Pay Up or Shut Up

Here's a lesson in standard journalistic etiquette for those of you who aren't part of the media elite. (And by "elite," Buzz of course means anyone who knows where to find the chilé-lime fried pork rinds at Kroger.) Often, after you write a story about someone, that someone will call and yell at you, the reporter, even if what you've written is factually correct. Responsible journalists will listen politely and let the angry source have his or her say, then move on to the next story.

Lucky for you, Buzz and the concept of being responsible haven't shared a table since T'Pau had a Top-40 hit. When we're yelled at, we attach a Post-It note to our computer reminding us that this source deserves to have the matter explored more fully in print.

After the Dallas Observer told you about the clusterfug surrounding the quick shutdown of KCAF-AM Cafe 990, the all-female talk radio station ("Hot Air," by Eric Celeste, October 21), we got a call from the station's owner, Dave Schum. He didn't like the column, specifically the notion that everyone's checks bounced. All the staffers, he said, were paid what they were due.

Now, months later, the Texas Workforce Commission says, "Uh, well, not exactly." Since the station shut down, 14 wage claim cases have been filed against The Watch Inc., the company of Schum's that owned Cafe 990. One was dismissed and three are pending, but 10 of those cases have been upheld. Those 10 claims--ranging from $520 to $14,307--total more than $42,000. Or, slightly more than it would be if everyone had been paid what they were owed.

Didn't pay, shut up: Al Petty, the erstwhile religious musician who orchestrated a multimillion-dollar telephone marketing pyramid scheme from a mobile home on a dirt lot in East Texas ("Facing the Music," by Charles Siderius, January 9), has been sentenced to more than 24 years in federal prison for bilking investors from the world over.

A jury in October found the 69-year-old Petty guilty on 98 counts of wire and mail fraud and money laundering. Petty maintained that his marketing scheme was both perfectly legal and his own "brilliant" brainchild. The business he set up encouraged investors to purchase multiple telephone long-distance plans that each promised to return payments worth more than 1,000 percent of the original investment. How did he do it? Volume, volume, volume. Or in other words, find enough people to fleece, and you can spread enough wool around some of them to make your scheme legit. It's like the stock market, only completely illegal. (Unlike stock market investing, which involves swindles no more than 60 to 70 percent of the time.)

Petty used the Internet, "fax blasting" and telephone conference calls to sell "TeleCom2000" to gullible investors, many of them senior citizens. All told, the scheme brought in more than $16 million. Government investigators are still trying to recover about $2 million. About 625 of Petty's investors have filed claims against him. Petty will likely be in his 90s before he is released.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams

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