Plug and Played: 6 Shady Power Providers

The retail electric market attracts operators with little experience—but lots of history running afoul of regulators.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/shoutsfromtheabyss/5328924301/sizes/z/">Tom Taker</a>/Flickr

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The retail electric market has drawn scores of operators with little experience in the energy business—but lots of history running afoul of regulators. A sampling:

Ambit Energy

Dallas-based electricity and natural gas provider operating as a multilevel-marketing company, in which salespeople make money from signing up other salespeople.

Of note: Cofounder Jere Thompson Jr. also helped start CapRock Communications, which partnered with an Enron telecom subsidiary to build a Southwestern fiber-optic network. CapRock settled a securities fraud class action suit in 2003 for $11 million.

Legal trouble: Accumulated $57,500 in Texas fines between 2010 and 2012 for violating customer protection rules.

Just Energy Group

Publicly traded company whose affiliates include Hudson Energy, Commerce Energy, Momentis, Amigo Energy, and Tara Energy.

of note: Has more than 4 million customers.

Legal trouble: Fined $200,000 by New York attorney general in 2008 for deceiving customers; predecessor US Energy Savings paid $1 million for misleading consumers in Illinois in 2009; Just Energy Group sued by salespeople for affiliate Commerce Energy in Ohio in 2012 for failing to pay wages and overtime (case is ongoing).

ACN

North Carolina-based MLM company that sells everything from phone service to home security.

Of note: Donald Trump has featured ACN on The Celebrity Apprentice.

Legal trouble: $45,000 Pennsylvania fine over “slamming” allegations in its electricity business in 2002; accused of being a pyramid scheme by state of Montana in 2010 (case settled after a state investigation laid the blame with rogue contractors).

IDT Energy

New Jersey-based shop originally part of a telecom company.

Of note: As a New York City council member, future Mayor Bill de Blasio raged against IDT, warning of its door-to-door marketing scams and pledging to “drive [it] out of New York.” Advisory board members of parent company Genie Energy have included Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch.

Legal trouble: Fined $39,000 in Pennsylvania in October 2013 for abuses including slamming.

Great American Power

Georgia-based company founded as part of a telemarketing outfit.

Of note: Once called a single prospect 14 times in 26 days.

Legal trouble: Fined $10,000 in Pennsylvania in 2013 for harassing said prospect.

Energy Plus Holdings

Philadelphia-based company founded by former credit card executives, including Richard Vague, chairman of the Philly Fringe Festival.

Of note: Offers frequent-flier miles, Amtrak discounts, and other rewards to sign up.

Legal trouble: $14 million class action settlement in February 2013 over allegations that Energy Plus promised consumers big savings, only to deliver rates (two or three times) higher than those of local utilities.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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