The Whistleblower blog was started in 2008. Look for posts by these contributors: James Eli Shiffer, Jane Friedmann, Brandon Stahl, Eric Roper and Alejandra Matos. | Check out the Whistleblower archive.
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Almost two weeks ago Whistleblower reported that numerous consumers in a class action lawsuit filed against diamond seller De Beers have waited years for their restitution.
Last week, a federal judge in New Jersey, Stanley Chesler, approved a plan to distribute about $108 million of the $295 million De Beers paid to settle the claim. About $900,000 of that will go to the firms that helped settle the lawsuit for fees and expenses.
The average payout to consumers: about $180, according to a memorandum submitted to the court.
A Mankato law firm has filed its third lawsuit on behalf of people who say government employees misused their drivers license data.
The firm, Farrish Johnson, filed suit against the state in federal court this week alleging that an unnamed employee at the Minnesota Department of Human Services accessed 1,100 motor vehicle records over 11 months -- largely without an authorized purpose. The suit is seeking class-action status.
Altogether, at least nine federal lawsuits have been filed in the last year relating to DVS data misuse. All but one target government entities.
The driver and vehicle services (DVS) database, which contains photographs, addresses and driving records on nearly every Minnesotan, is protected by state and federal law against unauthorized use. Misuse of the database is common in Minnesota, state records show, but criminal penalties are rare.
Law firms have been aggressively pursuing lawsuits related to drivers license misuse in recent months, ever since a former St. Paul cop won more than $1 million in settlements from local governments stemming from a DVS lawsuit.
Farrish Johnson is already engaged in two other lawsuits requesting class-action status.
In November, they filed suit against Rock County in southwestern Minnesota after a child support employee allegedly made 4,000 DVS queries over four months. This week, they filed suit against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) relating to a manager misusing thousands of records.
The firm is one of four that have filed suits seeking class-action status related to the DNR case. The employee, John Hunt, is also facing criminal charges.
Farrish Johnson placed an ad in the local newspaper to find plaintiffs for the Rock County case.
Next week, the state's legislative auditor is expected to release a highly anticipated report on the DVS database. The results of the report are likely to shape legislation state lawmakers are crafting to curb misuse.
The former St. Paul cop, Anne Marie Rasmusson, has demanded in a settlement with the state that they perform better audits and training relating to the database.
By Alejandra Matos
My Whistleblower column Sunday revisited the March 2011 gas explosion that occurred near a Cub Foods parking lot in south Minneapolis two years ago. Necole Berglund is still trying to find out why CenterPoint Energy won't pay for her totaled Pontiac Grand Am.
CenterPoint says it bears “no causal responsibility” for the gas leak and the ensuing explosion. Here are some photos that Burgland sent us of her totaled car. She said the underbelly of the car was also completely scorched.
Whistleblower recently wrote about a garage in north Minneapolis that has been a thorn in the side of neighbors for years. Over time the structure went from barely passable to almost pass-throughable - thanks to a hole in the side.
Neighbors tried to talk with those living at 2901 Dupont Av. N. about the problem and made repeated calls to the city. The city, for its part, sent out inspectors and issued citations and fines. Most citations went unaddressed and fines went unpaid, though the homeowner did correct some violations by cutting tall grass and picking up trash.
But the garage was never repaired, even after a car smashed into it a couple years ago and a thief earlier this year used a truck to yank a motorcycle through a hole in a side wall, sending studs and siding flying. Short of imminent hazards, the city said it can't repair or tear down privately-owned structures without owners' permission.
Officials recently obtained permission to tear down the parts of the garage that hadn't yet succumbed to gravity or vandalism, and by 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, a contractor had wiped all record of the structure off the face of the block. It's unclear whether hazmat suits were required for removal of the knee-high debris festering inside.
"We’re very excited," neighbor Mary Rice said about the end results. "The first thing I did was I went across the street and told Pastor Dale [at St. Olaf Lutheran Church] and he thought that was great. ... Then I just sent a little blurb to [council member] Diane Hofstede saying 'Garage is down, hallelujah.'"
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