Astor Estate Finally Settled

The estate of socialite Brooke Astor has finally been settled, AP News reports.  Her will has been hotly disputed since 2007, when she died at age 105.  In 2009, her son, Anthony Marshall, was convicted of manipulating Astor’s fragile dementia to make changes to the will in his favor.  In the final settlement, Marshall will receive $14.5 million, nearly half of his fraudulent earnings.  Much of that will have to be paid back, on account of his conviction and being a general scumbag.  $100 million will go to charities, as were Astor’s original wishes.  Astor was a generous philanthropist since the death of her husband, real estate magnate Vincent Astor, donating millions to the poor and to artistic pursuits.  True to form, among the charities to benefit from today’s settlement is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which will receive about $20 million.  All that money has been held up for nearly five years when it could have been doing something productive, which means that, overall, this is some very good news for charity.


Videotaping Police: Dangerous, Lucrative, and Constitutionally Protected

Camera equipment, by Flickr user joshjanssen, licensed via Creative Commons
You should record the Po Po by all means, but you probably don’t need all this.

Two court settlements have come down this week that shine light on the increasingly-common practice of videotaping police officers.  In Las Vegas, Mitchell Crooks was beaten  up by a police officer while videotaping a burglary investigation across the street from his house.  In Boston, attorney Simon Glik was arrested and prosecuted under wiretapping laws for using his cell phone to record an arrest of another man.  All charges were dropped in both cases, but both men also sued for violations to their civil rights.  In both cases, they reached a settlement before going to court for a judgement, with Crooks receiving $100,000 and Glik receiving $170,000.  Nearly 6 months ago, Glik’s case even went to the 1st Circuit Appeals Court, where they upheld the rights of citizens to record public police action in a landmark, often-cited decision.

Click to read more after the jump

200 Electric Car Quick Charging Stations to Be Built in California

Oil rigs in Texas, by Flickr user "mayhem", licensed via Creative Commons
Soon-to-be things of the past?

It’s always interesting to see what an entity does with its settlement money, whether required to or not.  The recent $25 billion federal mortgage settlement, although recommended to be used for debt relief and foreclosure fraud investigation, has been earmarked by states for a variety of purposes.  Most notably, the state of Georgia is using their slice of the pie to boost local infrastructure projects, arguing that the settlement includes no legally binding provisions for the money’s use and paving the way for other states to do the same.  Companies also pop up in the news sometimes for funneling settlement money into investment funds or, more commonly and in the interest of good press, towards charity, as is the case when Gordon Ramsay donated $66,000 USD after skipping out on a charity function.

Which brings me to an interesting tidbit in today’s news: as part of a settlement regarding an electricity contract, NRG Energy will be investing $120 million to build charging stations for electric cars across California.  They will be building 10,000 charging outlets at 1,000 locations across Southern California.  Two hundred of these will be publicly-available “fast-charging stations”, which give electric cars about 50 miles of use in 15 minutes of charging.  Fewer than 5 of these quick-charge stations are currently operative in California, meaning this settlement effectively increases the amount by a factor of 40.

This is exciting stuff.  Oil prices being as high as they are and climbing, the move to low-cost high-efficiency electric vehicles is going to depend on access to electricity on the road and in a pinch.  In other words, charging a car needs to become as quick, convenient, and nigh-ubiquitous as a trip to the gas station.  A small part of NRG’s settlement is putting $20 million towards reducing home utility rates — another step in the right direction, since you can’t get gasoline at home unless you live in a little-used utility closet in a refinery like I do.  As electric cars become cheaper and more fashionable, and as miles per gallon becomes a higher selling point for consumers, I suspect electric companies are going to start building these types of stations on their own, without a court order.  We’ll see — some people just plain don’t like oil.


Lockheed Martin Settles with US Government for $16 Million

Lockheed Martin, a long-time defense contractor, was accused by the federal government of misrepresenting the cost of tools used to build the F-22 and F-35 fighter jets.  Allegedly, Lockheed subcontracted out some of the work and that subcontractor inflated the price of tools, a number that Lockheed passed on to the government despite knowing of its inaccuracy.  Last Friday, Lockheed agreed to pay the government $16 million to settle the suit.  The company denies any wrongdoing, claiming that they settled the suit “in an effort to close the matter in a timely manner”.

Is this case a simple mistake in accounting?  Or was Lockheed Martin caught trying to fleece the government?  I guess now we’ll never know.  But, important to keep in mind is that this is the infamously-expensive F-22 we’re talking about here, a veritable poster child for government graft.  Defense contracts are also often swollen with overpriced items as a way to ensure that a critical $200 screwdriver doesn’t fail.  The reasoning being that, if it does fail, they can go in and say “hey, we paid $200 for this $5 screwdriver so that it would be perfect, what happened?”  Maybe Lockheed just went a little overboard this time.  Maybe Al Gore needs to step in and start smashing some F-22 tools on Letterman before someone takes notice.

Read more in the original story by the Silicon Valley Bizblog.

Renters Win $500,000 Settlement Against Landlord’s Scam

An apartment building in Paris, by Flickr user Steve Cadman, licensed via Creative CommonsA landlord in Baltimore made quite a profit by faking property damage and suing his former renters for restitution.  That is, until Hong Park, a nonprofit legal aide looking into the matter for one of the renters, found the landlord’s claims to be a little fishy.  The landlord had provided supposed invoices from contractors detailing repairs to the property.  Park noted some suspicions about the invoices though — namely, that they didn’t have any company logos and that they were dated when collections began, not when the renter moved out.  The lawyer called up some of the referenced contractors and, lo and behold, all of the invoices were forged by the landlord.  Park sent the info on to the Maryland Attorney General’s office, and some subpoenas and a class-action lawsuit later, the owner of Ager Road Station Apartments will pay a $500,000 settlement to the former renters he swindled.  For anyone who’s dealt with a less-than-honorable landlord in the past, this settlement is a welcome victory.

Keep reading for tips on how to protect yourself from this kind of scam