Cleveland Cinemas owner Jon Forman isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. In 2004, he decided to get rid of union projectionists at three of the theaters he runs -- Shaker Square, Tower City, and the Cedar Lee. But a clause in the contract said projectionists could only be replaced by "managers." So Forman made everyone a "manager," including that 16-year-old stoner who butters your popcorn.
Since the scam entailed a felonious lack of imagination, it wasn't likely to have a long shelf-life. But at least it allowed Forman to cut wages in half -- for the time being.
Two years later, however, the union-busting maneuver has boomeranged. And it's coming back to smack Forman.
Last November, an administrative judge ruled that Forman acted illegally. So he appealed to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C. In March, the three-member panel brought the hammer down on Forman. They ordered him to reinstate all fired employees and provide them back pay and benefits, plus interest. Union chief John Galinac estimates that Forman's final tab will surpass $270,000.
Still, Forman insists on throwing good money after bad. Three months after the decision, he still refuses to sit down with Galinac at the bargaining table, and his lawyers have filed yet another motion to contest the ruling. (He also ignored calls from Punch.)
"He's the kind of guy that keeps hiring lawyers until he gets the right decision," says Galinac. Meanwhile, his tab just keeps getting bigger.
It seemed like the best job ever. Hummer was hiring models to drive around Cleveland and wave Miss America-like. For 20 hours a week, they'd make $24,000 a year.
Why didn't high school guidance counselors ever tell them about opportunities like this?
So a few weeks ago, a few dozen scantily clad models arrived for the audition. Oh, the nerves! Almost immediately, things didn't seem right. It turns out the promotion wasn't exactly for Hummer, they learned. Instead, they'd just pose in Hummers, wearing bikinis and high heels. The actual promotion was for Option One, a telemarketing company that collects e-mails and phone numbers from people, then sells them to other companies.
And instead of getting paid to perfect their Miss America waves, they would have to go into bars, where they would be paid on commission for mooching e-mail addresses from libidinally smitten patrons.
But some models still signed up. To date -- quelle surprise! -- none has gotten paid. Neither has their agent, Marcus Simms, who was supposed to get a 10 percent finder's fee.
Owner Louis Thorton tosses off the complaints. "Everyone will be paid on the first pay date, which is July first, which has not arrived yet," he says. He admits, however, that his company has "no relationship with Hummer."
Meanwhile, Simms feels duped and is thinking of suing. But at least one model has a slightly different take on the situation.
"I don't know if it's so much a scam as the owners just don't know what's going on," says Jessica, a model who refused to provide her last name.
That may be an appropriate way to describe all parties involved.
As the biggest home builder in Cleveland, Rysar Properties likes to brag up its fabulous employees. "The greatest thing about Rysar is our people," president Ken Lurie says on the company website. "We have built a team of dedicated professionals that have the same commitment to our neighborhoods as I do."
Conveniently omitted from the site, however, is their dedicated history of fraud.
Lurie's chief operating officer, Vince Ruggieri, and sales director, Ed Tekieli, both pleaded guilty to aiding a scam that defrauded the feds and overcharged tenants in a subsidized rental program (see "Man With a Past," this issue). And one of Rysar's newest employees, Otis Bevel Jr., was hired fresh from the slam.
In two cases over the past three years, Bevel pleaded guilty to defrauding mortgage lenders and a bank by falsifying documents to get loans approved. He admitted using fake names and Social Security numbers to secure more than $2.8 million in loans.
"Routinely, clients retained Bevel's services because it was generally known that he could obtain loans for individuals with bad credit, no credit, insufficient assets and income, and who could not legitimately acquire a loan," his plea agreement states.
He spent two years in federal prison. But within months of his release last year, court records show that he started working for Rysar as a project manager. His smiling face is now on view at the company site.
Friends in low places
A leading critic of Coingate is calling on the Ohio Inspector General to delve into U.S. Senator George Voinovich's finances to see if the former governor played a role in the investment scandal.
Senator Marc Dann (D-Liberty Township) made the request after two Voinovich associates were indicted in federal court on four counts of conspiring to bribe Terrence Gasper, the former chief financial officer for the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, who has pleaded guilty to felony corruption charges.
Indicted were Daniel O'Neil, who has managed Voinovich's personal financial portfolio since he left the governor's office, and Michael Lewis, who received lucrative contracts to invest BWC funds.
"Senator Dann said all along that people need to look to the governor who created this, and that's Voinovich," says Democratic spokeswoman Amanda Conn Starner, noting that Voinovich was the architect of the BWC as we know it today. "We need to find out what he knows about this BWC scandal."
The Dems aren't saying what they expect to find by subpoenaing Voinovich's records, but Punch suggests they pay particular attention to any telltale investments in Guillermo Mota rookie cards.