The next tax scofflaws targeted for public shame: bars, restaurants and liquor stores

Posted on August 18th, 2009 – 9:26 AM
By James Shiffer

This time, it’s the taxman yelling “Last call!” Having gotten so much notoriety (and cash) out of its public lists of tax delinquent businesses, the Minnesota Department of Revenue this week rolled out its newest deadbeat roster. (My colleague Bob Von Sternberg reports that 180 establishments owe $7.7 million).The list includes businesses now prohibited from buying and reselling liquor, beer and wine because they haven’t paid sales, withholding or other state taxes. The list (available here and updated at noon each day) is divided into three sections, according to a revenue department news release:

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No grace period to pay health care premiums

Posted on August 17th, 2009 – 3:04 PM
By Lora Pabst

It’s no surprise that Greg Lee isn’t the only unemployed Minnesotan to be caught off guard by a COBRA health coverage cancellation notice. His predicament, featured in my Sunday column , arose after a minor accounting error on his part. Lee’s coverage was administered through Igoe Administrative Services, a San Diego-based company that handles COBRA for his previous employer LA Fitness. For the last month, he had been trying to get Igoe to reinstate his coverage. But it turns out that Lee might have had more luck if he knew that there was a federal government department tasked with handling these types of situations. Read the rest of this entry »

A $25,000 windfall from the government? Even in the age of stimulus, don’t believe it

Posted on August 14th, 2009 – 10:06 AM
By James Shiffer

Earlier this week, the phone rang in Diana Johnson’s home in Robbinsdale. The stranger on the line had a tantalizing offer: a no-strings-attached $25,000 grant from the government. He offered a list of reasons why she qualified, one of them being that she had no criminal record. Just give us your debit card number so we can confirm our records, Johnson was told. I won’t do that, she said. It starts with a 4, the caller responded. The cards all start with a 4, Johnson said. She managed to get the caller to tell her his company was “Uncle Sam’s Money” and the phone number, (202) 470-5675.

When Whistleblower called that number Friday, I spoke to Carlos Williams, customer service representative with Uncle Sam’s Money in Washington D.C. Williams said the caller was an impostor.

“This is the third complaint I just got right today, of somebody using the name Uncle Sam’s Money and giving this telephone number to call back,” Williams told me.

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Your news tips keep rolling in as Whistleblower’s mission expands

Posted on August 13th, 2009 – 4:50 PM
By James Shiffer

The widely-read story today of the state’s $25,000 fine slapped on the Anoka-Hennepin schools for two teachers’ homophobic taunting of a student was a joint effort by Whistleblower researcher and reporter Jane Friedmann and Anoka County reporter Paul Levy. It’s also part of the Whistleblower team’s expanded mission: to report on how government agencies punish or penalize wrongdoing or misconduct. These enforcement actions deal with the same kinds of subjects we hear about every day at Whistleblower, thanks to your calls, emails and letters. I often tell the tipsters that yes, the government does have an agency with the power to do something about whatever gripe it is. The enforcers are often ones that you don’t hear much about, such as, in the Anoka-Hennepin schools story, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Often we hear from people disappointed with the response from the official watchdogs – so Whistleblower needs to report when they do respond, not just when they don’t.

At the same time, Whistleblower is staying on task with our original mission: investigating and reporting on your complaints about ripoffs, injustices and other problems. Those are rolling in faster than ever. More than 200 came in last month alone. Sometimes it takes us a while to get to them – the tip that led to Whistleblower reporter Lora Pabst’s story last week about a troubled housing complex in Maple Grove originated with an email to Whistleblower in February. While we’re trying to respond to queries as they come, we’re also going back and contacting those that slipped by us over the past year. That’s why you may get an email or letter out of the blue, months after you asked us to investigate your complaint. There’s no way we can follow up on every tip, but we value each one. Keep them coming.