The first robbery occurred in 2000, when FirstEnergy wanted to charge consumers for investments made prior to deregulation. The state's consultant said the company was due $2.6 billion. But through a sweetheart deal with Ohio's consumer "watchdog," Northern Ohioans will wind up paying $12.4 billion when tax and interest are included, according to The Plain Dealer. (Consider it a $10 billion tip for bringing us the August blackout and the near-meltdown at Davis-Besse.)
The deal included a rate cap, which expires on December 31, 2005. Now FirstEnergy is offering to keep rates unchanged through 2009 -- for an additional $2 billion. It appears the company's first heist was so easy, it can't resist returning to the same bank.
Unfortunately, Rob Tongren, that pliable little watchdog who liked to throw pool parties for utility execs, is no longer on the job, having been caught trying to destroy evidence of the last caper. And it now seems that the Ohio Consumers' Counsel is staffed by people with working spines. "We don't think people should have to pay a premium for their rates to remain stable," says Maureen Miller, spokesperson for the counsel, which will contest the plan at a hearing this month.
Per established criminal rules, FirstEnergy is reluctant to discuss its latest con. "You can write whatever you want," says spokeswoman Ellen Raines. Apparently, she's upset about Scene's recent story "Tale of Two Thieves" (January 21), which thoughtfully noted that late CEO H. Peter Burg was a thieving scumbag. (Burg engineered the $10 billion swindle before dying of cancer last month. His successor, Dark Lord Sauron, declined comment.)
"We'll answer questions to people who don't print trash," says Raines. Click.
Perv on the loose
Trying times are these, when punks, goths, and club kids can't pose in their underwear without attracting unwanted attention from letches. OnlyUndiesClub.com, a website for "kids in the underground" who like to post pictures of themselves in their skivvies, recently warned users of a "perv" claiming to be affiliated with the site.
"Webmistress" Kathy Sazdanoff, who also organizes underwear dance parties at Cleveland clubs, says the perv has been e-mailing OUC members, claiming to run a phone-sex service and asking them to call him. Maybe he's recruiting, or maybe he's just too cheap to pay the $1.99-a-minute for professional phone sex, says Sazdanoff. It happens all the time.
"The perverts that harass me and the users on OUC usually just nag for nudes," she explains. "Sometimes it might be creepy old men, but also it's horny young boys who just want to see a naked girl and don't know the polite way of going about it."
You've heard the story. A moron hits the cruise control on his brand-new Winnebago, gets up to make a pot of coffee, then wins $1.7 million in court after his RV careens off the freeway.
Groups that advocate "tort reform" often tell stories like this. The only problem: It never happened.
These groups -- usually fronts for corporations tired of getting their asses kicked in court -- are known for trading in bogus stories to rile public opinion. So forgive Punch for being skeptical when Jeff Longstreth, director of Ohio Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, announced last week that a Cincinnati lawyer had won a much-coveted Stella Award.
The awards, presented to those who file "wild, outrageous, or ridiculous lawsuits," are themselves a deception. They're named after Stella Liebeck, the woman who spilled McDonald's coffee on her lap, got third-degree burns, and wound up winning $2.9 million in court. Truth be told, Liebeck initially offered to settle for a few thousand dollars. McDonald's refused. Then a jury discovered that McDonald's had been sued more than 100 times for serving coffee much hotter than that of other junk-food chains, and had done nothing about the complaints. The jury jacked the hamburger giant for $2.9 million to teach it a lesson; the final purse was bumped down to $480,000 on appeal.
But it appears that this time, the Stellas found a worthy winner. Shawn Perkins was in the Kings Island parking lot when he was struck by lightning. He sued, claiming that the amusement park should have had electrical storm detectors so patrons can take cover.
"A reasonable property owner ought to do what it can to keep its customers safe," says Drake Ebner, his lawyer. "It's not a silly lawsuit."
Look for Punch to retain Ebner next week, when we sue the city for failing to keep the weather 70 degrees and sunny.
Dainty knife fighting
Being an English professor is a pretty good gig. All you have to do is read, say deep things, and hit on the coeds. But it appears that the ingrates of the Cleveland State English Department can't resist ruining a good thing.
First, radical scholar Batya Weinbaum got whacked for felonious obnoxiousness. Then lecturer Neal Chandler was fired for fabricating his credentials, only to be rehired. Now Professor Ted Lardner has taken a year off -- unpaid -- in part to get away from the squabbling and backbiting. Before he left, Lardner wrote to his colleagues: "I cannot overstate how continually, agonizingly distressing this situation is to me. So if beneath my seemingly rational, cool contribution on this topic, one soon finds inarticulate rage, well, now you know why."
But CSU is hoping to turn the squawkfest into a positive. It's expecting a huge audience -- perhaps as many as four people -- to tune in for its new reality show, When Pointy Heads Gum Each Other to Death!
Pity new Indians minor-leaguer Kazuhito Tadano. When Japanese baseball officials discovered that he made a cameo appearance in a gay-porn flick -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- the projected first-round draft pick was blackballed. Now he's having to face American cameras to explain why he went gay for a day to raise money for school.
But Punch is appalled! -- okay, maybe "outraged!" -- by the homophobic double standard being applied to Tadano. Who can forget those far more scandalous scandals of Cleveland's sporting past, which have now been all but forgotten.
· May 18, 1904: The Cleveland Press shows Indians second baseman Nap Lajoie looking at the exposed ankle of a female fan.
· October 15, 1988: Browns defensive back Frank Minnifield is arrested after circulating a video that shows an actor in a John Elway jersey having relations with a horse. (Minnifield was released after a judge ruled the acts consensual; the video would later draw huge ratings as part of Animal Planet's Farmyard Mating series.)
· February 12, 1998: The Cavs sponsor Illegitimate Child Night, promising the first 500 female fans that Shawn Kemp will impregnate them for free. Alas, Kemp pulls a groin during the halftime orgy. Cavs lose by 30.
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