The Hummel Report

Investigative Reports That Get Results

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Mid-Year Update

Good news for electric customers looking to make a switch from National Grid - and for AMTRAK riders who use the Providence train station; bad news for former House Speaker Gordon Fox, whose address will be a federal prison the next three years. This week Jim Hummel has developments on a handful of Hummel Report investigations - one dating to 2009.

 

PUC hearing to drop charges - An Uneasy Adjustment.

GPS tracking employees - Major No-Show.

Amtrak repairs - Welcome to Providence.

Cove infringement on hold - A Delicate Balance.

Gordon Fox goes to jail - Original Reports.

 

SCRIPT:

This week: our mid-year update, with new information on a handful of our investigations - beginning with an important development if you’re thinking about changing from National Grid to another electric supplier.

In April we profiled Larry Rzepecki of Pawtucket, who was charged more than $200 by National Grid after he left the utility to start receiving his electricity from American Power. The Grid called the charges a ``billing adjustment’’ to make up for the lower rates Rzepecki and others paid for their power early in the year.

The practice caught the attention of Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who earlier this month, along with representatives from the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office, urged the Public Utilities Commission to eliminate the charge, and to refund the close to $1.5 million dollars former customers have paid since January after making the switch.

McKee told us at the hearing that the adjustment charge has had a chilling effect on customers who are considering making a change in supplier.

McKee: ``We need to drive competition into the mix as other states have, so that consumers, ratepayers can take advantage of the deregulation that happened 16 years ago. Yet, there’s really major concerns about how that can be done.’’

Rzepecki, who also spoke at the PUC hearing, told us he never would have switched, had he known about the charge.

The PUC is expected to make a decision next week on the request and even National Grid has asked that the charge be eliminated. What’s unclear is whether the former customers will see any refunds.

Our story late last year on Pawtucket police major spending work days on the golf course has prompted the city council to soon require that every city vehicle be equipped with a GPS system.

Our four-month investigation found Major Bruce Moreau on the golf course, at his own house and his parents’ house on days city records say he was working, sometimes pulling in overtime as well. We found his city-issued SUV regularly at several area golf courses and he told us golf is one of his hobbies.

The city council in May voted to do something that has been talked about for years: spend more than $100,000 to install GPS systems in every city-owned vehicle - including all police cars and even the mayor’s car.The installation should begin later this summer.

Meanwhile, the Rhode Island State Police is investigating potential departmental violations against Moreau after finding there was not enough evidence to charge him criminally.

Great news for riders of AMTRAK: after five years of talk, officials are finally making much-needed improvements to the exterior of the Providence train station, which for years has looked like a war zone.

This is what has greeted train passengers on the city side of the Providence station for years. We first reported on the conditions more than five years ago, but city, state and federal officials argued who should pay for the improvements.

Finally, the state D.O.T., using federal funds, awarded a $6.9 million contract for a year-long overhaul of the station’s exterior. The work, which began in April, has resulted in significant detours around the station, but the project is expected to be finished next spring.

Plans for a proposed Oyster Farm in a South County a cove drew swift and loud opposition from neighbors. Now we’ve learned: that plan is on hold.

The original plan by Narragansett resident David Bartley called for creation of a 2.9-acre oyster farm just east of Ram Island in Narragansett’s Champlin Cove. But many who use the waters argued it infringed on boating, water skiing and other activities in that offshoot of Point Judith Pond.

And they contacted the state’s Coast Resources Management Council to oppose it.

CRMC’s David Beutel says he has spoken with Bartley periodically since our story  - at first hearing that Barley planned to reduce the size of the proposed farm, but Beutel says he has heard nothing recently - effectively putting the project on hold.

And finally - the closing chapter to a series of investigations we’ve done since 2011 on former House Speaker Gordon Fox, who earlier this year pled guilty to corruption charges. Next month he begins a three-year sentence in federal prison.

Fox admitted he accepted a bribe in exchange for voting for a controversial liquor license when he sat on Providence’s licensing board. For his admission the government recommended 36 months in prison - and that’s what Fox received when he was sentenced June 11th by Judge Mary Lisi. The former speaker reports in July to begin that sentence.

The Hummel Report first began looking at Fox’s role in a troubled city loan program three years ago. Fox was the closing attorney for dozens of the loans and we reported the feds cracked down after a 63 percent default rate on one of the programs.

Last week WPRI.com reported that the fallout from that program continues: and that the city is writing off an additional $1.5 million in taxpayer-funded business loans that have failed.

Fox admitted to us in a 2013 interview on the House floor that he had been questioned about his involvement with that federal program.

We may be heading into the slower days of summer, but our investigations don’t slow down, so continue to send your tips to me - directly and confidentially at Jim@HummelReport.org.