Firm Accused of Falsifying Poll Data

A polling firm and two of its top officials have been charged with falsifying the results of some surveys, according to an indictment released Wednesday.

The firm's owner and manager told employees to alter poll data, prosecutors said. Managers told employees to "talk to cats and dogs" when instructing them to fabricate the surveys, according to the indictment by a federal grand jury in New Haven.

Prosecutors said Guilford-based DataUSA Inc. (search), now known as ViewPointUSA Inc. (search), worked for state and national political candidates, among other clients.

The indictment listed surveys completed between 2002 and 2004. The clients were not named.

"We're not alleging this is a national problem. This is one case and a handful of defendants," said U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor. "We've got no reason to believe this problem extends beyond them."

The Feb. 17 indictment alleges that employees were told by owner Tracy Costin, 46, and manager Darryl Hylton, 41, to change the gender, political parties and responses of survey respondents to meet job quotas and deadlines. It also claims that employees were told to complete surveys without actually talking to people.

When interviewed by law enforcement officials, both Costin and Hylton denied the accusations.

Both face charges of conspiracy (search) and wire fraud (search). The conspiracy counts carry possible fines up to $250,000 and five years in prison. Wire fraud carries a maximum of 30 years and a fine of up to $1 million.

A Web site for DataUSA describes the company as a small firm that has conducted surveys for political analysts, health care organizations, educational institutions and other entities. It also contained a message to former clients.

"DataUSA upheld the highest standards in data collection as demonstrated in the excellence of our data," it said.