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What makes you really mad? The list varies from person to person, but there are some common themes to what we find infuriating: fat cats taking unfair advantage, bureaucratic bungling, senseless rule enforcement, dangerous incompetence, bullying in all its forms and, of course, random government stupidity. Here are some recent examples of behavior that our editors found especially outrageous.
What is fair pay for enduring a new job for nine months that isn’t quite the right fit? How about $100 million? That’s what Thomas Freston was paid to walk away after that much time as CEO of Viacom. Freston was one of 21 executives to be paid more than $100 million each to leave jobs since 2000. Together, the 21 CEOs departed the companies with more than $4 billion in their pockets, according to a study cited by the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation. The big winner? Ed Whitacre, head of AT&T, who left with $230 million as bon voyage money after two years on the job, following his former company's merger with AT&T.
There oughta be a law
The man was clearly drowning. So what did the five teenage boys on the scene do? Taunt him, record some video of him — and let him die. “If there was [a law], we would charge them,” said a spokeswoman for the Cocoa Police Department in Florida. “The detectives are frustrated that we can’t hold anyone accountable for this.” The five youths, ages 14 to 16, can be heard laughing as 31-year-old Jamel Dunn struggles to survive. Then one says, “He dead,” after he sinks.
It took Tony and Somnuek Thangsongcharoen more than 30 years to build up their wedding dress store in Garland, Texas, after moving from Thailand in the 1980s. The IRS took less than two hours to wipe them out. Tax agents said the couple owed about $31,400 in back taxes from three years, according to a report in the Dallas Morning News. The Thangsongcharoens said they didn’t owe anything — and they had never been charged with a tax crime. But that didn’t stop the IRS from raiding their shop and seizing 1,600 designer gowns and other clothing, and auctioning items off within two hours of the raid. The custom-made dresses were sold for roughly $4 apiece to help satisfy the tax bill, says a lawsuit filed by the couple in March, which claims the raid left them “destitute.” The IRS justified the raid to the Morning News by saying the pair made suspicious bank deposits. But they have not been charged with breaking the law.
Pauline McKee, a grandmother from Antioch, Ill., had visions of helping her 13 grandchildren when a slot machine she was playing at the Isle Casino Hotel in Waterloo, Iowa, flashed a message saying, “The reels have rolled your way: Bonus award — $41,797,550.16.” Instead, after years of legal battles that went all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court, the now-92-year-old was forced to settle for a smaller amount: $1.85. The court ruled the woman, by playing the machine, had entered into a binding contract to observe all the casino’s rules, including one that said, “Malfunction voids all plays and pays.” The opinion in the case described the message congratulating her on the big win as “a gratuitous promise” springing from a mechanical error. On the bright side, McKee wasn’t billed for a night at the casino’s hotel after the controversial "jackpot."
More airline antics
It made big news when United Airline employees dragged a ticket holder off a plane over an overbooked seat dispute. But it’s not the only case of a physical affront on an airline customer. Ronald Tigner is suing United Airlines and two of its employees for more than $1 million after video showed him being shoved to the floor and knocked unconscious at Geroge Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.
What provoked the attack? A request for a new boarding pass. Tigner said United employees laughed and cursed at him when he asked for a replacement for his illegible pass. The video shows one man violently shoving Tigner to the floor, causing him to hit his head and lose consciousness. He lay motionless on his back for about 50 seconds until another passenger, a nurse, intervened. One United employee was fired and charged with a felony assault. The airline issued an apology that said, “We have seen the video … that shows completely unacceptable behavior by a United employee.”
Billions blown on bum computers
It’s been years since most of us have seen an 8-inch floppy disk. But the 1970s-era computers the Pentagon uses to send and receive emergency action messages to U.S. nuclear forces still use them to store data, according to a report by congressional watchdogs that estimated the government has wasted billions of dollars by not upgrading its technology.
The report issued last year by the Government Accountability Office found that three-quarters of the government’s $80 billion technology budget goes to keep aging systems running. Examples include the computers used inside Social Security to determine eligibility and benefits, which are over 30 years old and use a programming language developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Most of the employees who developed these systems are ready to retire,” the report noted. Let’s hope they get their checks.
The small house in Albion, Maine, had been home to Richard and Leonette Sukeforth, both 80, for 33 years, during which they’d paid off the mortgage. But none of that mattered to county officials who booted them out over a $4,000 property tax bill. The couple’s family said they were unaware that Richard Sukeforth was not paying his taxes and think it may be related to the beginnings of dementia. When news of the eviction reached the state’s governor, Paul LePage, he expressed his outrage, but found there was nothing that could be done to reverse the decision. LePage has called for a law letting homeowners with paid-off mortgages to live in their homes until they die, with the tax bill to be settled when the property is sold. All that is too late for the Sukeforths, who are now living in a trailer park with their daughter.
Cruel and unusual vittles
Whatever the inmates did to earn time in four Oregon prisons, they didn’t deserve to be fed green meat, sour milk and baitfish marked “not for human consumption.”
But a lawsuit filed on behalf of 6,000 inmates claims such meals were routine in the state corrections system, according to local press reports. A corrections department spokeswoman declined to address the charges. The suit, filed in federal court in the late spring, described meals made of spoiled food and a mystery dish that was prepared by grinding up baitfish into a nasty dish that “reeked and tasted horrible.” Several inmates were regularly dealing with stomach distress after mealtime, the lawsuit says.
Now taxpayers are sick
Dan Asquino must have been remarkably healthy during his long career as president of the Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Mass. When he retired, he billed state taxpayers for 1,250 unused sick days and 480 unused vacation hours — and pocketed a check for $334,138, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Such huge payouts claimed by public sector employees are increasingly under fire, as states struggle to pay for basic services while government workers retire from jobs with six-figure checks. Examples include a police major in Pennsylvania who got $142,315 for unused sick days. Few private-sector workers can cash sick days for six-figure payouts. And some states are suffering from the generosity to government employees, like Florida, which owes 45,000 state workers $154 million for sick days.
Sharper than a serpent’s tooth
Who would steal money from an elderly dementia patient? Would you believe her son, the police sergeant?
William Scott Cook pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $38,000 from his mother after he gained power of attorney over her estate while caring for her at his Michigan home. Cook was a police sergeant in Pinckney, Mich., at the time the thefts occurred. He emailed the department chief his resignation shortly before his arrest. As part of a plea deal in November, he agreed to repay his mother, who is now living in a nursing home in another state.
No parking, no exceptions
The parking tickets had been piling up on the Isuzu parked near the Broward County, Fla., courthouse when a curious bystander glanced inside — and spotted the body of 62-year-old Jacob Morpeau of Miami.
Morpeau was found to have died of natural causes, according to a report in the Sun Sentinel newspaper. It was impossible to say whether he’d already died when the first of five parking tickets was issued. Tickets continued to accumulate under Morpeau’s windshield for four days. Officials in Fort Lauderdale declined to discuss the case with the newspaper. But the city did send an email saying it was dismissing the $160 in fines for the tickets “due to extenuating circumstances.”
Candid camera cruelty
Eryetha Mayberry’s daughters installed a hidden camera in her room when they became suspicious that staffers at Quail Creek Nursing Home in Oklahoma City were stealing from their 96-year-old mother. What they saw was much worse.
The camera recorded workers at the facility shoving and taunting the elderly woman, at one point gagging her with a latex glove. Because of dementia, Mayberry was unable to remember or speak out against the abuse. Thanks to the video, one employee received a two-year prison sentence and the daughters got a cash settlement. The Oklahoma state legislature responded by passing a law requiring nursing homes to allow families to install hidden cameras.
Houston, you have a problem
Joann Davis, 74, was financially strapped after her daughter died, leaving her to care for her grandchildren. So she contacted NASA to ask for help selling two Apollo 11 artifacts given to her late husband, Robert, an engineer on the Apollo project. NASA officials might simply have informed her that selling moon artifacts is illegal. Instead, they sent six armed officers to meet the 4-foot-11 grandmother at a Denny’s restaurant. The agents forcibly seized two Lucite paperweights, one containing a rice-grain-sized speck of moon rock and the other a fragment of the Apollo 11 heat shield. Then they held Davis in the restaurant parking lot for two hours and did not allow her to use a restroom, which caused her to wet herself.
Davis ultimately received justice — and maybe some revenge. A prosecutor in Orlando declined to bring a case against her. And a federal appellate court ruled that she could sue the special agent and criminal investigator for NASA for mistreatment.
Free drugs for Medicaid cheats
The competition to rip off taxpayers in health care fraud schemes has become so fierce that one South Florida drug addiction clinic actually lured fake patients to their state with promises of free illegal narcotics.
In July, the Department of Justice announced that 412 people across the country had been charged with stealing $1.3 billion in what the feds called the largest health-care-fraud enforcement effort in history. In one South Florida case, people were lured to a drug treatment center with trips to casinos, strip clubs and illegal drugs, according to the Department of Justice. The owner and coconspirators were charged with booking $58 million in fraudulent medical insurance claims.
How do you greet a turkey?
Bob Tallinger loved being a greeter at Walmart in Waukesha, Wis., a job he’d had for eight years. Then one day a wild turkey wandered into the store and put the 88-year-old on the road to unemployment.
Tallinger ignored the turkey and just kept doing his job. In short order, the wild bird was captured by a humane society employee and removed. But a few days later Tallinger was fired. He said he was told he should have informed a manager of the turkey’s visit. Tallinger noted that his job description contained no protocol for turkey invasions. Walmart confirmed the firing but declined to comment further. Tallinger landed a new job as a greeter at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop in Waukesha.
The $700-an-hour babysitter
Nothing could take the edge off the joy that Alex Cortes and his wife Kate felt at the birth of a daughter they named Penelope. But a mystery $1,420 charge attached to the hospital bill did cause a shock.
When Cortes traced back the charge at the hospital in Oxford, Miss., he found it was for two hours of nursery time. Soon after the birth, a nurse asked the couple whether they’d like the baby to be taken to a nursery for a bit so the couple could get some rest. They gratefully accepted, not realizing they were agreeing to a $710 an hour babysitting service. “Had she told us at the time that the nursery stay would cost several hundred dollars, we would have kept Penelope with us, and I would have watched her myself so Kate could sleep,” said Alex Cortes, who wrote about the encounter for Our American Stories, a nationally syndicated radio program. “Looking back, it feels like a corrupt transaction.”
Fired for … what?!
Jim Tinney, a 70-year-old Army veteran, was fired from his job at the Home Depot in Pearland, Texas, in July for trying to stop shoplifters. That’s right. He didn’t steal from the store. He tried to stop three thieves he witnessed stealing. That turns out to be a violation of company policy.
A company spokesman told local television reporters that only trained security officers are allowed to deal with shoplifters. That policy came after some confrontations turned violent and customers were threatened, the spokesman said. Tinney said he understood the policy but had just acted reflexively when seeing the three men stealing tools. He figured he might be reprimanded but not fired, he told KTRK-TV. “I’m 70 years old. I need to work,” he said.
Protect, serve … and kill?
When a 79-year-old Sarasota, Fla., woman befriended a local sheriff’s deputy, little did she know she was on a path to losing her dog, her savings and almost her life.
Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight told local news outlets earlier this year that one of his deputies, Frankie Bybee, had taken the woman’s dog while she was in the hospital and sold it. Then he signed her name and cashed checks totaling $65,000 and, finally, attempted to kill her with an overdose of pills when she reported him. Bybee was being held on an assortment of charges, for what his former boss termed “a disgrace to this agency and to the law enforcement profession.”
Give me a break
It was pitched as a chance for children from low-income families to get access to free day care and free summer camps. Hence the program’s name: “Give Mom a Break.” But what the moms didn’t know was that the program was really a scam that ripped off Georgia Medicaid for $1.4 million before the ringleaders, Olufemi and Oluyemisi Afuape, of Lilburn, Ga., were busted.
Once children were enrolled, the couple billed the children’s Medicaid numbers for physical, speech and occupational therapies that were never supplied. As a result, children who actually needed therapies didn’t get them. After pleading guilty to fraud, Olufemi Afuape was sentenced to three years of work release, followed by 12 years of probation. Oluyemisi Afuape was sentenced to three years of house arrest, followed by 12 years of probation. The couple were ordered to pay $1,407,325.50 in restitution.
You mean that wasn’t just a bribe?
Dynacraft Wheels, a maker of riding toys, intended to donate over 9,000 motorized buggies and scooters as Christmas gifts for needy children. But when a truck began unloading the $200 toys at the Santa Clara County, Calif., office building, county employees lined up to get their share. More than 120 of the toys wound up in the hands of 90 county employees. As a result, some needy kids never got the toys. County officials claim the employees were told to take the toys only if they were going to donate them to charity, but many employees said they never got that message.
The end result was coal in the stockings of a number of poor kids. “They didn’t get anything this Christmas,” said Patricia Quiroz, a single mother who reportedly was one of 20 who left a nonprofit empty-handed because they hadn’t gotten their full allotment of the toys. “It would have meant the world” to her 4-year-old son, she told the San Jose Mercury News.
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