Secret Agencies

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-06-04 Print this article Print

Secret Agencies

For several years in a row, Dominic Antonini was named ICGs top salesman in southern California. His boss and friend, Adrian J. Brokken, was a top sales manager, repeatedly honored by the company. They were part of an aggressive sales staff that sold local phone service and high-speed data access lines to customers large and small.

But in the fall of last year, their activities came under closer scrutiny after a security official from Denver, assigned to California, noticed something peculiar — Ferraris, BMWs, expensive custom Corvettes and other fancy cars in company parking lots, being driven by individuals whose salaries wouldnt seem to support them.

His curiosity provoked other inquiries, which ultimately led to an investigation of Antonini, Brokken and at least two other salesmen. Internal company documents obtained by Interactive Week show that Antonini and Brokken, both salaried, full-time sales employees, were operating at least two independent agencies that competed against ICG. The company terminated Antonini, Brokken and another salesperson in December, following an investigation.

Antonini ran a company called Quality Sound Communications. QSC owned a Web site that advertised telecommunications services from ICG and a number of its telecom competitors, including AT&T, MCI, Pacific Bell Telephone, Sprint and others. His Web site had links to Telecombrokers, a company that documents show as linked to Brokken.

QSC incorporation documents list one officer for the company, Irene Antonini — Dominics mother.

Antonini, who now operates an office in Costa Mesa, Calif., that lists its name as Telecombrokers, denied both that he had competed with ICG and that he used inside information to take clients away from the company.

"It [the agency] was just a way to generate leads," he said. "I never churned accounts. There wasnt anything improper about it. They tried to paint it that way, but that wasnt what it was."

But he refused to say who else was involved in QSC or to talk about its activities in detail. Documents related to the investigation show that Antonini told investigators the same thing — until they confronted him with records showing that he had earned commissions from ICG for direct sales to an ICG customer, and again for sales to the same customer made through QSC.

Investigators told him the activities could result in criminal charges for mail and wire fraud, or civil action, and that they clearly constituted unethical business practices. According to those records, Antonini offered to help with an investigation, and to resign, if the company would not press criminal charges. But he refused to talk about other employees involved.

When he was terminated, the documents show, he asked for an extra day to retrieve his personal property from his office, because it would not fit into the Ferrari he had driven to work — a car, he told investigators, for which hed "paid cash."

Records also show that ICG officials claimed they did not know of Antoninis association with QSC when ICG paid commissions to the independent agency for business it generated. But Antonini said "everyone" at ICGs offices in southern California knew about the agency and the Web site, and had no objections to them.

Antonini said that while allegations against him were false, problems within the company had convinced him that he should seek employment elsewhere anyway. He said salesmen were encouraged to sell lines whether or not the company could install them in a timely way, and to continue to sell aggressively even when it was taking the company months to connect customers to its network.

"Our faces were the only faces that the customers ever saw, so when they got frustrated because their service was not installed, or wasnt performing, it was us they called to complain to. I finally just got tired of it and gave up," he said.

Brokken, who was also terminated, documents show, for using customer information to sell services from competitors, also denied he had done anything wrong. He at first offered to talk to Interactive Week about ICG business practices that he said were "questionable." But confronted with details about his alleged outside agency activities, he refused to discuss the issues further.

Manuel Lopez, who was an engineer at ICGs southern California offices before taking a job at Time Warner Telecom in San Diego, said many people became aware that "inappropriate activity" was going on with the sales staff in southern California. But he said efforts to do anything about it were discouraged.

As an engineer, he said he was frequently asked to supervise installations where lines were oversold. There were a lot of lines being sold, but never installed, he said.

"ICG was 100 percent driven by line counts," he said. "Company financing depended on line counts. It reminded me of the Vietnam era, when all the talk was about body counts. Same kind of thing, about as accurate."

In one case, he said, Brokken made a sale of a large number of T1 [1.5-megabits-per-second] and T3 [45-Mbps] lines to the San Diego Community College District.

"I wanted to cancel the order because it was going to result in more expense than revenue. So [ICGs] response was to take me off the account," he said. "But that was only temporary. They had to put me back on it, because they needed my expertise."

Officials at the college canceled some lines because of long delays in installation, Lopez said. The account, a large one for ICG, which remains in service, was eventually reconfigured.

ICG officials never seemed to care how much it cost to provision lines of service, and ofteninstalled lines that were so expensive to put in "they were not going to make money on them for years," he said.

"It was almost the complete opposite of the atmosphere I see at Time Warner Telecom, where I work now," Lopez said. "Costs are evaluated, service is evaluated. If it doesnt make economic sense to sell the service, we dont do it. At ICG there was way too much money being invested in customers that were never going to give you a payback.

"If anyone had bothered to ask, they would have learned that it was common knowledge among employees that this company was not going to survive with these kinds of business practices," Lopez said. "But there was never any mechanism to communicate that to senior management."


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