Step Right On Up

It's better to receive than to give

Members of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe are hoping to convince Texas legislators to let them open a casino on their East Texas reservation. They're probably also hoping they have better luck fleecing gullible gamblers than they did getting fleeced themselves.

The tribe is suing over a scam in which it lost more than $200,000 under the promise of an almost sure thing.

One of the tribe's investment funds took a chance four years ago on Phoenix Telecom and ETS Payphones. The pitch was right out of one of those TV ads showing gleeful casino players, as opposed to all those pale chain-smoking losers who fill the buses these days on the long, broke ride back from Louisiana.

The tribe would simply lease phone-booth locations, at $7,000 a shot, and watch the money roll in. A 14 percent return was guaranteed; if it didn't happen, ETS and Phoenix would buy back the locations at no loss, says Andrew Mytelka, the tribe's Galveston lawyer.

Everyone's a winnah! Except…well…"It was nothing but a Ponzi scheme," Mytelka says.

Dang. The next thing you know, we'll find out that most people who go to casinos actually don't come out ahead.

Unfortunately for the tribe, the two phone firms declared bankruptcy in the midst of a tidal wave of fraud suits across America. So with no money available from them, Alabama-Coushatta is going after Grant Thornton, a giant accounting company that had the two firms as clients. (The phrase "deep pockets" is learned early in law school.)

Mytelka says Grant Thornton "aided and abetted" the scheme; Cristina Rodriguez, attorney for Grant Thornton, says the firm "performed very limited work" for ETS, and that the suit "is without merit."

We hope the courtroom battle doesn't distract the tribe from its earnest efforts to transform itself from suckers to suckees.

And we're sure the tribe will put signs over all its "loose, loose, loose!" slot machines informing customers of the hard-won wisdom about things that sound too good to be true.

God Is Taking Requests

Barring some unlikely late-season storm, it appears Texas has been spared this hurricane season. And according to Houston's leading hurricane expert, Channel 11's Neil Frank, the explanation is simple: We must have prayed harder than those atheists in Florida.

Frank gave an interview recently to the Web site Spirit Daily, which looks like the Drudge Report but deals with religious matters. The headline on the piece: "Foremost Hurricane Scientist Says That in Prayer, Huge Storms Can Be Stopped."

"I accept that a storm can be stopped," Frank is quoted as saying. "I've known people who had incidents where you can say, yeah, this is very strange, where the weather changed just in time."

Case in point: Pat Robertson praying away Hurricane Betsy in 1964.

Reporter Michael H. Brown writes, "While Frank says that, after speaking about it with one of the evangelicals, Pat Robertson, he has no problem believing that [Betsy] had been prayed away from Virginia, that leaves the question of those who suffered in the places where the hurricane then did hit."

Yeah, it does kind of leave that question. But there's an answer! (Of sorts.) "How God operates, says Frank, is a mystery," Brown wrote.

Frank didn't return calls seeking to find out if he was misquoted or his comments were taken out of context, which could have happened, seeing how God moves in mysterious ways and all. The folks at Spirit Daily are equally mysterious, ignoring e-mail messages seeking Truth.

God, it turns out, not only listens to prayers about where to send killer storms, he also has time to dabble in real estate.

The Spirit Daily article notes that developers have been putting up condos on barrier islands, meaning more property damage in storms.

Wrote Brown: "Building on such islands may not be in God's Will, notes Frank -- and therefore if and when a hurricane hits, praying to halt damage may not be as effective." (We assume this is God's "Offer void where prohibited" clause.)

Next on 11: Giff Nielsen on how much Jesus hates Shaq.

Private Family Matters

Legendary Texas company Southwestern Bell has become the space-age-monikered SBC, but that doesn't mean it has forgotten its traditional, monopolistic ways of treating customers like dirt. Exploitable dirt.

The 4.3 million nationwide customers of SBC Yahoo!, the high-speed Internet company, will soon learn the legendary Southwestern Bell type of care. Beginning November 15, SBC Yahoo! will have a new privacy policy -- which provides, surprisingly, very little in the way of privacy.

"In order to better serve our customers," the company announced, member information collected by SBC Yahoo! "can now be shared within the SBC family of companies."

One of the reasons it can be shared, according to a company FAQ, is to provide "marketing efforts designed to help keep customers informed" about great, terrific, wonderful services offered by the SBC family.

That "family" includes long-distance service and wireless phones -- two industries that would never bother customers with spam or unsolicited calls, right?

"I feel so 'cared for,' " one customer told Hair Balls.

Not to fear; SBC spokeswoman Jessica Nunez says customers can opt out of the info-sharing. If they bother to read the fine print and follow a link to a Web page, fill out a form and submit it.

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