The City of Yuma is moving forward with a lawsuit seeking restitution for water it says was stolen by Diamond Brooks, recently filing a document in court to adjust figures due to inaccurate readings on the meter used in the investigation. According to an April 7 filing in Yuma County Superior Court by the City of Yuma Attorney’s Office, the water meter was found to have an approximate 341 percent calibration error and it was disclosing the information to all parties as was required by law. City of Yuma spokesperson Dave Nash said while the error in the meter’s calibration has caused the city to adjust its figures, what it doesn’t change is that Diamond Brooks had an unauthorized connection to a fire suppression line and took water without paying for it. In November 2010, Yuma police began an investigation into the business, located at 3025 S. Avenue 4E, after receiving reports that the company had been stealing water, which it would then process and sell back to the public. It was initially thought that approximately 76.5 million gallons, which equates to a loss of over $168,000, were stolen during the course of the investigation. Nash said that the City of Yuma actually caught the error. He said that the water meter had been placed into evidence in the federal criminal trial against Diamond Brooks owner Philip Clark and that the City was able to retrieve it and have it tested by an independent engineering laboratory. Nash explained that the fire suppression line leading into the Diamond Brooks facility had a lower flow rate than a residential water line, which the water meter had been calibrated for, so when one gallon of water passed through the unauthorized connection fire suppression line, the meter recorded approximately 3.27 gallons. After the calibration error was discovered and the error factor determined, Nash said the City adjusted its figures in the lawsuit accordingly. Based on the new figures, Diamond Brooks allegedly took about 23 million gallons of water through the unauthorized connection to the fire suppression line instead of the 76.5 million gallons originally recorded on the meter during the course of the investigation. Those 22.9 million gallons, Nash said, would amount to $47,343.00 in unpaid water usage. He also said that there is evidence that Diamond Brooks was taking water for 33 months, not just the 19 months that were monitored. Clark, the owner of Yuma’s Diamond Brooks Water Company, who recently entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, is scheduled to be sentenced at 9:30 a.m. on May 12 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. He had been charged with 18 counts of wire fraud, three counts of stolen property, five counts of money laundering, 12 counts of failure to pay taxes, eight counts of failure to file tax forms, and one count of making false statements. The charges stem from allegations that he failed to pay IRS taxes he collected from his employees, and did not file corporate and individual tax returns for several years. Clark, who remains out of custody while he awaits sentencing, could receive up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $10,000, or both. Probation is also available, and if he is sentenced to probation, the term can be for no more than five years. According to his admission statement contained in the plea agreement, Clark admitted that between Jan. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2009, he failed to pay the IRS $297,234 that he collected from his employees for certain employment-related taxes. He also admits that on Sept. 30, 2011, he failed to pay the IRS more than $31,296 in taxes that had been withheld from employee paychecks.
Four Pittsburgh City Council members scolded the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority on Monday for ongoing customer service and billing issues — including in some cases thousands of dollars in incorrect charges and bills that fail to arrive — that have outraged constituents and monopolized their staffs’ time. Natalia Rudiak noted that her office still receives two to six PWSA-related complaints weekly, sometimes requiring several hours of attention. “It’s an inappropriate use of city taxpayer dollars to help navigate something that is an independent entity and not our responsibility,” she said. “We are simply relaying the anger that our constituency is relaying to us.” Interim Executive Director David Donahoe said a rushed “marriage” of a new billing system and new meter-interface units that use wireless technology to relay usage information caused incorrect billing, overwhelming customer service staff.
One out of three American adults who have private health insurance coverage nevertheless receive what “Time Magazine” calls a “surprise” medical bill, according to a survey conducted by “Consumer Reports”. The unwelcome surprise is for procedures they think are covered by insurance but are not, ranging from a few hundred dollars for an emergency room visit to tens of thousands of dollars for an operation. Reporter Haley Sweetland Edwards wrote the story “You Only Think You’re Covered” for this week’s issue of “Time Magazine” and she joins me now from Miami to discuss it. So, what is the trap that people are getting caught into? You basically break it down to this in-network versus out-of-network chasm. HALEY SWEETLAND EDWARDS, TIME MAGAZINE REPORTER: Right. So, people will go to an in-network hospital, see an in-network provider, and over the course of that medical visit, interact with other medical providers who are out of network. So, an in-network hospital will contract with out-of-network providers — radiologists, anesthesiologists, lab technicians. All of those people, even though they’re working at an in-network hospital, can be out of network and often are. HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s no way for a consumer to know when you walk in who is in network. It’s not like they’re wearing different colored uniforms? HALEY SWEETLAND EDWARDS: Right, right. And even when patients ask ahead of time, they say, you know, “I’m going in for this procedure, is my doctor in network, is my anesthesiologist in network?” They don’t know to ask other questions like, is the consulting surgeon on duty that day who may or may not be in the operating theater, is he also in network? HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, the Affordable Care Act is supposed to make it, that as you say in the story, if I break my arm and I go the ER, I’m supposed to basically get in-network rates. But that’s not the whole story.
LANSING — The agency overseeing Michigan’s utilities said it’s investigating estimated billing practices by Consumers Energy Co., which have prompted customer complaints. The Michigan Public Service Commission said the investigation announced Tuesday calls on the Jackson-based “utility to provide detailed explanations about its estimated billing practices.” The commission said “problems have persisted for several years despite repeated meetings” with Consumers Energy. Consumers Energy spokesman Dan Bishop said the utility is working with the commission. He added bad weather and dangerous animals have prevented some workers from doing actual meter reads, but the utility is “making progress” on reducing estimated reads. He said Consumers also is accelerating installation of upgraded, smart meters. The utility must file a report by Feb. 18. The commission plans to produce its analysis and recommendations by May 18.
Utility Over-Billing Over-billing is a common practice. Who’s being overcharged? You… the building owner and utility consumer! Healthcare, industrial, multi-family housing, non-profit, and commercial enterprises … facilities of all types are being overcharged. Once you overpay, refunds are hard to get. And overcharges are prevalent. A U.S. House Ways and Means Committee study found the following: In a single year, public utility companies have overbilled their customers by approximately $19 billion. Errors were discovered in more than 70% of the utility customers’ bills, and of these, nearly 90% were in favor of the utility companies. Knowledge is power. The gory over-billing details. Excessive billing charges are due to a complex utility pricing structure. Demand, load, seasonal factors, and surcharges all create a confusing billing maze. Frequent changes in utility tariffs and government regulations only add to your bill’s complexity. And deregulation furthers the confusion. Even the utility companies don’t have all the answers! The burden of understanding the charges and recognizing the errors falls upon the building owners and managers. Billions of dollars in savings are missed due to… • Inconsistencies in utility billing practices • Gaps in delivering entitlements • Overlooking the best billing options • Inexperienced and limited resources — at the utility company and in your office! The result: you’re paying too much!