Tag Archives: scams

The Unethical Fine Print Game

I am on record as believing that lawyers who intentionally assist their clients in burying unconscionable, unenforceable or unfair terms in standard contracts, usually in fine print, are unethical, and engaging in a professional violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. I’ve offered several seminar hypotheticals on the topic to make my point, and have never encountered a lawyer who had a good defense for the practice. Usually the best they can come up with is “everybody does it” or “but it’s legal!” Of course, the bar associations are on their side, not mine, because, well, everybody does it. That’s a proverbial can of worms the bar associations don’t have the guts or integrity to open. What else could it be but unethical, however, when a client company says, “Make sure you bury this provision saying that they have no recourse if we cheat them in the fine print!” and the lawyer says, “But that’s unenforceable!” and the client says, “Yeah, but they won’t read it before signing, and when we point out that they did agree to it, maybe it will scare them off,”  and the lawyer shrugs and says, “Whatever you say! It’s your contract”?

WiFi companies are especially egregious in this regard. As an effort to show itself as above the field and avoiding the unethical industry practice, a British WiFi company, Purple, ran  a social science experiment, inserting language in its standard contract that obligated consumers to clean toilets at festivals and clear sewer blockages.  22,000 people signed up anyway. The contract stated–in fine print—that its signatories would be legally required to perform 1000 hours of community service, including, but not limited to, “cleaning toilets at festivals, scraping chewing gum off the streets” and “manually relieving sewer blockages.”

The gag clause was inserted in the company’s terms and conditions for a period of two weeks, “to illustrate the lack of consumer awareness of what they are signing up to when they access free WiFi .” Purple also offered a prize to anyone who actually read the terms and conditions, and found the “community service clause.” Only one person won it. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/25/17

1. On the same New York Times front page (June 21) that announced the Georgia 6 result, surrounded by Times’ agenda-advancing stories with slanted headlines (climate change, North Korea, the Obamacare overhaul,  the “divided GOP,” and Michael Flynn) was the kind of story that once made the Times’ reputation. It was headlined, “Haven for Recovery Becomes A Relapse Capitol,” Will this story be discussed today by the Sunday talking-head shows? Of course not. The implications of it are not friendly to progressive mythology.

The story explains how Delray Beach, Florida has become a Mecca for drug addicts and a bonanza for treatment centers and “sober houses,” group living facilities for addicts. Some quotes will provide a sense of the report, but you should read it all:

Unlike other places in the United States that have been clobbered by the opioid crisis, most of the young people who overdose in Delray Beach are not from here. They are visitors, mostly from the Northeast and Midwest, and they come for opioid addiction treatment and recovery help to a town that has long been hailed as a lifeline for substance abusers. But what many of these addicts find here today is a crippled and dangerous system, fueled in the past three years by insurance fraud, abuse, minimal oversight and lax laws. The result in Palm Beach County has been the rapid proliferation of troubled treatment centers, labs and group homes where unknowing addicts, exploited for insurance money, fall deeper into addiction.

Hundreds of sober homes — some reputable, many of them fraud mills and flop houses for drug users — sprawl across Delray Beach and several surrounding cities. No one knows exactly how many exist because they do not require certification, only city approval if they want to house more than three unrelated people. Hoping for a fresh start, thousands of young addicts from outside Florida wind up here in places that benefit from relapse rather than the recovery they advertise.

…the proliferation of fraudulent sober homes was in part also the result of two well-intentioned federal laws. First came a 2008 law that gave addicts more generous insurance benefits; then the Affordable Care Act, which permits adults under 26 to use their parents’ insurance, requires insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and allows for multiple drug relapses.

The result was a whole new category of young addicts with access to insurance benefits. This gave rise to a new class of abusive operator, as painstakingly chronicled in The Palm Beach Post: the corrupt sober house owner. Many drug treatment centers — which also treated inpatients — started paying sober-home owners “bonuses” from insurance money and fees for referring outpatients to their centers while they underwent therapy, according to law enforcement, a grand jury report and court records.

Sober homes, which are not covered by insurance, can get thousands of dollars a month for each recovering addict, in large part from treatment providers, law enforcement and city officials said. Much of it goes into the owners’ pockets. But it is also used to pay rent so patients can live free and to provide perks that lure patients from other sober houses: manicures, mopeds, gym memberships and, worst of all, drugs. Relapses are welcome because they restart the benefits clock.

To increase profits, many treatment centers and labs overbill insurance companies for unnecessary tests, including of urine, blood and DNA. Some have billed insurance companies thousands of dollars for a urine test screen. Patients often unnecessarily undergo multiple urine tests a week.

Ah, glorious compassion! So those of us who managed to not break laws and cripple ourselves while doing so get to pay for not only the self-inflicted problems of those who did, but also get to enrich  the scam-artists who live off of their addictions, protected by compassionate, expensive insurance guarantees that require no personal responsibility or accountability. Meanwhile, “federal disability and housing anti-discrimination laws offer strong protections to recovering addicts who live in them.”

This is the better “treatment” alternative to the “war on drugs” that the compassionate people harangued us about for decades. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Quotes

Apology Not Acceptable: The Pastor, The Cake, And The Whole Foods Scam

This guy takes the cake...

This guy takes the cake…

Jordan Brown is the openly and presumably obviously  gay pastor at Austin’s Church of Open Doors. You will remember him if you saw his video last month explaining how an employee at the local Whole Foods, in an inexplicable burst of baker suicidal tendencies, had written in icing the legend “Love Wins Fag”—whatever that means—on a cake he had ordered there.

“When I got into my vehicle, I looked inside and saw they had wrote ‘Love Wins F–‘ on it,” Brown says in the video, in apparent emotional anguish. “You can see it nice and clear. Also, it is still in a sealed box. As you see, I have not opened up this box yet.” He also held a press conference, describing his feelings of humiliation when he finally got home with his cake and read the icing attack.

Then he sued the groceries giant, claiming that Whole Foods knew or should have known that cakes prepared by mad homophobic bakers in its employ might have “slurs or harassing messages” written on them and then be “presented to a customer without any oversight or prior warning.” Ah, if only Whole Food had said, to Brown, “We have to warn you, sir, we’ve written a homophobic slur on your cake. Have a nice day!”

Naturally, as with so many recent examples of members of frequently harassed and victimized groups, especially on campuses, creating their own racist, sexist or homophobic “hate crimes” and inventing  entire incidents, like Rolling Stone’s “Jackie,” the initial reaction of the news media was gullible acceptance, and the immediate response of social justice warriors was fury. Whole Foods was a cultural villain, and facing significant, business-threatening consequences.

Whole Foods did not turn the other cheek, however. It denied the allegations and countersued, stating that Brown “intentionally, knowingly and falsely accused Whole Foods and its employees of writing the homophobic slur … on a custom made cake that he ordered from WFM’s Lamar Store in Austin.” Whole Foods, ominously for Brown, said that it had video evidence proving that Brown had tampered with the cake.

Suddenly contrite in the face of resistance, the good pastor said, in effect, “Ooopsie!” He issued an e-mail, withdrawing his lawsuit and his story: Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement

Signature Significance From The Ted Cruz Campaign: No Trustworthy Candidate Would Allow This Mailer

ted-cruz-shaming-campaign-3

I really hate fake mailers, because they are lies. Whether it is a fake census letter to hit me up for a Republican Party contribution, a fake IRS warning to make me read a tax service, a false notification of a prize I didn’t win to sell me soap, or a phony hand-addressed envelope from a “friend” to get me to check out a website, these are inherently dishonest devices dreamed up with the assistance of soulless direct marketing hacks, who from my personal experience are ethics-free sociopaths who luckily—for the rest of us— ended up in a relatively non-violent field. I don’t buy soap from companies that try to hook me with lies; I don’t give money to causes that trick me into opening their solicitations, and I definitely don’t support presidential candidates who use lies and intimidation techniques to get me to vote for them. Presidential candidates like…Ted Cruz. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Marketing and Advertising

It’s Just One Small Episode In The Vast Accountability, Integrity And Competence Void That Is The Federal Government, But It May Answer Many Questions…

Kimberly Graves appealing her VA demotion, not because she denies gaming the system and sucking up taxpayer money, but because she feels she should get away with it.

Kimberly Graves, appealing her VA demotion, not because she denies gaming the system and sucking up taxpayer money, but because she feels she should get away with it.

As essential background, please read this excerpt from the Veterans Administration’s inspector general’s report regarding “Inappropriate Use of Position and Misuse of Relocation Program and Incentives,” from last fall:

As part of our assessment of VA’s relocation expense program (PCS program), we reviewed records related to the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) reassignment of 7 General Schedule (GS) Grade 15 employees who were promoted to Senior Executive Service (SES) positions and 15 SES employees who moved to different SES positions in fiscal years (FYs) 2013, 2014, and 2015. VBA management used moves of senior executives as a method to justify annual salary increases and used VA’s PCS program to pay moving expenses for these employees. Annual salary increases totaled about $321,000, and PCS relocation expenses totaled about $1.3 million. Additionally, VBA paid $140,000 in unjustified relocation incentives. In total, VA spent about $1.8 million on the reassignments. While we do not question the need to reassign some staff to manage a national network of VAROs, we concluded that VBA inappropriately utilized VA’s PCS program for the benefit of its SES workforce.

Ms. Kimberly Graves was reassigned from her position as the Director of VBA’s Eastern Area Office to the position of Director, St. Paul VARO, effective October 19, 2014. VA paid $129,467.56 related to Ms. Graves’ PCS move. We determined that Ms. Graves also inappropriately used her position of authority for personal and financial benefit when she participated personally and substantially in creating the St. Paul VARO vacancy and then volunteering for the vacancy.

Mr. Antione Waller, former St. Paul VARO Director, told us Ms. Graves initiated discussion with him about relocating to the Philadelphia VARO. Once he expressed a willingness to accept the reassignment, she did an apparent “bait and switch.” She told him that the Philadelphia position was no longer available and he would be considered for the Baltimore VARO Director position. When he said he was not willing to move to Baltimore, Ms. Graves told him, “you will probably get another call, this probably won’t be the last conversation about Baltimore.” In an email, Ms. Beth McCoy, who at the time was the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations and Ms. Rubens’ subordinate, told Ms. Graves that she spoke to Mr. Waller and told him his name was already submitted to the VA Secretary for Baltimore, so “saying no now is not a clean or easy option.” Once the St. Paul Director position was vacant, Ms. Graves said she contacted Ms. Rubens and said, “I’d like to throw my name in for consideration for St. Paul … I feel like I’ve done my time and I’d like to put my name in.”

Ms. Rubens’ and Ms. Graves’ reassignments resulted in a significant decrease in job responsibilities, yet both retained their annual salaries—$181,497 and $173,949, respectively. Based on Federal regulations, we determined VA could not reduce their annual salaries upon reassignment despite the decrease in the scope of their responsibilities. However, a senior executive’s annual salary can be reduced if the individual receives a less than fully successful annual summary rating, fails to meet performance requirements for a critical element, or, as a disciplinary or adverse action resulting from conduct related activity.

We made criminal referrals to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Columbia, regarding official actions orchestrated by Ms. Rubens and Ms. Graves. Formal decisions regarding prosecutorial merit are pending. We provided 12 recommendations to VA to increase oversight of VA’s PCS program and to determine the appropriate administrative actions to take, if any, against senior VBA officials.

Got that? Graves gamed the system to reduce her responsibilities while keeping her salary, and received almost $130,000 in taxpayer money as moving expenses, which, as the rest of the IG’s report documents, are routinely inflated by the VA. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, U.S. Society, Workplace

Most Unethical Year End Awards, Theater Division

the-best-2015A local theater website in Washington D.C. gathers up its reviewers and staff, and announces year end awards, “The Best of 2015”  in several categories, including the best professional theater productions of a play. I was alerted, with the usual fanfare, that my company’s farewell production of “Twelve Angry Men” made the esteemed list. Several friends sent me the link, with congratulations.

Guess how many plays made the “Best” list.

Go ahead–guess.

Did you guess 138?

That’s right: this site, which is run by a friend, had 138 productions named as “best.” When my reaction to this on Facebook was the same as it was last year, only a bit more pointed—I asked where I could buy one of those “We’re Number 138!” giant foam fingers, I was chided by one of my cast members for not being properly “gracious.” That really ticked me off. Being gracious in response to a cynical exercise that is phony to its core just encourages more of the same.

What’s wrong with naming 138 “best” professional dramatic productions? Everything: Continue reading

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“Why Does Hillary Think Her E-mail Scandal Is So Funny?” And Other Brief Ethics Notes To Get The Week Off To A Depressing Start…

W dead guns

Most Unethical Grieving Mother Of The Year

A caring  friend of Chanelle Chavis created a GoFundMe account asking for donations to Chavis’ 3-year-old daughter’s Camber’s funeral after the grieving mom told the friend that her daughter had died in an accident.  Later, moved by the plea, a woman gave  Chavis a $5,000 personal check to pay for Camber’s funeral expenses after Channelle exchanged text messages with her.

Nearly a month later, investigators found that the body of Camber Chavis was still in deep freeze at the funeral home, and no arrangements for burial had been made. Oh—this was no boating accident. The little girl had been murdered by her father.

On October 16, Chanelle Chavis pleaded guilty to obtaining money by false pretenses, a misdemeanor, and received a six month suspended sentence.

These cases of conning people into donating money are basically  all the same, but bit by bit, they make our society less kind, less generous, and less trusting. The law may see this is a minor crime, but there is nothing minor about the damage it does to our society.

Sure, We Don’t Need Guns… Continue reading

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