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Former Sandpoint man fined nearly $10M for racist robo-calls

The FCC fined Scott Rhodes $9.9 million for illegally using a caller-ID spoofing platform to target specific communities with harmful pre-recorded messages.
Credit: Screenshot via Daily Bee/File
Scott Rhodes is pictured when he was a Sandpoint resident.

SANDPOINT, Idaho — The Federal Communications Commission is again fining a former Sandpoint resident accused of making malicious robo-calls in Idaho and five other states, as reported by KREM 2's news partner the Bonner County Daily Bee.

The FCC fined Scott Rhodes $9.9 million for illegally using a caller-identification spoofing platform to target specific communities with harmful pre-recorded messages. The robo-calls included xenophobic, fear mongering and racist attacks on political candidates. Rhodes, also known as Scott Platek, is further accused of attempting to influence jurors in a domestic terrorism case and aiming threats at Sandpoint Reader journalist Ben Olson.

The agency announced the fines on Jan. 14.

Rhodes allegedly used an online calling platform to intentionally manipulate caller ID information to make it appear the calls were coming from local phone numbers, a technique called "neighbor spoofing."

"The law is clear: spoofed caller ID robo-calls used with the intent to defraud, cause harm or cheat recipients is unlawful. And the American people are sick and tired of it," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.

Pai said the calls were unlawful, in addition to being particularly egregious.

"With today's fine, we once again make clear our commitment to aggressively go after those who are unlawfully bombarding the American people with spoofed robo-calls," Pai said.

In September 2018, Rhodes allegedly directed vitriol toward the Sandpoint Reader and its publisher, Ben Olson. Rhodes also advocated for an advertising boycott of the weekly publication in the 750 robo-calls that were placed.

"Ben Olson is a cancer on hopeful North Idaho and cancers must be burned out," according to the robo-call, which described Olson as a "degenerate bartender" who lacked education or training in journalism.

Rhodes is accused of orchestrating another campaign prior to the attack on Sandpoint Reader. Rhodes allegedly issued 837 robo-calls to Iowa residents regarding the apprehension of a Mexican migrant charged in the killing of college student Mollie Tibbets.

Rhodes allegedly made spoofed robo-calls in May 2018 which targeted U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, a Democrat from representing California, during a contested primary race. The FCC tallied 1,496 robo-calls during the campaign.

After targeting the Sandpoint Reader, Rhodes is accused of waging robo-call campaigns in Florida against gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams. Rhodes allegedly capped 2018 with 2,023 robo-calls before and during jury selection in a Charlottesville, Virgina, criminal case against James Fields. Fields was accused of driving his vehicle into a crowd protesting at a Unite the Right rally and killing Heather Heyer.

Feinstein ultimately retained her seat in Congress, although Gillum lost his gubernatorial race in a close contest with Ron DeSantis. The case against Cristhian Bahena Rivera for Tibbetts' slaying is pending. Fields was convicted of first-degree murder and received a life sentence for Heyer's murder.

The FCC fined Rhodes $12.9 million in 2020 for robo-calls.

Rhodes, according to an FCC notice, called the fines "politically motivated gross overreach" and said the government failed to establish the identity of the robo-calls.

The Bonner County Daily Bee is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.  

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