The fate of a low-power FM in the Joplin, MO market is in doubt after the Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday it would hold a hearing before the administrative law judge into whether Ministerios El Jordan is still qualified to continue holding the license for KEJM-LP (96.3). The evidence suggests that the Carthage, MO-licensed LPFM that airs a Spanish-language religious format was not only controlled by non-U.S. citizens without approval, but Ministerios El Jordan repeatedly lied about it when filing reports with the FCC.
In an order approved Thursday, complete with blacked-out portions to protect the identities of its tipsters, the FCC says Ministerios El Jordan submitted the application for a construction permit for a new LPFM in Oct. 2013 listing the names of five officers: Eliud Villatoro, Johana Villatoro, Timoteo Garcia, Marlon Fuentes, and Tomas Calgua. Then in Jan. 2017 those same five individuals were listed on a minor modification application when KEJM-LP updated its transmitter coordinates with the agency. Each time in paperwork filed with the Media Bureau the religious broadcaster said all five board members were U.S. citizens.
But just days after the Jan. 2017 filing was made, the FCC received a tip that Fuentes had only recently become a U.S. citizen and that the other four board members held Guatemalan citizenship. That would be in violation of the FCC rules that prohibit any noncommercial station from having more than 20% of its ownership held by foreign nationals. With a bit of digging, the Enforcement Bureau quickly uncovered the fact that Eliud Villatoro was in court fighting a deportation order and his wife, Johana Villatoro, had already been deported. Potentially adding to the problems for Ministerios El Jordan is that when the FCC checked on filings with the Missouri Secretary of State, the documents suggested only Eliud Villatoro actually held any controlling interest in the LPFM.
The apparent false information Ministerios El Jordan provided to the FCC, as well as a refusal to respond to two subsequent requests for information by the agency, tripped the wire for what the Enforcement Bureau said was an apparent lack of truthfulness. “Misrepresentation and lack of candor raise serious concerns as to the likelihood that the Commission can rely on an applicant, permittee, or licensee to be truthful,” Bureau chief Rosemary Feld wrote in the order.
It will now be up to an administrative law judge to decide whether Ministerios El Jordan’s violations are severe enough that the license should be revoked or that a pending application to change KEJM-LP’s transmitter site should be denied. No hearing date has been set.