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Cooking the books

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Posted: Sunday, October 2, 2005 11:00 pm

A probe into business practices at Dex Media Inc. is finding evidence that some of the same corruption a federal agency alleged 10 years ago may continue to plague the Yellow Pages

Editor's note: This is the first story in a two-part series examining a RICO action brought against Yellow Pages publisher Dex Media Inc. and how several sources close to the case say former Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr. has engaged in some of the same unethical behavior mentioned in the lawsuit. Next week's story will examine the personal account records of Sutton, who works in the company's Tucson sales office where he sells ads in the Yellow Pages.

September 21, 2005 - A racketeering lawsuit filed against one of the largest Yellow Pages publishers in the western United States and the union representing its sales employees - Local 1269 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers - alleges a host of fraudulent activity is occurring inside the pages of Dex Media Inc.

The nonprofit National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation filed a RICO action in U.S. District Court in Phoenix Sept. 19 on behalf of five Arizona employees who accuse the company of permitting certain union officials in Dex Media's Phoenix sales office to improperly enrich themselves through a complex process of account manipulation during the course of several years. In exchange, the company has been guaranteed control of a docile union that has agreed to sell out rank-and-file union members who challenge the cozy arrangement, according to the plaintiffs.

"It's a very elaborate and unseemly situation," said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the foundation, which is based just outside of Washington D.C. "From our perspective of helping employees out of abuses of compulsory unionism, this is the kind of case that really highlights the injustices of the system that empowers union officials and leads to this kind of corruption."

The plaintiffs, premise sales consultants at Dex Media who sell telephone directory advertising in the Yellow Pages, are represented in collective bargaining by IBEW Local 1269, which they claim is doing anything but looking out for their interests. They allege that their employer and certain union officials, who are also premise sales consultants, have engaged in systematic violations of company policy and collective bargaining agreements to give undue compensation and other preferential treatment to union agents at the expense of other sales employees. The motive for paying extraordinary income to union agents, the plaintiffs allege, is to exact concessions in collective bargaining from the union and "induce the union to perform its grievance representation in a purely perfunctory manner," according to the complaint.

The foundation's case focuses primarily on the Phoenix sales office and does not mention the Tucson sales office where former Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr. also works as a premise sales consultant for Dex Media. However, sources close to the probe into Phoenix say they've uncovered significant evidence to suggest that company supervisors in Tucson have permitted certain favored salespeople, including Sutton, to engage in some of the same kinds of account manipulation alleged in the Phoenix matter.

The reason Sutton and the Tucson sales office have been left out of the lawsuit, sources close to the case claim, is because the foundation's lawyers are focusing their efforts on what appears to be a case of forced unionism, which may not be present in Tucson. While Sutton is not a union official, sources inside Dex Media say Tucson managers have given him and other favored salespeople the same preferential treatment alleged in Phoenix.

Frank Eichler, Dex Media's senior vice president and general counsel, indicated last week that corporate officials in Denver were well aware of certain allegations made by employees in its Arizona offices, but he said he was surprised to hear about a lawsuit being filed against the company, especially a RICO action.

RICO, or the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, is a federal law best known for having been used to prosecute criminals for mob and gang activities. The law provides extended penalties for criminal acts that are part of an ongoing criminal organization. In addition to severe fines and prison sentences, those found guilty of racketeering must forfeit all ill-gotten gains collected through a pattern of such activity. Under RICO statutes, plaintiffs are allowed to sue for triple damages, which the salespeople are seeking in the lawsuit against Dex.

The lawsuit lists five counts for violating the RICO Act and two counts for violating the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. The workers are asking the court for injunctions to stop Dex from bribing union officials with undue compensation and ask for compensation for the workers whose money was allegedly stolen by corrupt union officials.

"No one has called me or this department about these allegations or about any lawsuit that's pending or alleged to be coming down," Eichler said. "We've had some allegations in the past about the Phoenix office. We've done the investigation and we've found no findings of inappropriate behavior."

Reacting to employees' claims of account manipulation and a seemingly cozy relationship between management and the union, corporate officials in Denver initiated an independent audit of the Phoenix and Mesa sales offices this past year. During the investigation, which lasted several months and concluded earlier this spring, attorneys from Minneapolis-based law firm Moss & Barnett interviewed dozens of salespeople and managers while examining thousands of company records.

According to Dex records, the attorneys were directed to determine if company policies were subject to abuse and if changes were needed. Eichler declined to discuss the results of the audit, which he said were confidential. However, internal records obtained by the EXPLORER indicate that the attorneys did recommend changes, including a revision of the company's Sales Performance Evaluation System, and found that company policies were unclear and could be subject to abuse.

In response to allegations of favoritism, the attorneys concluded that there was, in fact, a lack of understanding of the proper boundaries on the part of union officials and company management. However, the attorneys didn't think there was a conscious effort to favor any particular employees, according to company records.

Quite contrary to any allegations of a cozy relationship between management and the union, both are naturally at odds with each other, said Peter Pusateri, business manager of IBEW Local 1269, based in San Francisco.

"We haven't had a conversation with any of the senior lead team in two years," he said. "I've got court cases in Denver. I've got arbitration cases coming out of my ears. I've got my members wanting to walk off the job because of the way they're being treated, and we've got a cozy relationship? I wish we did."

Pusateri said the allegations, unfortunately, are coming from the same salespeople who have been making the same claims for years, and their words are starting to fall on deaf ears. He said no such charges of account manipulation or favoritism have surfaced in the other 12 states he represents or from any other Dex Media offices except Phoenix and Tucson.

"The allegations are nothing to me," he said, adding that they've been thoroughly investigated. "Union corruption, company corruption, it's the same old song … We have some paranoid people and they've been saying that for years."

Company officials in Phoenix did not return phone calls by the EXPLORER or, when contacted, said they had to call the corporate legal department first but then did not call back. Company officials in Tucson also referred comments to the corporate office.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs accuse the company of showing a pattern of favoritism toward certain union officials through the assignment and processing of accounts, allowing union agents to receive extraordinary benefits and compensation not available to other employees. The foundation believes the alleged transactions are prohibited by Section 186 of U.S. Code 29, which states that employers are prohibited from offering, and unions and their agents are prohibited from accepting, things of value.

The union agents named as defendants in the lawsuit, Karen Ortega-Matson and Phil Wheeler, compete with the plaintiffs in selling high-dollar advertising to customers in the Yellow Pages. Because of a seemingly flawed Sales Performance Evaluation System, the plaintiffs allege, Dex salespeople have been evaluated, rewarded and disciplined based on how they rank against the top sales performers in the office.

The plaintiffs claim the complex performance-based pay system used for sales employees has allowed union agents to cheat others out of earnings. In effect, the "ill-gotten commissions" union agents receive has raised the bar against which other workers' compensation packages are determined, they claim.

Sources interviewed for this story claim the top performers, in both Phoenix and Tucson, are often the employees whom management has permitted to engage in account manipulation and say the improper advantages to those salespeople harms them.

Sutton, who has worked at the Tucson sales office for more than 10 years, denied allegations that he has engaged in any unethical behavior while employed at Dex Media. Because the company is so tightly maintained, he said, it would be difficult for any salespeople to manipulate the accounting system to their advantage.

"You've got so many levels of managers and everything else, it'd be hard for anybody to really do anything that's especially RICO-type stuff," he said. "We're so computerized now, if you even put the wrong rate in, then you can't even input the thing. You probably have some of your computer-geek types that think they can fix it or work an advantage, but the best advantage is just do your job right and, you know, provide good advertising and good recommendations and your customers will want to hear what you have to say the next year."

Sutton resigned as mayor of Marana earlier this year, shortly after being indicted by the federal government on charges of conspiracy and attempted extortion. The April 22 charges followed a lengthy FBI investigation that began in 2002 and allege that Sutton and his close acquaintance, Marana businessman Rick Westfall, conspired to extort large sums of money and a contract for Westfall worth as much as $60,000 a month from Waste Management Inc., the nation's largest trash hauling firm.

Sutton has denied the government's allegations, claiming he was trying to protect Westfall, a supposed whistleblower who had information that garbage trucks leaving the firm's Ina Road transfer station in Marana were hauling dangerously overweight loads. According to the federal government, which secretly tape-recorded hours worth of conversations in which Sutton and Westfall met with Waste Management officials, Sutton threatened to use his power as mayor to shut down the operation if Westfall wasn't given a lucrative contract.

Westfall also was indicted on charges of conspiracy and attempted extortion and another charge of lying to an FBI agent. Facing 20 years in prison, both men pleaded not guilty at their arraignment in May. The case has since been declared "complex" and attorneys say it likely won't appear in court before next year.

'One piece of this big ball of string'

Since the indictments were handed down, sources close to Sutton, including several Dex employees, have approached the EXPLORER with their perspective of the situation unfolding in Marana, claiming that Sutton's indictment prompted them to contact the newspaper about what they perceive as a larger pattern of unethical behavior that includes his practices at Dex Media.

Several sources interviewed for this story, including both present and past employees of the Tucson and Phoenix sales offices, were granted anonymity based on reasonable fears that they could lose their jobs or jeopardize their personal safety if their names are revealed. Through anonymous sources, the EXPLORER obtained and reviewed Sutton's account records, which several Dex employees consider evidence of company-permitted fraud.

Sources with knowledge of Sutton's account records consider him a skilled pro at manipulating his advertising accounts to his own benefit, even rivaling the same behavior allegedly happening in Phoenix. Sources close to the probe into Phoenix say they happened upon Sutton's records by chance after hearing that employees had been fired or demoted because they were being ranked against Sutton, a top performer in the Tucson sales office for most of his career.

"The RICO thing was a whole different thing but it just so happens that the Bobby Sutton thing is just one piece of this big ball of string that we have," said one source. "This Sutton thing was so overwhelming because that, in itself, cost so many people in the Tucson office, and in the Phoenix office, so much. What I saw on those records was enough to make me want to vomit. It's so obvious and in your face. Every violation out there is in those records."

A laundry list of some of the biggest cardinal sins at the Yellow Pages, including what some say are blatant violations of company policy, show up in Sutton's records, sources claim. The alleged violations include everything from "heading jumping" in which sales reps use trickery to get their customers' ads placed ahead of other senior advertisers in the directory, to account manipulation in which sales reps take advantage of lapses in the accounting system to increase their commissions and performance bonuses.

Several sources claim company supervisors have covered up the alleged unethical behavior in both Phoenix and Tucson for several years. Letters written by Dex employees, obtained by the EXPLORER, indicate that employees have alerted the perceived problems, some specifically regarding Sutton, to corporate officials and investors all the way up the chain to Louis Gerstner, chairman of The Carlyle Group, Dex Media's major investor and owner.

In August 2002, The Carlyle Group was among a handful of major investment firms that bought the Yellow Pages unit of Qwest Communications, formerly known as QwestDex, for more than $7 billion. After what was considered to be the third largest corporate buyout in U.S. history, QwestDex was renamed Dex Media Inc. and became the exclusive publisher for Qwest Communications in the 14 states where it provides local service. The RICO lawsuit also names Qwest Communications International as a defendant in the case.

"Aside from the allegations of criminal activity Sutton has been charged with pertaining to his political position, extensive evidence exists that Sutton has engaged in fraud and numerous egregious account manipulations while working as a sales consultant at Dex Media," states an April 27 letter written by a Dex employee and addressed to Gerstner that was obtained by the EXPLORER. "The extent of the improper financial enrichment Sutton has received, and is permitted to maintain, is staggering and exceeds over $600,000."

Dex employees claim company records show improper compensation was provided to Sutton with full knowledge and sanction of local management and, in some cases, with executive management approval.

"It's been a cover-up with Sutton the whole time he's been here," said one source who called the situation "insane." "You can't even process anything like this. It would be like a contractor building a house without a permit in the middle of a park in front of city hall. It can't be done. Well, let me tell you, it can be done."

Sources with knowledge of how the alleged account manipulation is done say it's best described as a "shell game" played with telephone numbers, in which sales reps juggle accounts from phone number to phone number in an effort to confuse the accounting system.

Because Dex Media's sales personnel are paid vastly larger commissions for selling brand-new advertising versus simply renewing the previous year's ad, tricking the system into paying commissions for advertising it thinks is new, but in reality isn't, results in the inflation of their commissions and appraisal scores, sources claim. In the meantime, by disconnecting phone numbers and reconnecting them at opportune times, sales reps can take advantage of weaknesses in the system to give their customers large discounts on premium ads, retroactive billing adjustments and, in some cases, stop the billing completely, several Dex employees claim.

Sutton argued that Qwest and Dex have been around for a long time and "as far as a shell game or something like that, there's not much you can even try to do." Salespeople who do attempt to manipulate their accounts don't usually stick around too long, he said.

"That's hard to do. I mean, you've got whole departments of people that deal with that. I mean, if a phone's on, people have got to pay for the phone bill," Sutton said. "Qwest does have a policy if something disconnects and you're not getting any business from it, then Dex does have a policy to discontinue (billing). If the numbers are turned back on, it's not like we don't know about that. So, I think some people think they can manipulate it and try, but those people don't usually end up staying around that long."

Because the annual performance and bonuses for salespeople are calculated based on how much more advertising they sell compared to the year before, sources claim, sales reps can artificially lower the number of dollars constituting their beginning-sales yardstick to make it seem as if they had generated more "new money" in the next year than they really had.

"How you track an account is you look at last year's phonebook, what ad was there. Then you look at the current phonebook for the ad that he supposedly sold and, if the ad was existing in the previous year, why did he sell it as if it wasn't?" said one source familiar with Sutton's account records. "In other words, if it's there, then he should have been accountable for the revenue existing on it. Instead, he sold it as if it was brand new. How did that happen? Once you learn that trick, you can see by comparing the records, 'Oh, I see. He disassociated this phone number over here, filed the ad under this phone number, but then really placed it under this phone number.' It's like this long string."

The NLRB's case: a familiar story

These allegations of account manipulation and company-permitted fraud are almost identical to those described 10 years ago by plaintiffs in a federal probe handled by the National Labor Relations Board, which investigated the same Yellow Pages office in Phoenix implicated in the RICO action.

The NLRB is the federal agency that administers and enforces the National Labor Relations Act, which provides employees the right to several protected activities, including the right to organize and bargain collectively. The NLRB, which has a regional office in Phoenix, is responsible for investigating and remedying unfair labor practices by employers and unions.

The company was under the name U.S. West Direct during the probe 10 years ago, but several sources claim the story uncovered back then is the same one that's ongoing at Dex Media. The only difference, they say, is that it's a different decade and a new name.

In the NLRB's case, federal investigators uncovered evidence that indicated company stockholders and customers might have been the unwitting victims of fraudulent activity, though the agency's focus was on the abusive effects of an alleged arrangement between management and IBEW Local 1269.

Sales representatives filed charges against the company and IBEW Local 1269, alleging that their employer and the union had an arrangement through which union officers were given preferential treatment and claimed those officers even assisted the company in discharging them for arbitrary reasons.

More than 30,000 documents were subpoenaed during a hearing on the case, which opened in August 1993. After more than a year and a half of negotiations, in 1995, former NLRB Regional Director Roy Garner declared his office had successfully negotiated one of the largest backpay settlements in its history.

Sales representative Kathryn Smith received a quarter-million dollars in backpay from the company and was given her job back. Sales representative Kim Seagraves, who became a deputy sheriff following her discharge, entered into a confidential settlement that also provided substantial backpay.

To prevent future preferential treatment of union officers, the company agreed to several remedial provisions, including establishment of an ombudsman review committee to handle employee complaints. The company also agreed to pay up to $750,000 to retain a management consulting firm to meet with NLRB agents to discuss problems of favoritism and changes needed.

The irony behind the case was that Smith and Seagraves were both fired after being accused of the same fraud the federal agency found evidence to suggest union officials were actually the ones engaging in. The Phoenix New Times reported a series of stories as the case unfolded in 1994, including a lengthy exposé on the same account manipulation allegedly happening today.

Smith, who was reinstated as a premise sales consultant, still works in the Phoenix sales office and is one of the plaintiffs in the RICO lawsuit. When contacted by the EXPLORER, Smith declined to comment. Seagraves, who is now a sergeant in the Maricopa County sheriff's department, did not return phone calls for this story.

New times, same story

The RICO lawsuit suggests that the same abuses and account manipulation alleged 10 years ago are still happening today in the same Phoenix sales office. Even Karen Ortega-Matson and Phil Wheeler, the two high-ranking union officials targeted in the NLRB case, are the same two union officials named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Ortega-Matson firmly denied the allegations that there has been any sort of an improper relationship between management and the union, neither now or 10 years ago.

"I think that certain individuals just have a tough time believing that some individuals are very good at doing their jobs and there has never been any evidence to support any of those false charges," she said. "They're usually initiated by employees who are on the downside of their performance evaluations and are grasping at whatever they can create."

Wheeler said the company and union have dealt with the same allegations before and, to the best of his knowledge, everything had been settled. Wheeler said he wouldn't be employed at the company if the charges of favoritism and account manipulation were true.

"One of our underlying foundations as a union is that we advocate that everybody is treated on a fair and equitable basis … everybody has the right to equal representation," he said.

Mark Beutler, a staff attorney with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, has taken the lead on investigating the case against Dex for the last six months, including several trips to interview employees from Phoenix, Mesa and Tucson. Beutler said he planned to leave Tucson out of the case because he was focusing on what would benefit his clients, who are so far employees only of the Mesa and Phoenix sales offices.

"The hard part for me is just to focus on the stuff that's going to … benefit … my clients and walk past all this stuff that's dirty here because there's dirt everywhere," Beutler said. "There's allegations of financial statement improprieties and things like that, but I have no interest in that - my clients aren't investors."

Beutler, who holds law degrees from both Columbia University and Seton Hall University, is also a certified public accountant. He said he hopes to correct what he perceives to be an abusive situation that would not be occurring if it weren't permitted by company management.

"I wouldn't let Dex off the hook on this one. Dex is the one who's corrupting the union," he said.

Brenda Keenan, who worked in the account assignment department in the Phoenix sales office for 26 years, said she regularly noticed improper processing of accounts and favoritism in assigning accounts. She retired in November and agreed to talk with the EXPLORER because she said she no longer fears losing her job.

"There is a lot of cheating in the Yellow Pages that goes on - a lot of manipulation in sales reports. It was in Phoenix as well as Tucson," she said. "It came to my attention in Tucson after the one gal got fired and decided to fight it and when people started looking into the paperwork then they saw that, for a fact, cheating had happened.

"I fought until the last day I was on the job to get some of those sales records corrected and I never did, never could," she said of the accounts that routinely passed by her desk, which she said she brought to the attention of as many managers as she could.

After finding that management didn't want to hear her complaints, Keenan said, she filed several charges with the NLRB, accusing company officials of retaliating against her. The agency dismissed her charges.

"They just said that they didn't find any facts to my claims, which was a complete lie," she said. "They just totally blew them off and said, 'Oh, we investigated and everything's fine,' But nothing was fine, and if anything was investigated, nothing was changed."

While the statistics suggest that the NLRB's staff - a different staff than the one that took the case 10 years ago - doesn't seem to think anything is amiss at Dex, several employees claim the company is still being ran like a racket.

Since 2002, at least two-dozen individual charges have been filed with the NLRB against Dex and seven charges have been filed against IBEW Local 1269, according to the NLRB. Each time, the agency has decided not to take the cases or file a complaint on behalf of any of the employees who claim they were discriminated against or arbitrarily disciplined.

With the exception of one situation in which investigators declared a company policy illegal because it restricted employees from talking to NLRB attorneys, the agency has found no merit to any individual claims, said Keith Ebenholtz, the agency's field examiner who has been responsible for investigating most of the complaints.

"We have not found sufficient evidence presented by the people that filed the charges that the reason they were demoted or discharged was because they had engaged in some protected activity," Ebenholtz said. "The proof just hasn't been there."

Regional Director Cornele Overstreet had the ultimate say in dismissing the many charges filed against Dex and its union, most of which have been appealed to the national level, Ebenholtz said. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Dex and the union say they tried every avenue to correct the problems and many even filed charges with the NLRB before they joined as plaintiffs in the RICO action.

Rhonda McKinney, who was demoted from her premise sales consultant position in the Phoenix office this past year after slipping on the Sales Performance Evaluation, is one of several employees who approached management and filed charges with the NLRB before joining in the lawsuit. McKinney has worked in the office for more than 25 years and said she was arbitrarily demoted almost immediately after choosing to disassociate from the union.

As the recording secretary for IBEW Local 1269, McKinney said she witnessed unethical conduct between union officials and company management, which led her to leave her position on moral grounds. She said she refused to take part in the ongoing misconduct and claims she witnessed union agents, at local and executive levels, negotiating cloak-and-dagger agreements with company managers for financial compensation and other rewards.

Following her disassociation from the union, McKinney said she has been subject to unwarranted harassment and was demoted to a substantially lower-paying position because she reported acts of misconduct and embezzlement by union agents.

McKinney claims management has been inconsistent when disciplining salespeople who are rated unsatisfactory on the Sales Performance Evaluation, which several employees think indicates management is playing favorites with union officials. Since the independent audit, the company has taken steps to dispose of the Sales Performance Evaluation as a means for demotion, she said, though she still hasn't gotten her job back.

Keenan, who is not a plaintiff in the RICO action, said she's just glad to be away from the company but she's still upset that Dex has been let off the hook to this point.

"A lot of my friends have been hurt. I came from a sales background and I just hated to see that happening where people were being taken advantage of," she said. "When people cheat and get credit for sales, they hurt the other people that aren't cheating because they're all graded against each other in performance and there were people losing their jobs left and right. It's available in black and white if anyone wants to pursue it or see it."

Cooking the books

Sources in the Tucson sales office say they've tried to avoid knowing too much about what kinds of behavior certain salespeople may be engaging in but the violations and abuses have been so blatant that it's been hard not to notice. When contacted by the EXPLORER, employees indicated they were well aware of the alleged problems and, without being prompted, named Sutton as one of several employees improperly enriching themselves through account manipulation.

"It's not just Bobby Sutton that has manipulated the system. There are other people in the office that are doing the exact same thing," said one source.

"There's more than one person manipulating the system here. That's all I'm going to say. It's not any one person," said another source.

"It's the nature of some of these goofy salespeople, always wanting to be No. 1," said one employee, who thinks the office's revenue isn't being accurately reported. "At some point in time, somebody looking at the numbers is going to go, 'Holy cow, what happened to this money?'"

Sources claim the company is paying out thousands of dollars in commissions that are not true to the books - a scandal they say has been ongoing at Dex.

"The people they wanted to shine could falsely report anything they wanted and the director could look like a rock star," said one source who has personally worked with Sutton's accounts and is familiar with the politics of Dex. "But all that money in Tucson was fake. It was sold and commissioned but the majority of it was never collected."

Some employees said they thought a new companywide computer system that was implemented last fall was an obvious attempt to control some of the alleged account manipulation. However, other sources said they don't think it has put a stop to anything.

"This system was specifically put in place because they realized that there was a lot of that manipulation going on. They had to make sure that the revenues are real and I really think that's the reason they put this thing into play," said one employee in Tucson. "It's so new that we don't know yet if it has corrected it, but that's specifically what it was designed to do. It's been designed to catch stuff like that going through - people manipulating phone numbers and that kind of thing - so we'll see if it corrects it or not."

Sources inside Dex say employees have been demoted or fired because they were ranked on the Sales Performance Evaluation against the office's top performers, including Sutton, who they say regularly receives the company's President's Circle of Excellence Award.

Several sources indicated Jeanne Seibert, a former premise sales consultant in Tucson, was fired about two years ago but was offered her job back with backpay after she raised questions about fairness in account assignments. Seibert declined to comment when contacted by the EXPLORER, referring all comments to her attorney, Jordan Ziprin, who handled the case against U.S. West Direct 10 years ago before retiring as the NLRB's deputy regional attorney.

Ziprin has come out of retirement to represent employees in both Tucson and Phoenix who have disputes against Dex Media. Similar to the case 10 years ago, Ziprin helped Seibert get her job back after learning that she may not have gotten a fair shake compared to other employees like Sutton, though Seibert has since quit and is still in negotiation with the company for more backpay.

Through his representation of Pete Marceau, a Phoenix employee and one of the plaintiffs in the RICO action, Ziprin was responsible for bringing the situation at Dex to the attention of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation after the NLRB showed it wasn't interested. Ziprin said when he first heard Marceau's story, it rang a very familiar tune to that of the NLRB case he handled 10 years go.

"I thought it was a sure thing because the facts and evidence were virtually the same, but we ran into a brick wall with the NLRB for reasons, to this day, I cannot comprehend," he said. "I think the whole thing was handled in an incompetent fashion by the region and they gave the matter a short shrift. And when we appealed the dismissal of the charges, it seems the main interest of the Washington, D.C. office was to back up the regional director rather than to look at the merit of the charges, because anyone who knew the slightest bit about labor law would understand that the charges had merit."

Ziprin said he thinks Dex has been let off the hook for so many years partly because no one has been committed to grasping the complexity of the situation, which he admitted took him quite some time to do.

"When I got involved in the case 10 years ago, I did a lot of meditation, and I would say it took me about two months to get a handle on it. And that doesn't mean I understood all of it," he said. "It's a very complicated situation, but if this RICO proceeding goes through, it's going to make a tremendous difference for all those involved."

Sources inside the office, who are convinced that the signs are in place for a sale of the company, say it's going to be interesting to watch how the rest of this scene unfolds and they think everyone, company officials and union agents included, will be running scared.

"It's funny because some people just feel that they're bulletproof. And maybe for the most part they are, until an avalanche and then all the walls of Jericho fall in, in all directions, and that's what this RICO suit will do. It'll be an avalanche. It will be a domino effect," said one source. "It will start on one side, people will start selling out other people, people will come forward wanting to be co-plaintiffs and all of a sudden have damages they can claim. It's going to be kind of comical to watch the mice scurry."

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