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Posted at 10:10 AM ET, 01/05/2012

Scammer, blaming his dying pay phone business for his crimes, gets three months in prison

This post has been updated.

A few months ago I told you about Nicolaos Kantartzis, a Bethesda businessman who pleaded guilty to a creative, devious, lucrative crime wave in which he employed an old school device: pay phones.

Kantartzis programmed pay phones he owned to repeatedly call toll-free numbers so he could collect the 50-cent connection fees from the owners of the dialed numbers, which included federal agencies and private companies.

Federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents swooped in and busted him, but not before his phones — hundreds of them — had made millions of calls. Fifty cents here and there adds up fast: He netted a whopping $4 million.

Now we know his punishment: Kantartzis was sentenced Wednesday in a Greenbelt federal courtroom to three months in prison, far short of sentencing guidelines that could have landed him behind bars for five to six years.

Judge Roger W. Titus, according to an Associated Press report, noted that Kantartzis had repaid the ill-gotten gains and even pointed out the obvious: The pay phone industry was dying. Kantartzis threw himself on the mercy of the court by saying that his “failing business” — the industry has been crushed by cell phones — prompted his behavior.

That’s quite a remarkable defense: Kantartzis is essentially blaming one of the great shifts in modern culture — our always on, always connected lives — for causing him to defraud the government out of millions of dollars. I suspect many people will not agree with the judge’s sentence.

Technological advances disrupt and displace old school businesses everyday. I work in one of those disrupted industries. You might too. A more virtuous but harder way of coping with disruption is to conjure a legal path forward. To innovate. Kantartzis chose not to, and for that, he gets three months behind bars.

What’s your take?

By  |  10:10 AM ET, 01/05/2012

 
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