Latest on The Watchdog’s #shameATT campaign. An ethics award, then a few hours later, embarrassed in the Michael Cohen money mess

AT&T won an ethics award.

I know! I look at that sentence, and even though The Watchdog witnessed this with my own eyes the other day, it still unnerves me.

AT&T winning an ethics award is like Jerry Jones winning an award for Best General Manager. (Note: This story first appeared in The Dallas Morning News, May 10, 2018.)

But the glow among the beaming crew of a dozen or so AT&T employees who attended the Tuesday luncheon of the North Texas Ethics Association in Dallas didn’t last long.

Three hours later, the company found itself mired in the detective story of our lifetime. Dallas-based AT&T, we learned through information furnished by Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti, paid Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen $200,000 in consulting fees.

Later, various news outlets upped AT&T’s payment total to $600,000.

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Paying for influence may not be illegal, but it’s worthy of an ethics discussion for sure.

AT&T didn’t try to duck and hide. In its first statement, the company said that Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, was hired in early 2017 “to provide insights into understanding the new [Trump] administration. They did no lobbying or legal work for us.”

The final payment was made in January.

In its second statement, AT&T said it “cooperated fully” with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation late last year. The company said it considers “the matter closed.”

Hardly. Nice try.

The right track?

AT&T’s award — called the 2018 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award — was accepted by David Huntley, AT&T’s senior executive vice president and chief compliance officer.

In a prepared statement, Huntley said, “Operating an ethical company is a top priority at AT&T…. Recognition like this further validates that we’re on the right track.”

Michael Webb, head of the ethics group, invited The Watchdog to attend the ceremony because, he told me, “For all of these years, I’ve been kind of watching your column.”

Then he knows that for the past dozen years, I’ve received more complaints about AT&T’s putrid customer service than any other company in America.

The award, Webb said, “is based on process, not performance.”

He said, “Our philosophy is that ethical lapses and failures will happen, but companies with strong communications and programmatic ethic practices and expectations will be in a better position to avoid and correct ethic failures.”

What did the contest judges say about AT&T?

AT&T has “a well-developed and sound ethics approach for a very large company.”

“There’s a well-stated public commitment from the CEO…”

“The company showed a willingness to publicly speak on values.”

“Strong top-down strategic management leadership with bottom-up implementation.”

Too bad nobody asked The Watchdog.

Moving jobs overseas

Is sending jobs overseas an ethical issue? Or just a business issue?

Communications Workers of America, the union that represents many AT&T employees, released a report recently that shows that AT&T continues to lay off thousands of long-time employees because it has moved much of its call center operations to Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, India, Jamaica and Philippines.

The union calls this a form of “colonization” because low-wage overseas contractors, often poorly-trained, make much less than their American counterparts.

When foreign workers make mistakes, the union report said, American employees must clean up the mess. (From The Watchdog’s mail, I know this to be true.)

In bad company

AT&T’s money went into the same shell company as money used to pay a porn star to keep her silence about a sexual fling with the president. However, there’s no evidence that AT&T’s money was used for that.

 Still, it’s not a very ethical place to be.

Same goes for the Russian oligarch who also paid into Cohen’s fund.

AT&T claims it needed “insight” into Trump’s thinking, especially with its proposed mega-merger with Time Warner, which is now tied up in a court case. So it paid Trump’s self-described fixer a quiet fee. But it didn’t work. Trump’s Justice Department sued to stop the merger anyway.

This reminds me of the International Telephone and Telegraph scandal in the Nixon administration that preceded Watergate. An I.T.T. lobbyist pledged $400,000 for the 1972 Republican convention. In a memo she wrote that the money “has gone a long way toward our negotiations on the mergers.”

Is history repeating itself?

A slush fund?

Is Essential Consultants a slush fund, defined as an unregulated fund often used for illicit purposes? We’ll find out.

“There does not appear to be any legitimate business rationale for these payments,” New Yorker magazine reports.

The magazine adds, “Put another way, did the Russians and AT&T inadvertently help to pay” for a porn star’s silence?

What a spot for Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s CEO/Chairman/President/Big Kahuna, to be in. Stephenson’s tenure as president of the Boy Scouts of America, coincidentally, is scheduled to end this month.

Stephenson has fostered a progressive image and enhanced his reputation by supporting diversity, sustainability and even the Black Lives Matter movement.

Will he mention his company’s involvement with Trump’s fixer when he gives life advice as he delivers the commencement address on May 19 at Southern Methodist University? Tell the graduates the way the world really works, sir.

I’ve talked to Stephenson in the past about his company’s customer service failures. Every month, The Watchdog sends him a report of all the complaints I receive about his company.

I created the #shameATT hashtag, and I guess I’ll bring it out again.

One day, I dream, I’ll no longer hear constantly about AT&T’s failures with its customers trying to resolve billing and service issues.

The company is too big, and with the Time Warner merger, it wants to grow even bigger.

At the ethics luncheon the other day, nobody would sit next to me. That’s a good thing because of what I’m going to say next. I’m going to rain on this sunny parade.

Congratulations to you, AT&T, on your ethics award.

Now give it back. #shameATT.

No one would sit by The Watchdog at the luncheon. Good thing, because he rained on their parade.

A waitress who defeated an auto dealer in court gets the surprise of a lifetime, thanks to readers

When my wife and I picked up Christal Scott at her Dallas restaurant at the end of her waitress shift (her planned ride canceled because of bad weather), she was bitter about humanity.

With good reason.

She’d been without a car since July because of her duel with 1and2 Automotive in northwest Dallas. Her car was snatched back by 1and2 in what she called an illegal repossession. She lost her $5,100 cash down payment, too.

She sued the used car dealer in small claims court, and stood up to co-owner David A. Kost Jr., whom I call the King of Car Repossessions. The day of that trial, Kost told me many of the 200 cars he sells each month come back to him. (Note: This story first appeared in the Jan. 19, 2018 Dallas Morning News.)

It was quite a courtroom scene. No lawyers. Just the single mom, 43, still wearing her all-black work uniform and platinum blond hair tied back in a ponytail, going toe-to-toe with Kost, 39, shaved head, goatee, untucked shirt, jeans and boots with a silver chain around his neck.

“I was a mess that day,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what to ask him. It was really scary.”

She won. A jury awarded her $2,000. She hoped to use the money for a down payment on another car, but, as of Thursday, Kost has not paid.

1and2 Automotive sales tactics

We were driving to a car dealership in Plano, but Christal didn’t know exactly why. She’d find out soon. A surprise of a lifetime. For the moment, the Irving woman was sour on life.

“Everything you do nowadays is a ripoff,” she said. “You can’t trust anybody at all. Not businesses. Not anybody. Nobody is honest. Everybody is so greedy.”

She’s worked at the same restaurant for 11 years. She has no family other than her disabled son. She’s street-smart and savvy.

She’s also brave. By herself, she took on what The Watchdog calls one of the worst used car dealerships in Dallas.

The pattern, shown through my reporting, is that 1and2 Automotive customers often find their desired cars on Craigslist. But when they arrive at 1and2 at the corner of Reeder and Joe Field roads, they’re told sorry, that car sold 20 minutes ago.

A salesman points the buyer to a more expensive car and asks to see cash to make sure the customer is serious. The cash is dropped in an office safe. Salesman says he can’t get it out. You just bought a car.

Kost, who owns 1and2 with his father, David A. Kost Sr. (hence 1and2), told me customers can get the money back in a check, but it takes two weeks.

That scenario happened to Christal and also to Dalwan Washington, a single mom whose story I shared. She lost her car because she missed a $275 payment by a few days. She, like Christal, was confused because it turns out the contract language calls for biweekly, not monthly payments.

Christal thought she was making a monthly payment of $450 but it was actually supposed to be $900 a month on a Camaro, a car she felt forced to buy after they snatched her life savings of $5,100 and dropped it in the safe.

If you come back to the dealership to complain, staff puts you in what Kost calls “the manager’s room.” I call it “the scream room.”

Kost said, “If someone is in my showroom and they’re yelling and screaming, what do you do? You can do whatever you want to in this room. … The thing that upsets them about this room is their voice doesn’t go very far [even] if they yell and scream.”

Makes you want to buy a car, huh?

A surprise at Ewing Buick-GMC

We arrived at Ewing Buick-GMC on Dallas Parkway in Plano. General manager Jeff Gaden was waiting with a smile — and a surprise.

Four anonymous donors, after reading about Christal’s plight, stepped forward with more than $12,000 in contributions. It’s a bit overwhelming.

Gaden happily said that he would sell her a 2012 Honda Accord (one of the best cars ever made), black to match her waitress uniform, with 65,000 miles.

“Are you serious?” Christal asked, fighting back tears.

Gaden sold it at wholesale, so Christal has no payments.

The Buick GM told her why. “We appreciate you standing up in court.” Auto dealers, he said, “try to keep a good name. That’s important to us for someone like you to stand up.”

Asked what lesson she wants to share, she agreed.

“The lesson is to stand up and fight,” she said.

She sat in the driver’s seat. “I’m ready to drive. It’s been so long. … No more Uber or Lyft.”

“You told me people were kind of rough and mean. And that you couldn’t trust anybody,” I reminded her.

“Yeah.”

“You still think that way now?”

She answered quickly.

“Nope.”

 

“Worst garage door company” busted by Watchdog Nation

Before you call a garage door company for repairs or replacement, READ THIS.

One company with many different names and websites is commandeering the market across the U.S.

But it’s called the nation’s “worst garage door company.”

It goes by many names — Garage Door Services, GDS, Neighborhood Garage Door Services, Yes Garage Door Service (which uses a phony address on invoices) and many, many more.

The company overcharges. That’s what it does.  It takes a $200 job and turns it into a $2,000 job.

It’s all here, below.

Here’s a great clue about them: their main phone numbers are 800-215-1223 and 800-833-3520. But they use others.

So learn about this company in these stories by Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber that appeared in The Dallas Morning News Watchdog column.

Dave-Lieber-exposes-Garage-Door-Services

 

Click on these links to read these investigative reports.

Watchdog: Dallas-area garage door company labeled worst in nation

Watchdog: Garage door company sells you what you don’t need

Now in Dallas, garage door company founder evades public attention

Watchdog: Listen to clues in sales script to find good guys

Watchdog: Carrollton-based garage door company’s ex-manager fesses up

Here’s company founder Pete Stephens:

Garage-Door-Services-founder-Pete-Stephens

Here’s former manager Justin Willard:

former-GDS-manager-Justin-Willard

Read the trade industry magazine story that exposes the company here.
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Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun website: DaveLieber.org

Amazing story of Larry Duncan the transmission schemer

Larry Duncan offers cheap transmission repairs. Then he gets your vehicle, takes it apart and tells you it will cost two or three times the promised amount. And he wants you to pay him $2,000 or $3,000 that day. In cash. At his bank. Or he will start charging you $40 a day storage.

Can you believe the chutzpah of this guy?

Larry Duncan in his Grand Prairie, Texas garage.

Larry Duncan in his Grand Prairie, Texas garage.

Exterior of Larry Duncan's transmission shop in Grand Prairie, Texas

Exterior of Larry Duncan’s transmission shop in Grand Prairie, Texas

And he’s been doing it for more than a decade without apparent serious trouble to hundreds of vehicle owners.

Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber first wrote about Larry Duncan in 2007.

But in his latest expose in the Dave Lieber Watchdog column in The Dallas Morning News, he shows how Larry Duncan does it — in his own words, with scripts and audio tapes.

Read the entire piece here:

Watchdog: A car repair upselling playbook goes national

Vehicle repair sales scripts show every car has the same problem, no matter the truth. And yeah, the price is now double.

Watch the video and listen to Larry Duncan, in his own words.

Watch The Watchdog share the latest about Larry Duncan on NBC5.

Check out Larry Duncan’s actual selling scripts:

“How to Get Started” By Larry Duncan

“Upsell Presentation Script” by Larry Duncan

Earlier Watchdog Nation reports on Larry Duncan include:

“Transmission repair deals too good to be true”

“Grand Prairie, TX auto repair owner Larry Duncan is not BBB accredited. Hardly!

Here are The Watchdog’s 12 Ways to Avoid this Kind of Experience

Simple stuff, but when your car breaks, you tend to forget.

Clip and save.

• Don’t shop on price alone.

• Try to avoid shopping by phone and Internet. Visit a garage.

• Ask a car dealership for ballpark prices to get an idea.

• Don’t get lured by a free tow.

• Get estimates in writing.

• Don’t pay a parts deposit.

• Find out if a sales person and the shop are local. Ask for their number and call them back.

• Get multiple bids on big jobs.

• Waiting for a vehicle to be disassembled before getting repair estimates is risky.

• Be suspicious of a business that requires a wire transfer or payment by cash. That means customers can’t cancel their payments.

• Before you make a decision, search names and business names for any online complaints.

• Get complete names of people you deal with. If they hesitate, you should, too.

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Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites: DaveLieber.org

In a symbolic campaign, our guy runs for – whaa? – president!

Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber is taking a stand on behalf of his readers’ number one pet peeve.

His stand is a symbolic run for the U.S. presidency, which he announced Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016 in his Watchdog column in The Dallas Morning News. See it here.

The pet peeve? His readers — citizens of Watchdog Nation, he calls them — are quite surprised when they have phone numbers, email addresses, sometimes even bank account numbers for scammers who try to hurt them. Yet the authorities don’t seem to care.

Dave proposes creating a “junior FBI squad” that would work both here and overseas to take out the thousands of illegal operations that call, mail and email Americans every day with duplicitous schemes.

How can you help? Enjoy the debut campaign video here. And share the link – https://youtu.be/8iKqghi1nzg – with you friends. Let’s have fun.

Read our original story about leaks on Twitter before the official campaign announcement here.

Dave-Lieber-watchdog-for-president-campaign-materials

 

Read Dave Lieber’s Watchdog for President announcement speech here.

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Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

How to fight terrible companies

On TV: Fighting back the Watchdog Nation way

Thanks to Kristi Nelson and NBC5 for letting me share Watchdog Nation’s ways to fight back every Monday around 11:20 am.

Become a citizen of Watchdog Nation:

Dave-Lieber-Watchdog-Nation

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Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites: DaveLieber.org

AUDIO: How to handle a Do-Not-Call List violator – Kill ’em with stupidity!

Do you get annoyed when violators of the Do Not Call list interrupt you? Even worse, when the illegal caller comes from an extended car warranty company?

Extended car warranties are total rip-offs. Why? The companies often go out of business before you can get your money’s worth. Even worse, car repair shops tell you that whatever problem you have isn’t covered. Sorry, bud.

So how do you handle these illegal callers? Everybody has their own solution. Some hang up. Others scream profanities (Don’t call me you $*$#@!). Still others reply with jibberish.

Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber shows on comical way to handle illegal phone telemarketers.

Here’s how Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber handled one illegal caller. Dave Lieber doesn’t have a problem with people trying to earn an honest living. But keep this in mind: the number this crooked company called is on both the national and Texas Do Not Call lists. It’s against the law! But rather than berate them for their criminal business, Dave kills them with abject stupidity. It’s a match made in heaven.

Enjoy this audio. Hope it makes you laugh and inspires you to do your best to make the lives of these illegal callers a holy heck.

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More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

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Visit Watchdog Nation HeadquartersDave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

Twitter @DaveLieber

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD

Watchdog Nation goes on TV to warn about crooked repairman

You know what would suck? You’re a crooked appliance repairman who advertises on Craigslist.

Then some guy goes on TV, shows your face and warns everyone about you.

That’s what happens here.

The story of Dallas Morning News Watchdog Dave Lieber and convicted thief Michael Stoneham.

Read the full story here in The Dallas Morning News Watchdog column.

Here’s the ad he has used:

michael craiglist ad

 

Michael W. Stoneham

Michael W. Stoneham

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Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites: DaveLieber.org

What’s the biggest lie in the 2015 Texas Legislature?

Do you believe insurance companies will actually walk away from a billion dollars in profits if insurance lobbyists fail to get wicked Senate Bill 1628 passed? Dallas Morning News Watchdog Dave Lieber calls them out on this ridiculous claim the industry is using to promote this bill.

Read a news story about this bill: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/state/headlines/20150420-texas-home-insurers-see-another-strong-year-but-still-seek-limits-on-lawsuits.ece

Read my opinion column: http://www.dallasnews.com/investigations/watchdog/20150409-watchdog-texas-insurance-lobbyists-have-a-plan-you-wont-like.ece

mr moneybags

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Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites: DaveLieber.org

Excerpt about Garage Door Services from Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation book (2015 edition)

Dallas Morning News Watchdog Dave Lieber first wrote about Garage Door Services in 2006.

The following is from his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong. (Just released 2015 edition available here.)

Click the image below to open it and read this 2-page story.

dave lieber-watchdognation-Garage-Door-Service-GDS

Excerpt from the book Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation — Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong (based on a 2006 incident)