Catching up on the stories of 2010

  • Article by: JAMES ELI SHIFFER and LORA PABST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 26, 2010 - 8:33 AM

Whistleblower heard this year from hundreds of people who wanted us to look into their situations. Here's an update on a few we wrote about in 2010.

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Shamso Abdi made her way through what would eventually become home for her disabled son and herself. Contractor James Brown donated his labor.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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This year, Whistleblower heard from hundreds of people who wanted us to look into their situations. Here's an update on a few we wrote about in 2010.

SULEBAAN MOHAMED

Disabled boy gets new accessible home in Minneapolis

In October, Sulebaan Mohamed spent his first night in his new home. It was fitting that the man who carried the 15-year-old severely disabled boy into the house on Clinton Avenue S. was the contractor who made it all possible.

James Brown of Brownsmith Restoration volunteered to finish renovations on the formerly condemned house after reading Whistleblower's story in June about a real estate investor who sold the property to Sulebaan's family without disclosing its true condition and the contractor who didn't complete the job after being paid $46,000. Brown was joined by more than 100 volunteers who showed up over the summer and fall. Strangers and Brown's suppliers donated materials: a washer and dryer, cabinets and granite countertops. The home now includes a first-floor bedroom for Sulebaan, complete with a handicapped-accessible bathroom and a motorized lift over his bed. He and his mother, Shamsho Abdi, had previously shared a cramped apartment in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood with several other relatives.

On move-in day, Abdi said she was overwhelmed by all the work Brown and the other volunteers did to transform the house.

"I can sleep tonight," she said. "He's my angel. I didn't know anybody to help me. God sent him to me."

PAUL SUNBERG

Insurance dispute still unresolved

Nearly 16 months after his rented home in Plymouth became uninhabitable, Paul Sunberg is still living in a hotel while the dispute between an insurance company and the homeowner, Sunberg's mother, drags on.

Sunberg and his mother, Mary Lue Arvans, think the house was struck by lightning in August 2009 while he was away. They put in a claim that same month to North Star Mutual Insurance Co. In July, Whistleblower reported that North Star still hadn't approved or denied the claim. A company representative said at the time that a decision would be made in 10 to 14 days.

A North Star vice president said last week that the case is in the hands of lawyers. Sunberg said the only real change since July has been the insurance company's decision to allow two trash bins to be removed from the vacant house's driveway, after numerous complaints from neighbors and the city. "Nothing more has taken place," Sunberg said.

GUILLERMO GONZALEZ

Resigned to a two-year stay in to Minnesota

Despite his willingness to be deported to his homeland, the Dominican Republic, Guillermo Gonzalez is resigned to a two-year, court-imposed stay in Minnesota.

In May, Whistleblower reported that Gonzalez was serving a supervised release in Minnesota as the final part of a sentence from a 1984 white-collar crime and subsequent 1986 escape from a minimum-security federal prison in Duluth. He was on the lam for 19 years, and thought that authorities had forgotten about the crime until he was arrested in the Dominican Republic in 2005.

Now 67, and a white-haired pensioner with a heart condition, Gonzalez couldn't persuade the federal probation office to let him finish his sentence closer to relatives. But he has a brighter outlook now -- he has moved out of a seedy hotel and into his own apartment in northeast Minneapolis. A decorated Vietnam veteran and naturalized U.S. citizen, Gonzalez says he also got a sizable payment from his military pension, enough to allow him to buy a new car.

Within the next month or two, he hopes to bring his wife and three children to live with him in Minneapolis.

"They can learn how to speak English. It'll be educational."

MEMORY LANE CLASSICS

Criminal inquiry continues

Dozens of classic car owners from across the country are still waiting to find out whether criminal charges will be filed against Memory Lane Classics in Chisholm, Minn. Whistleblower reported in August on the closing of the classic car shop and the ensuing investigation of its owners, Scott and Edwin Verdung. Chisholm Police Chief Vern Manner said it took several months to comb through the shop's records and contact about 50 customers. Edwin Verdung denied that any fraud occurred.

Last week, Manner said his department turned over its report to the U.S. attorney's office and is waiting to hear if federal charges will be filed. If the office doesn't file charges, Manner said, he would forward the case to local prosecutors to consider charges.

JEREMY FREBORG

Worthless warranty

When Jeremy Freborg bought his 2003 Audi a couple years ago, he added on a four-year, 75,000-mile warranty. He paid the dealership, K2 Auto Group, an extra $3,200 for the warranty but when he needed to use it, he learned the company had gone out of business. Warrant-EASE, the warranty company recommended by K2, had also been operating illegally.

In August, Freborg won a judgment against K2 in Hennepin County Conciliation Court, but the dealership appealed. An attorney for K2 Auto Group told Whistleblower in September that the dealership had earned a "small processing fee" for selling the warranty.

Freborg went to District Court in November to argue his case. That's where he said he found out that K2 Auto Group had actually received $750 for selling him the warranty. This month, the judge ruled in Freborg's favor and he was again awarded $3,294 for the worthless warranty.

BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD OF MINNESOTA

Medical records privacy

An unnamed woman whose medical information was accidentally published in a handbook settled her lawsuit against the state's largest health insurer, according to her attorney, Marshall Tanick. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Whistleblower reported on the suit in March. The woman's name, treatment and costs of her care were printed in a handbook distributed to 95,000 Blue Cross members. The company discovered the error and changed the woman's identification number.

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