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N.Y. store accused of CFL coupon fraud

BY Ken Clark

The owner of a Farmingdale hardware store has been charged with stealing more than $40,000 from the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) by submitting hundreds of rebates for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) that didn’t exist and over-reporting advertising costs.

Thomas Schuman, 44, of St. James, was arrested las week by District Attorney Investigators and charged with two counts of grand larceny in the third degree and seven counts offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted. 

According to the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, from 2009 to 2011, Schuman, the owner of Four Star True Value Variety Store on Main Street in Farmingdale, participated in LIPA’s Compact Fluorescent Light coupon rebate program. The program allows stores to offer discounts on CFLs ranging from 50 cents to $3 per bulb. Buyers would fill out a rebate coupon for the stores to submit to LIPA, and LIPA would then reimburse the store. 

In December 2011, LIPA conducted an audit and discovered that Four Star had submitted 923 fraudulent rebate coupons and was reimbursed $22,240. An investigation by the DA’s Office revealed that Schuman instructed his employees to fill out the vouchers by instructing cashiers to use the phone book to find people who lived in the area and fill out a voucher in his or her name, even though they didn’t purchase a CFL and may never have been a customer of his store. Schuman gave the cashiers a daily quota of vouchers to fill out. 

In the first quarter of 2011, the investigation revealed that Four Star was submitting approximately five coupons on behalf of each purported customer, and that it submitted 66% more rebate coupons than all Long Island Lowe’s stores combined. 

The DA also accused Schuman of stealing an additional $19,200 from the utility as a participant in a LIPA-sponsored advertising program that reimbursed merchants that advertised the sale of CFLs. Schuman would advertise in the Long Island Pennysaver or Clipper magazine and then submit invoices that inflated advertising costs in order to be eligible for a higher rebate, according to the charges.

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Pending home sales decline in December

BY Ken Clark

The Pending Home Sales Index declined 4.3% in December to a reading of 101.7, according to data released Monday morning by the National Association of Realtors.  

The data, which reflects contracts but not closings, was up 6.9% compared with the year-ago month.

“The supply limitation appears to be the main factor holding back contract signings in the past month,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Still, contract activity has risen for 20 straight months on a year-over-year basis. Buyer interest remains solid, as evidenced by a separate Realtor survey, which shows that buyer foot traffic is easily outpacing seller traffic." 

Even with tighter inventory, a pent-up demand and favorable affordability conditions bode well for the market, according to the NAR. Yun expects existing-home sales to increase another 9% in 2013, following a 9% rise in 2012.

 

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CFO leaves Scotts Miracle-Gro

BY Ken Clark

Marysville, Ohio-based Scotts Miracle-Gro announced that Dave Evans has resigned as chief financial officer and executive VP and has accepted a similar role with Columbus-based Battelle, the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organization.

Evans joined Scotts Miracle-Gro as director of finance for operations in 1993 and moved through several roles before being named CFO in 2006.

"To say that Dave made important contributions to the business and to the culture of Scotts Miracle-Gro during his 19 years here is a gross understatement," said Jim Hagedorn, chairman and CEO. "While I am personally and professionally sad to see him leave, I am excited for Dave and his family as he makes this change." 

In 2011 Evans’ role was expanded to include strategic planning and business development. Evans will remain at Scotts through the filing of its first-quarter results in mid February and is actively working with Hagedorn and the board of directors on creating an orderly transition.

The search for a replacement is under way.

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