorporated in Wisconsin on Sept. 23, 2016. Since then, the company hasn’t filed an annual report.
In the Notice of Apparent Liability, the FCC said Nix had illegally filed 42 changes of ownership. Sprint, AT&T and key tower companies were targeted in the wide-ranging thefts.
It is not known if the FCC referred their investigation and findings to the Department of Justice where Nix could be charged under U.S. Code, Title 18, § 1001 which is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment of up to five years.
The NAL doesn’t provide a motive as to why Nix changed the ownership of the structures or what benefits would be derived by being able to identify that Aura owned a $12-plus million group of towers.
Although it addresses how an individual can falsify ownership, it doesn’t identify whether or not the correct owner is notified of the change application.
The FCC has maintained that owners do get a notification, but Subcarrier Communications, who initiated the Commission’s investigation, said they never received any written or email correspondence when Nix transferred numerous of their towers into Aura’s illegal portfolio.
To test the ASR’s notification process, last June, an owner of two companies, each one having an easily obtained FCC Registration Number (FRN), had one company legally change the ownership of the other company’s tower. They said that the acquiring company received instant notification that the property transfer had been completed; however, the assignor did not receive information that an assignment of ownership had been made, and would not have known about it if it had been a fraudulent transfer. Also, the history log showed that no Change of Ownership Letter had been sent.
The FCC’s investigation began on Jan. 10, 2017 when FCC agent John Kuzma out of the agency’s Chicago office visited a tower in Footville, Wisc. after a pilot reported that the lights on the 1,100-foot tower were out, and he confirmed that neither the daytime nor the nighttime lights were operational.
On Jan. 12, Kuzma called Nix who was listed as the contact for Aura, the owner of the structure.
Nix informed Kuzma, according to a report, that “he had recently acquired the tower and was aware that the lights were out. Mr. Nix said that the tower had been vandalized and that he had the equipment necessary to repair the lights but would not be able to repair them until Spring when it would be safe for technicians to climb the tower. Agent Kuzma told Mr. Nix that a reasonable timeframe to get the tower lights repaired would be May 2017, and told Mr. Nix to update him with the status of the repairs.”
On March 20, Kuzma emailed Nix requesting a status update, and Nix replied, stating that the light would be repaired by July 1.
On May 19, Kuzma was contacted by a staff attorney at FCC headquarters and learned that the FCC had found that “William Nix had changed the ownership information on many antenna structure registrations to Aura Holdings and that Aura Holdings had no legitimate ownership for any of the towers.”
Nix did not respond to a request from Wireless Estimator regarding the NAL.