LETTER TO A CORPORATE SCROOGE
Mr. Nicholas DeBelleville Katzenbach
Chairman, MCI Corporation
33 Greenhouse Drive
Princeton, New Jersey 08540
Dear Mr. Katzenbach:
On behalf of thousands of aggrieved MCI customers, I dropped by your home in Princeton, New Jersey today – Christmas Eve – to bestow upon your company an award of ignominious distinction.
In your capacity as the Chairman of the Board of MCI, I am presenting you with America’s First Annual “Bah, Humbug” Corporate Scrooge Award.
As a consumer advocate, I know a Scrooge when I see a Scrooge. And MCI’s attitude towards its customers and shareholders is succinctly encapsulated by the oft-quoted words of Ebenezer Scrooge: “Bah, Humbug.”
You may think I am tendering the award retroactively for MCI’s role in perpetrating an $11 billion accounting fraud: the largest financial fraud and bankruptcy in U.S. history, costing investors billions and devastating retirees and communities. But the award is not for that.
The First Annual “Bah, Humbug” Corporate Scrooge Award is for MCI’s relentless drive since you joined the Board in 2002 to over-bill, double-bill, fraudulently bill and provide some of the worst customer service in the United States, while simultaneously shipping American jobs overseas.
Dickens remarkable prose, penned over 100 year ago, could apply to your corporation today: “[H]e was a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire…” Substitute MCI for Scrooge and you have a perfectly accurate description of MCI customer service, in my opinion.
On behalf of aggrieved phone customers, workers and suppliers I present you with MCI’s award: a lump of coal in a stocking and a copy of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. Although your customers consider it unlikely, perhaps you will heed the lessons of Dickens’s parable and persuade your Scrooge corporation to redeem itself by retaining jobs in America and engaging in lawful, ethical business practices.
I know first-hand how MCI corporation fleeces consumers.
I signed up for MCI phone service in November, 2003. I selected your “Neighborhood Complete” plan which was advertised as a “revolution” in phone service and offered an all-inclusive rate of $49.99 per month for all local, state and national long distance calls.
Your company’s first month’s bill clocked in at $253.11. By March, MCI was billing me $482.79 per month and, for an entire year, my bill averaged well over $120 per month.
I tried to correct this problem with dozens of calls to your “customer service” department.
I talked to MCI employees in the Philippines, Argentina, Canada and Mexico. All of the calls had a wait time of no less than one-half hour and none of the employees could fix the problem. They were well-trained, however, to say that they could not identify their supervisors for “security reasons” and refused to give the phone number for your executive offices.
I cancelled my service in January 2005. Astoundingly, MCI kept billing me and continues to bill me until this day for services I do not use.
Having no other recourse, I sued your company in New York State Civil Court.
Your lawyers failed to appear and I was awarded a default judgment in the amount of $2,893. (Mayer v. MCI, SCM 15189-05, Civil Court of the City of New York, Small Claims/Commercial Part, August 1, 2005)
When your lawyers missed the Judge’s calendar call, the bailiff smiled knowingly at the judge and the judge smiled knowingly back at the bailiff. On the way out of the courtroom, I asked the bailiff why the exchange of knowing nods. His answer: MCI is sued several times a week in just one small claims court in New York City and they never bother to send a lawyer to defend.
Now I know why.
Despite the fact that I have a legal judgment, your company has still not paid the judgment. I will shortly send out New York City Marshals to attach MCI’s bank account for failure to pay a legal judgment.
MCI apparently routinely engages in illicit conduct without the slightest worry that the costs of getting caught would outweigh the benefits of continuing the conduct.
The recently released (December 14, 2005) national Corporate Reputation Survey by Harris Interactive Polling revealed that Americans still consider MCI one of the least trustworthy and most unethical corporations in America today.
On May 31, 2005, the California Board of Public Utilities launched an investigation into massive fraudulent billing practices by MCI. The investigation was triggered because MCI continues to violate a California cease and desist order of March 2004 that directed the company to stop billing customers for services they never ordered, a practice known as “cramming.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) disclosed that in the first half of 2003 (the last year figures were available) MCI was the subject of more billing complaints than any other long distance carrier. Astoundingly, in 2003, billing complaints filed with the FTC against MCI rose 310% to over 8,000 per year – double the rate of any other carrier.
MCI settled a lawsuit in 2002 for $8 million after being sued by the California Attorney General for defrauding thousands of consumers by “cramming” (unauthorized bills) and “slamming” (unauthorized service). (Of course, $8 million is chump change for a company set to pull down $20 billion this year.)
Please enlighten me, Mr. Katzenbach. Are you aware of the serial illegal practices of your corporation since you joined the Board in 2002, and therefore are complicit, or has this transpired without your knowledge?
Here is what you assured MCI shareholders and customers in a public letter of September 21, 2004 after you were chosen Chairman:
“Since joining MCI’s Board of Directors in July, 2002, I’ve had the opportunity to witness firsthand the company’s absolute commitment to the highest standards of corporate governance and ethics…it is a community marked by integrity, transparency and accountability…I am proud to serve a company so profoundly dedicated to serving its shareholders, customers, employees and the public-at-large with both innovation and integrity.”
The lawsuits and regulatory actions against your company do not begin to convey the utter contempt with which MCI treats its customers.
For that, you need only go to any of the consumer websites that field corporate customer complaints. Try sites like www.mythreecents.com or www.consumeraffairs.com or www.ripoffreport.com and read the hundreds of letters from people who have been ripped-off, pushed around, defrauded and otherwise victimized by your company.
How many hundreds of meritorious small claims lawsuits have been brought against MCI?
How many thousands of ripped-off MCI customers just give up and take it?
How many hours of consumers’ one irreplaceable commodity – their time -- has your company willfully taken, knowing that the law provides no remedy?
How many of your 20 million customers – the second largest group of phone customers in the United States -- have taken time away from work – as single-mothers or working families -- only to have your company cancel the appointment or been placed on hold for hours?
How many millions of dollars has your company stolen from Americans by falsely billing or fraudulently billing?
How many lives have you affected by shipping over 14,000 American jobs overseas?
We will never know the answers to those questions. But you do know the following:
You know that the lap-dog Attorneys’ General of the fifty states will never make your company pay meaningful penalties.
You know that the Congress and state legislatures that MCI slathers with campaign contributions will never stop MCI’s deceptive practices.
You know that the various state and federal regulatory agencies are toothless tigers.
It is not the common practice to deliver a petition for redress to the private home of a Corporate Chairman, but you leave consumers no choice. Your company makes it virtually impossible to reach supervisors or your executive officers who might help and that is undoubtedly by design.
You have no expectation of privacy as your number and address are listed in the phone book and on the web as a matter of public record.
Our group will urge other consumers to write and call you directly until your company complies with the laws of the United States of America.
In so doing, we will set a higher standard than MCI. We will urge people to call you after 9am or before 5pm. We will urge aggrieved customers to be polite and send polite complaints to your home address. We are specifically advocating that customers and other contact you in a lawful manner.
May I suggest you use your considerable talents to restore your own reputation for trust and honesty and to instill those values in the company you lead.
Not since the Great Depression and the end of the Gilded Era have the citizens of the United States held the CEO’s of major corporations in such disrepute.
Over 90% of the public, according to a recent New York Times poll, believes that corporations have too much power in Washington. 74% of the public does not trust Big Business.
It is because of the illicit and illegal behavior of companies like yours that people hold Big Business in such contempt.
It is time for you and your fellow Corporate Chieftains to take some individual responsibility for this state of affairs.
Corporate leaders and their purchased think tanks are only too quick to demand that the least prosperous members of society assume individual responsibility for their condition, while CEO’s shirk responsibility for their own misdeeds.
We, therefore, today squarely place before you the question of whether you will accept personal responsibility for the ongoing misdeeds of your corporation.
I look forward to your answer and to a meeting at your convenience.
Carl J. Mayer, Esq.