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 Complaint sagas

Funeral home to pay $32,000 to settle consumer protection violation charges

Posted by: Brandon Stahl Updated: January 8, 2014 - 1:07 PM

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. 

Highway 5 rumble strips have Victoria, MN residents grumbling

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: June 17, 2013 - 11:55 AM
Ron Featherston talks about the rumble strips recently installed on Hwy. 5 in Victoria, Minn.

Ron Featherston talks about the rumble strips recently installed on Hwy. 5 in Victoria, Minn.

On Sunday Whistleblower wrote about a neighborhood having to deal with a new noise: Rumble strips installed on a nearby highway. To join the discussion go to the original article or post below.
 
The Victoria man sat in a lawn chair in his driveway, counting. WHAP! One. WHAP! Two. An hour later he had a tally of how many times motorists on nearby Hwy. 5 had passed over the rumble strip installed on the center line last year as a tool to enhance highway safety.
 
Extrapolating, Ron Featherston estimates that he and his neighbors are audibly reminded of Hwy. 5’s existence about 240 to 300 times a day. A decibel meter placed in one back yard spiked to twice the level of normal highway noise at times, Featherston said.
 
The noise produced when a car passes over the strip interrupts nearby residents’ sleep, ruins back-yard activities and has “at least one family ... preparing to sell their home because of the never-ending barrage,” Featherston said.
 
The neighbors are now fighting to have the noisemakers removed.
 
The strips were installed during a 20-mile-long Hwy. 5 resurfacing project. They are part of a mandate to install centerline rumble strips on all rural, undivided 55-mile-per-hour state highways as they are built or worked on. Roads of this type see more than their share of serious cross-the-centerline crashes that result in deaths or serious injuries, a MnDOT memo stated, and the strips are meant to alert motorists who may be straying.
 
On Hwy. 5 between Chanhassen and Norwood Young America, 20 miles of which were resurfaced last year, there were 1.6 crashes per million vehicle miles traveled between 2001 and 2005, slightly higher than the state average of 1.3 for the same type of road.
 
Safety was the buzzword in the run-up to the project. MnDOT held meetings with county and city officials and stressed safety goals.
 
“Our highest priority is public safety,” said the mayor of Victoria, Tom O’Connor who, in the position of councilman last year, voted for the rumble strips when MnDOT asked for the council’s input. “Considering the safety considerations it seemed like the right decision.”
 
But if you drill down to the neighborhood level, the segment of highway that slides past Featherston’s neighborhood has fewer crashes than the rest of the stretch. In a five-year period there were two head-on collisions and one sideswipe involving vehicles going in opposite directions. Featherston said he believes one of those involved a drunken driver. “A rumble strip is not going to sober somebody up,” he said.
 
A federal report cites a study that found that when rumble strips end more than 650 feet short of a residential area, noise levels are tolerable.
 
Taken by surprise
At just about the time road resurfacing began in earnest in late May 2012, Cara Geheren, an engineer under contract by the city to review construction issues, sent a letter to residents mentioning various aspects of the project, including rumble strips. The city conducted a number of meetings.
 
“But there were so many details associated with the project that I don’t think rumbles ever came to the forefront. People were so concerned about the fact that the highway was going to be closed for such a long period of time,” Geheren said.
 
In a council meeting two months later, when Geheren gave a project update, the council debated rumble strips and voted to approve them despite the engineer’s recommendation that they don’t.
 
During the discussion, Geheren mentioned a handful of reasons for not giving rumbles a thumbs up: Past crashes may not have been deterred by a center strip, there were at least 40 residential properties that back up to the highway, likely making that segment urban and not under MnDOT’s mandate, and the road curves at that point.
 
“When you’re coming around a curve, cars can drift a little bit, not because they’re being careless, but just because they’re on a curve,” Geheren told Whistleblower on Friday.
 
In a later meeting, Featherston’s neighbor Brad Johnson complained to the council that residents were not given an opportunity to be heard before the vote.
 
Geheren set up a meeting for Monday. MnDOT will present its results from a rumble frequency study it conducted and will “solicit input,” according to a letter to residents. The study showed that the rumble strips are driven over as often as six times per hour.
 
The input will be presented to the council later this month and the council will make one of four recommendations to the state. “If the City Council tells us that the [strips] need to be removed, then we’ll probably remove them,” said Kevin Gutknecht, communications director for MnDOT.
 
“I didn’t appreciate how vehement the outcry was going to be,” O’Connor said, but he worries about removing the strips and having a subsequent crash. “That’s my worst nightmare.”
 
For his part, Featherston is happy to know that his concerns will be heard.
 

Judge orders payouts in De Beers case

Posted by: Brandon Stahl Updated: May 21, 2013 - 4:34 PM

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.

 

 

Data misuse lawsuit joins growing list of cases

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: February 15, 2013 - 11:07 AM

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.

Necole Berglund's car, after the gas explosion

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: February 11, 2013 - 1:25 PM

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

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

ADVERTISEMENT