Viable, Inc. was a video relay services company founded by John T.C. Yeh, who also served as the company's president. Viable's employees were mostly deaf and hard of hearing. It was acquired by the video relay services company Snap!VRS.
John T.C. Yeh was born deaf in Taiwan in the 1940s. Yeh's father, a civil engineer, found deaf education in the United States to be better than deaf education in Taiwan, so the family decided to move. They moved to Brazil first since it was easier to immigrate to the United States from there, and they lived in Brazil for three years. When Yeh was 12, the family moved to the United States. Yeh attended Kendall School for the Deaf in Washington, DC then enrolled at Gallaudet University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. He then enrolled at University of Maryland, College Park where he earned a Master of Science degree in computer science. After graduation, he was turned down for numerous jobs despite his credentials. Companies told him his lack of English skills was a factor, but Yeh believed his deafness played a role. Yeh found a job as a computer programmer at Gallaudet but sought to be an entrepreneur.
In 1979, Yeh formed Integrated Microcomputer Systems, a software engineering and integration company based in Rockville, Maryland, with the help of his three brothers and a loan from Small Business Administration. Yeh experienced challenges contacting clients over phone, but he overcame the obstacle and eventually obtained 8(a) federal contracting certification, which helped his company grow from several employees to a peak of 550. The company's clients included the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the Pentagon. Integrated's revenue was $20 million in 1988 and was $40 million by 1995. Yeh sold the company in 1996 to CACI International, a professional services and information technology company headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. Yeh wanted to retire, but his investments went down in 2001, motivating him to continue his entrepreneurship.
Yeh founded Viable Technologies in 2000 in Rockville; the company provided real-time remote captioning services to deaf and hard of hearing people in educational settings. Yeh and his son Jason traveled to New Orleans in 2005 for a conference about telecommunication issues experienced by the deaf community. They discussed providing videophones to deaf people, and a few months later, Yeh formed a subsidiary called Viable, Inc. that employed several people. Back-end technologies were developed for a client that had call centers handling video relay calls. The call center operations were eventually moved in-house, resulting in employment growth for Viable. By 2008, Viable had 150 employees and locations in cities like Ellicott City and Frederick in Maryland. Viable's 2007 revenue was $7 million, and it exceeded that amount by May of 2008. More than half of Viable's executive team wes deaf, and over 90 percent of the company's employees knew American Sign Language. In 2008, Yeh was featured as one of "25 CEOs You Need to Know" by Maryland's The Gazette of Politics and Business. Viable was also profiled in an issue of Fortune Small Business.
In 2009, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf approved Viable as a provider of the Certification Maintenance Program's continuing education units. In the same year, Viable also opened a business office in Austin, Texas, a state where they had a call center as well as throughout the country. Viable also entered a purchase agreement for Snap!VRS, another video relay services company, to acquire it.
VPAD is a videophone launched by Viable in January 2008 for users of video relay services. An engineering department was created to design the videophone. The launch led to hiring more engineers and expanding marketing and customer support departments. A team of home installation technicians was formed to install VPADs for customers. The VPAD was followed by the VPAD+, a model that used VoIP, Bluetooth, and wi-fit that made videophone communication portable.
Investigation and resulting lawsuit
In June 2009, FBI agents raided Viable's headquarters as part of an investigation of the company's relationship with Innovative Communication Services for the Deaf, a sign language interpreting company based in Miami, Florida. Viable had begun a partnership with Innovative earlier in 2009, and Innovative's co-owners were arrested in June on charges of conspiracy to defraud the federal government by billing the Federal Communications Commission. After the raid, Communication Access Center Relay Services, who partnered with Viable to bill FCC for minutes of relay calls, withheld payment to Viable. The lack of cash flow led to a furlough of employees who worked at call centers in Ellicott City and Towson. In July, Viable faced difficulties paying its employees, emailing them to explain its inability to meet payroll obligations.
In 2009, complaints were filed against Viable with the employment standards unit at Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation's Division of Labor and Industry. On August 26, 2009, a class action lawsuit was filed against Viable by an initial 17 plaintiffs, including Glenn Lockhart, who left his position as Viable's director of corporate communications last month. Other plaintiffs included current and former employees of Viable who sought "back payment of wages, interest, compensatory damages and other relief". The lawsuit alleged that Viable violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and Maryland wage payments laws. More lawsuits were filed in state and federal court by additional employees seeking back payment.
Snap!VRS, a video relay services company, entered a purchase agreement on August 14, 2009 to acquire Viable. Following the federal investigation and the class action lawsuit, Snap!VRS released a statement saying that it would help stabilize Viable's business operations and that it would help address Viable's payroll issues.
In November 2009, federal authorities charged executives of seven companies, including Viable, in a six-count indictment that included the following charges: conspiracy to defraud the federal government out of tens of millions of dollars, submitting false claims, and mail fraud. The Federal Communications Commission's video relay service fund was fraudulently billed by executives for interpreting calls, and the calls were made by executives' friends and relatives. In the alleged scheme, authorities identified Viable as the central company, linked directly to others through business arrangements. In December 2009, four executives including Yeh pleaded not guilty during an arraignment.
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