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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After an undercover federal investigation, a New York funeral home has agreed to pay a $32,000 fine to settle charges it violated federal consumer protection laws.
Funeral homes are required to provide consumers with accurate, itemized price information about services at the outset of making funeral arrangements, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Harrison Funeral Home and its owner, John Balsamo, were accused of violating that law after FTC inspectors posed as consumers seeking to make arrangements and the funeral home failed to provide price lists.
The FTC "funeral rule" gives consumers numerous rights when dealing with funeral homes, including getting prices over the phone, getting casket prices before you actually see them, and making funeral arrangements without having to pay for embalming.
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.
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