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Justice Department Steps in to Stop Alleged Pirate Operation

But in interview with Boston Globe, operator says there’s no wrongdoing on his part

In what authorities are calling a groundbreaking step, the Department of Justice is seeking an injunction to stop the operations of an alleged unlicensed radio station in Worcester, Mass.

The Federal Communications Commission is well aware of the station in question — allegedly operated by Vasco Oburoni as well as the Christian Praise International Church — which the FCC said has been operating a radio broadcast station on both 97.1 MHz and then 102.3 MHz without a license.

[Read: FCC Plans Fine in Worcester Pirate Case]

The U.S. Attorney’s Office moved to file a formal complaint on March 6 after the FCC complained that Oburoni had received multiple warnings and a forfeiture order from commission in the amount of $15,000 for repeated violations. Although the FCC said Oburoni initially agreed to a payment plan after warnings about operating on 97.1 MHz, the commission said he later began broadcasting on a different frequency, 102.3 MHz, without a license. Investigators traced the alleged pirate signal to the church at 52 Ward St. in Worcester where an FM antenna was discovered on the church’s roof.

In a phone interview with the Boston Globe on March 6, Oburoni denied any wrongdoing, saying there is no radio station being broadcast on 97.1.

“All I can say is they asked me to stop and I stopped,” Oburoni told the news outlet. “There are a lot of radio stations in Worcester, I don’t know why I’m the only one they keep targeting.”

One of the FCC’s primary concerns about pirate radio stations is that an unlicensed station may interfere with the signal reception of another legally licensed station. The FCC said that is exactly what has happened in this case since it has received complaints from a nearby licensed broadcaster that the unlicensed station is interfering with radio signals.

According to United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, action must be taken when an operator chooses to operate illegally, particularly when they continue those operations after being warned multiple times.

“Like any member of the community, the operators of these illegal stations could have applied for radio licenses and operated their stations in compliance with the law,” Lelling said when the decision was announced. “It is a potential hazard to public safety for pirate radio stations to broadcast illegally and interfere with critical radio communication.”

The chief of the FCC Enforcement Bureau called the move “a groundbreaking step.”

An injunction to stop a pirate radio operator’s illegal activities is part of the FCC’s continued effort efforts to combat illegal broadcasting, said Rosemary Harold, Enforcement Bureau chief.

“As we work with our law enforcement colleagues to use every tool in our toolbox to combat pirate radio, I welcome the Justice Department’s renewed use of its Section 401(a) injunction authority,” Harold said.

That section of the Communications Act gives district courts the authority to issue a court order requiring individuals to comply with provisions of the act.

“Along with fines, equipment seizures and warnings, this action underlines our continued interest in combatting this serious problem,” Harold said.

A website for Rock FM 102.3 in Worcester says the station plays a mix of Gospel, Afrobeat, Azanto, entertainment programming and news about Ghana. Oburoni is also listed as “Apostle Vasco Oburoni” on the slightly-differently-named Christian Praise International Centre website, with headquarters in Ghana. That page lists the church as a “Gospel-believing church which aims at the prioritization of God’s will” and says Christian Praise International Centre is one of the fastest growing churches in Ghana, with more than 200 branches and membership of nearly 15,000 within a space of 10 years.

Radio World has reached out to church officials for comment.

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