An individual associated with an unlicensed station operating on 87.9 MHz in Iowa City IA put a number of arguments into play in his effort to wriggle out of paying a fine. In the end, none of them worked, but there was still a reduction in the penalty.
The individual is Thomas Costa. He was implicated by a property owner who showed FCC agents into a room used by Costa and containing radio equipment.
During that first encounter, Costa said he operated the station at the behest of the station’s true owners, who told him to hide their identities for Costa’s and their own protection. They also told Costa that he could expect a visit from the FCC at some point. The true operators, he said, paid rent to him which he passed along to the property owner.
Upon being hit with the standard $10K fine for unauthorized operation, Costa snapped into action to escape the fine.
He no longer claimed to operate the station, saying he merely prepped the room for the station and denying his admission to being an operator earlier. Further, he said that the FCC agents failed to get a search warrant and that any evidence they gathered was therefore inadmissible; and that there should have been a warning issued prior to the issuance of a notice of apparent liability.
In the event that these arguments failed, Costa asked for cancellation of the fine or a reduction to $1 due to his inability to pay.
The FCC didn’t agree with any of Costa’s arguments. It said that whether he admitted to running the station or not, he still had hands that were more than dirty enough to be considered part of the station’s operating team – and in particular, pointed out that he was clearly aware that what he was doing was not legal, hence the need to protect the parties he said were actually in control of the station.
The FCC also noted it has full authority over radio broadcast in the US and may inspect any station at any time without a warrant – the Iowa City illegal operation is no exception.
Further, they were granted admission to the room from which the station was broadcasting simply by asking. They did use any form of coercion or force to gain entry.
Since this was not a criminal investigation, the FCC noted, much of Costa’s claims about the admissibility of evidence was immaterial.
Finally, the FCC took a look at Costa’s financial documents. While it did not allow the fine levied to be discounted all the way from $10,000 to $1, it did allow it to go down significantly to $1,200.
It warned Costa not to expect a similar reduction if he is implicated in this behavior in the future.