The former chief executive of a company overseeing an Arctic fiber-optic project in Alaska pleaded guilty Monday to fraudulently inducing two New York investment companies to commit more than $250 million to the project, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.
Elizabeth Pierce, 55, was head of Quintillion until her resignation in August 2017. She used forged contracts to persuade the investment companies to support a fiber-optic system, authorities said.
Anchorage-based Quintillion operates a fiber-optic cable system in Alaska that connects to the Lower 48. The company has had much larger ambitions of connecting Asia to Europe with lines extending across Alaska.
Between May 2015 and July 2017, Pierce persuaded the investors to support Quintillion’s fiber-optic system by providing eight forged broadband capacity sales contracts and related order forms, the Justice Department said.
Pierce created fake revenue agreements to make it appear as though a handful of telecommunications companies in Alaska were committing to pay about $1 billion over long periods to purchase wholesale quantities of bandwidth from Quintillion.
But the agreements were “completely worthless” since Pierce had forged signatures, the agency said.
“Certain of the fake revenue agreements never existed at all, while others were falsified versions of genuine revenue agreements,” the Justice Department said. “Pierce fabricated the terms of the false versions of the agreements to make them more favorable to Quintillion and, therefore, more appealing to investors than the genuine agreements.”
Pierce pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and eight counts of aggravated identify theft, the Justice Department said. She is scheduled to be sentenced May 16 by U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos in southern New York.
She faces prison penalties of up to 20 years for the wire fraud and additional time for the identify theft.
Pierce’s scheme began unraveling when a customer disputed invoices from Quintillion related to a fake revenue agreement. Soon afterward, amid an internal investigation by Quintillion, Pierce resigned.
Quintillion officials alerted authorities, leading to the department’s investigation, the agency said.
Pierce currently lives in Austin, Texas, the statement said.