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.

Find us on Facebook and Twitter. Find our watchdog and investigative work at The Investigators.

The Star Tribune's journalists need your help blowing the whistle in Minnesota. Contact us here.

Posts about Businesses in hot water

FTC: Immigrants misled by firm

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: April 14, 2014 - 5:23 PM

A Baltimore couple and their company were ordered to pay back $616,000 to Spanish-speaking immigrants for immigration services that they were neither qualified nor authorized to provide, the Federal Trade Commission announced last week.

A federal judge in Maryland ordered Manuel Alban, his wife Lola Alban and Loma International Business Group to refund the money after they targeted immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras. They claimed they could help fill out citizenship applications, but the FTC noted more than 60 percent of the applications were denied.

According to the FTC, the Alban’s customers “suffered severely” for relying on their services. Several were deported and one was arrested and jailed for almost 11 months, the FTC said. 

Firm faces heat after “jerk” labels

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: April 7, 2014 - 4:39 PM

A company that allegedly labeled millions of Facebook users as a “jerk” or “not a jerk” is facing federal scrutiny after the agency said it improperly obtained information to create user profiles.

The Federal Trade Commission filed an administrative complaint against Jerk.com and its Massachusetts owner, John Fanning, for creating profiles for more than 73 million people, including children, by using their Facebook profiles and then charging them $30 to change the info on the profile. The profiles often appeared in search engine results when searching for an individual’s name, the FTC said.

Jerk.com claimed other users created the profiles, but the FTC alleges the profiles were created from personal information that was improperly obtained from Facebook profiles.

CenterPoint, Minneapolis settle gas explosion lawsuits

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: April 2, 2014 - 1:50 PM

CenterPoint Energy has agreed to pay at least $192,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by the city of Minneapolis and various insurance companies in relation to a gas explosion near a south Minneapolis Cub Foods in 2011.

The majority of the settlement, $170,000, will go to Jerry's Enterprises, which owns the Cub Foods at 60th Street and Nicollet Avenue South. The company sued Minneapolis and CenterPoint last year, but the utility company is the only one required to pay. The remaining $22,500 of the settlement will go to insurance companies.

The March 17, 2011, explosion originated in a gas line running under 60th Street. No one was hurt, but it damaged the facade of the grocery store and dozens of cars parked in the area. Last year, Whistleblower reported how some of the owners of those cars were left in limbo because of the dispute between CenterPoint and the city over who was to blame.

The city of Minneapolis filed a lawsuit a year ago against CenterPoint Energy claiming the Texas-based natural gas company was negligent in maintaining and repairing the pipe. CenterPoint filed a countersuit, claiming the the city failed to maintain sewage and water lines running under the gas line, which created a washout that caused the gas line to bend.

Rebecca Virden, CenterPoint's spokeswoman, said the settlement "expressly provides that no party admits fault, and CenterPoint Energy’s position continues to be that the incident was caused by a washout under 60th Street as a result of the deteriorated and fractured state of the water and sewer system."

Minneapolis' only cost was $22,250 for expert fees, which will not be reimbursed by the settlement.
 

(above, Star Tribune file photo of the blast by Brian Peterson)

Mortgage firm targeted veterans

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: March 26, 2014 - 3:10 PM

A company accused of “mortgage scams” spent at least $2 million for a direct-mail campaign aimed at Minnesota veterans, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Mortgage Investors Corporation, also known as Veterans Information Department, was ordered to appear before an administrative law judge after the company violated a 2011 cease-and-desist order. The order alleged that the company’s advertising gave the false impression it was a government agency.

The company, based in Florida, allegedly took $1 million in advance fees from refinance transactions, a violation of Minnesota law, the department said.

Last June, the Federal Trade Commission levied a $7.5 million fine against the company for violating the Do Not Call registry.

EEOC: Home health employee fired because she got sick

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: March 24, 2014 - 3:00 PM

A home health care provider was sued in federal court Monday after it allegedly fired a Mankato-area employee who was seen walking with a cane.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit accusing Baywood Home Care of discriminating against Laurie Goodnough, who has fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. 

John Rowe, the EEOC’s Chicago district director, said that in early November 2011, two other Baywood employees allegedly saw Goodnough walking with a cane and complained to Baywood Home Care’s owner. Those complaints led directly to Goodnough’s termination on Nov. 9, Rowe said.

“There does not seem to have been any interactive process here for the employer and employee to assess whether Goodnough’s use of a cane interfered with her ability to perform her job, or to consider some other reasonable accommodation for her disability,” Rowe said in a statement.  “Instead, it was simply ‘out the door.’”

Dorothy Muffett, Baywood’s owner and founder, said Monday she was not aware of the lawsuit and would not comment on Goodnough’s allegations.

Andy Tanick, an attorney for Baywood, said the company "does not discriminate on the basis of disability or any other legally-protected characteristic, and did not do so with regard to Ms. Goodnough. We are confident that the court will agree."

That lawsuit claims Baywood violated Goodnough’s civil rights because it did not offer a reasonable accommodation for her disability. In addition to the discrimination against Goodnough, the lawsuit also claimed Baywood engaged in another form of discrimination by asking job applicants if they have a disability and what was the severity of their disability.

According to a Star Tribune article published last year, Baywood Home Care offers hourly assistance, 24-hour live-in care and overnight care. It places home health aides in the Twin Cities metro area, south-central and southwestern Minnesota. The company has 150 employees, including nurses who provide case oversight.

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT