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From the late 1980s until around 2005, teenagers who dialed the national hotline used by Teens Teaching AIDS Prevention would reach a call center in Kansas City, Mo., where other youths were waiting to answer questions about the disease.When that program ended, the number was soon routed to one of National A-1's sex lines.

"They started by getting numbers for phone sex, then getting good numbers in general, then they started taking all phone numbers," he said.Those instances appear to be outnumbered by ones in which callers reach a phone-sex solicitation.Critics of the company say it isn't the sex that bothers them, but the acquisition of so many numbers.The man listed on many government records as the top executive at both Prime Tel and National A-1, Richard Cohen, declined interview requests. They wouldn't have them if they didn't need them," Helein said of Prime Tel's huge pool of numbers.A lawyer for both companies, Charles Helein, would not discuss their business dealings in detail but said Prime Tel isn't breaking any rules or engaging in prohibited practices such as selling numbers or obtaining ones it doesn't intend to use. He said the company's large share hasn't caused any shortages: "Everybody's got all the numbers they need." Helein said the raid last fall was not aimed at Prime Tel.But the AIDS hotline number is still publicized by public health groups.

When New York City's Fire Department relinquished its toll-free fire safety hotline a few years ago because of an administrative slip-up, Prime Tel grabbed it the moment it became available.

National A-1 and its owners have a variety of business enterprises headquartered at the same address, including a website sometimes used by prostitutes to advertise their services.

According to a database maintained by an industry organization, Prime Tel was listed as the administrator of record for at least 1,667,000 out of around 7.87 million active 800 numbers as of this March.

A spokesman for the FCC, David Fiske, would not comment on whether the agency had ever examined Prime Tel's activities but said the commission is actively enforcing rules on number hoarding.

Prime Tel appears to have benefited by grabbing numbers associated with famous names, like 1-800-Beatles, or numbers that have recently been canceled but are still advertised widely.

Soon enough, 1-800-FIRETIP was ringing into one of National A-1's phone-sex lines.