Entries in Pennsylvania (10)


Hurricane Sandy: Waffle House Index Points Relief to Eastern Pennsylvania

Jim Stratford/ Bloomberg News(ALLENTOWN, Pa.) -- Two red, two yellow. What sounds like a child sorting Halloween hard candies this year doubles as something a bit more important to state and federal disaster-management officials: the Waffle House Index for Hurricane Sandy.

Two Waffle Houses near Allentown, Pa., were closed, and two in Maryland were open but serving a limited menu, according to Waffle House spokesperson Kelly Thrasher. All were without electricity; the open ones had gas and water.

Thrasher summarized the Index: when an official phones a Waffle House and the restaurant is open and serving the full menu, the index is Green. When the restaurant is open but serving a limited menu, it’s yellow. When it’s closed, it’s red.

Federal Emergency Management Administration head Craig Fugate devised the index after leading Florida’s response to several hurricanes in the 2000s. Based on the 24-hour restaurant chain’s hardy reputation and presence across the Southeast, it is an informal yet handy way to assess an area’s post-calamity condition.

This allows officials to do quick disaster-relief triage: red areas need help first, and fast.

Thrasher said Hurricane Isaac closed 40 restaurants on the gulf coast for a few days. She attributed the difference between this and Sandy to the chain’s high concentration of restaurants in the gulf area. Their restaurants in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania are fewer and more spread out.

Unfortunately, there are no Waffle Houses in New Jersey or New York.

The company was “definitely proactive” before Sandy hit, Thrasher said. They tracked the storm all last week and sent an advance team pre-landfall with extra supplies and employees.

The Waffle House Index even has its own Twitter hashtag. “How can the severity of Sandy be measured? The northern most WaffleHouse is in Ohio. #WaffleHouseIndex,” a Twitter user [@rkeni2] tweeted Monday.

Thrasher called the attention “very flattering,” but added: “This is what we do all the time: to be there for our customers and associates on an everyday basis.”

A call to FEMA went unreturned. Perhaps they were busy calling Waffle House.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pa. Man’s Working 1938 Fridge Wins Contest

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LANCASTER, Pa.) -- Mike Ansel of Lancaster County, Pa., may have known his refrigerator was old but he was still pleasantly surprised to learn his working 1938 General Electric model won the Oldest Refrigerator Contest hosted by utility firm PPL Electric.

The statewide contest was the first of its kind coordinated with appliance recycler JACO Environmental. From April 1 through August, the contest collected 7,000 refrigerators.

PPL Electric Utilities has collected more than 44,000 older, inefficient refrigerators and freezers since launching its appliance recycling program in late 2009.

Ansel acquired the refrigerator from a family member in 1974.

Tom Stathos, director of customer strategy at PPL Electric Utilities, gave Ansel the prize on Tuesday: a $250 Sears gift card. That was in addition to the $35 incentive PPL Electric Utilities gives to all customers who recycle their older refrigerators and freezers.

Joseph Nixon, a spokesman for the company, said the unit was working until the day it was picked up for recycling, according to the rules for the contest.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that of the 170 million refrigerators and refrigerator-freezers currently in use in the country, more than 60 million are over 10 years old. The agency estimates that costs consumers $4.4 billion a year in energy costs. Over 26 million of the old refrigerators are second units in a home.

Replacing an inefficient fridge that is about 20 years old with one that is Energy Star qualified will save a household roughly 550 kWh per year, or about $65 a year.

The EPA states that an Energy Star qualified fridge is about 15 percent more energy efficient than models that meet the federal minimum energy efficiency standard.

If everyone purchasing a refrigerator this year chose a model that has earned the Energy Star, the country would save 715 million kWh per year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from about 100,000 cars, according to the EPA.

The agency estimates the following costs to run an Energy Star qualified appliance:

– A fridge costs around $50 on average a year to run.

– A top-freezer refrigerator uses about 350 kWh or $40 a year to run on average.

– A bottom freezer users about 460 kWh or $50 a year to run on average.

– A side-by-side refrigerator uses about 530 kWh or $60 a year on average to run.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


City Budget Problems: San Bernardino, California Files for Bankruptcy

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Cities across the country are increasingly facing severe budget problems, and that's leading many of them to cut corners or consider bankruptcy.

On Tuesday, San Bernardino became the third city in California to file for bankruptcy protection in less than a month.  Stockton filed last month and the ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes voted to file last week.

The alternative to bankruptcy can be drastic spending cuts. That's happening in some other cities, like Scranton, Pa.  Municipal unions there are filing a lawsuit after the mayor decided to cut the pay of city employees to minimum wage -- $7.25 an hour.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pennsylvania Company Tells Condo Owners: Pay Rent or Leave

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(READING, Pa.) -- Condominium owners assume they will be able to settle down in their homes if they stay on top of monthly payments, follow homeowner association rules and maintain the property.  But 11 condo owners in Reading, Pa., had a rude awakening when a developer purchased the property and turned the building complex into rented apartments.

Three years ago, Teresa Fusco, 56, bought a condo unit, appraised for $101,000, at Deer Path Woods in Reading, about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia.  Eleven units were owned and occupied while the other 97 apartments were rental units.

Fusco, a secretary who lives alone, had about $71,000 left on her mortgage when the property owner went into foreclosure last fall.

A developer, Kevin Timochenko, purchased the rental units for $7,200 at a foreclosure auction, as reported by AOL.  That gave Timochenko almost 90 percent of voting power for the condominium homeowners' association.

Because Pennsylvania law allows homeowners who have 80 percent of voting power to control the sale of the entire property, Timochenko could legally convert the entire complex -- including the condos -- into apartment units for rent.

Fusco said she and the other 10 condo owners were given a choice during a condo association meeting on Dec. 22: pay rent for the property they had previously owned in addition to their mortgage payments, or move out.

"I was devastated because this was my home, not just my house," Fusco said.  "It was where I was going to retire.  If something happened to me, I could still afford my mortgage and my taxes.  I was just completely taken aback."

Timochenko did not return a request for comment.  Nicole Plank, an attorney for Timochenko's Metropolitan Management Group, did not return a request for comment either.

To add insult to injury, property values in Reading have taken a hit as in many other parts of the country, and Timochenko had the entire property appraised at a value that was less than fair market value, said Fusco and Fred Nice, her attorney.

The average appraised value was around $35,000 for each unit, whereas owners like Fusco had mortgages of around $60,000 to $90,000, said Tom Beaver, an attorney working with other former condo owners.

Pennsylvania state senator Judith L. Schwank, whose district includes the town of Reading, introduced a bill on Thursday that would allow a voting block of 75 percent of actual condo homeowners -- 11 total in Fusco's case -- to reject an appraisal.  Unfortunately, she said, the bill, if passed, could not be retroactively applied to Fusco's situation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Employee Scams Car Dealership Out of $10M, Spends Cash on Luxuries

Adam Gault/Thinkstock(PITTSBURGH) -- Patricia Smith, the former controller of an auto dealership in Pennsylvania, is headed to jail after embezzling $10 million from her former boss in a stunning case of a trusted employee looting the business then squandering the cash on luxuries.

Smith, who worked at Baierl Acura located in Wexford, Pa., an upper-middle class suburb of Pittsburgh, was convicted of systematically stealing for seven years -- some $4,000 a day on average -- for private jet travel, special trips to the theatre, fancy clothes and other goods, according to the court.

Smith spared no expense for herself or her family on the company's dime, according to reports from court.  The jet charters alone totaled $1.8 million for the bookkeeper, who officially made about $50,000 a year from the dealership.

According to Shannon Pierre, of ABC News' Pittsburgh affiliate WTAE, who reported on the story from court, Smith's reason for her crime spree was that she felt like a "horrible daughter, wife, mother and friend" and the gifts were a way to "earn their love" because she wanted to see "what happiness looks like."

An attorney for Smith did not return ABC News' request for comment.  News reports indicated that Smith told her family and friends she got rich investing in airline stock.

Now, the 58-year-old woman must serve 78 months in prison, three years of probation, and pay a restitution of $10,349,569.14 for the fortune she obtained by making more than 800 money transfers from Baierl Acura's coffers to her personal accounts.

"We're glad that justice has been served and this matter is now behind us.  Despite the amount of funds taken over time, there were no adverse impacts to our daily operations.  Our business is doing well and we have adopted stronger measures to prevent such a crime from ever occurring again," Lee Baierl, CEO of Baierl Automotives said in a statement to ABC News.

Smith was able to electronically transfer funds from the company's online account to her own personal account and use the funds to buy four homes, 10 vehicles, Louis Vuitton luggage, jewelry and $30,000 in pre-paid travel funds, among other purchases, court records show.

She will begin serving her sentence in July.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pennsylvania Man Appeals Court's Order to Pay Mom's $93K Bill

William A. Pittas(NEW YORK) -- John Pittas, 47, is fighting a Pennsylvania court's order to pay his mother's $93,000 nursing home stay under a "filial support law" that is in effect in 29 states.

Pennsylvania's statute makes certain family members liable to "care for and maintain or financially assist" certain "indigent" members of the family, a law that some legal experts call "disturbing."

Pittas' mother, Maryann, now 66, was admitted for six months to Liberty Nursing Rehabilitation Center in Allentown, Pa., in September 2007 after breaking both legs in a car accident.  In March 2008, Pittas' mother, who was born in the U.S., relocated to Greece, where her two other children live.

As the only remaining family member left in the U.S., Pittas was left to foot the $92,943.41 bill after his mother's Medicaid application was not approved in time.  The Health Care & Retirement Corp. of America, which owns Liberty Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, sued Pittas in May 2008 for the money and a trial court sided with the nursing home in 2011.

Pittas appealed but the Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued a verdict earlier this month in favor of the nursing home again.

The restaurant owner said he was "in shock" and "devastated" at the ruling and filed to re-argue his case with the Superior Court on Monday.

"I have a business and family.  My wife was pregnant with the second child at the time," Pittas said.  "The economy is not what it used to be.  I'm very worried about this and stressed."

Pittas said he is keeping his elderly mother, who is recovering from a stroke, and father, 78, both in Greece, out of the legal dispute.  His mother had a monthly income of $1,000 from Social Security and her husband's Veteran's Administration benefit.  The nursing home argued in court that her income was not enough to provide for the bill and the court established her "indigent" status.

Liberty Nursing and Rehab Center said in a statement: "We do expect to receive payment for services provided.  We work with patients and families to help them understand their options and responsibilities.  We work with the patient and family on payment options including filing for Medicaid if necessary."

Liberty spokeswoman Julie Beckert said she could not comment about the appeal filed on Monday because it is pending litigation.

In the appeal, Pittas is arguing that the court mistakenly established that he had the "financial ability to support his mother" based on his annual income of $85,000, without taking into account his expenses.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pennsylvania Egg Factory Accused of Animal Cruelty, Filth

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- An animal rights group claimed on Thursday that an undercover investigation has revealed "extreme animal abuse" and unsanitary conditions at a major regional egg supplier.

The Humane Society of the United States said in a statement its investigation into the Pennsylvania-based Kreider Farms facilities uncovered "injured and dead hens, including mummified bird carcasses" living inside the same cages as live hens who lay eggs for human consumption, as well as chickens who had their heads, legs or wings trapped in cage wires and feeding machinery.

Undercover video allegedly shot at Kreider Farms and provided by the Humane Society appears to show birds lying dead among the crowded cages of live chickens.

A previous investigation by ABC News into another egg-producing farm company, Sparboe Farms, revealed such unsanitary conditions that major customers, including McDonald's and Target, dropped Sparboe as their supplier.

The Humane Society said Kreider Farms, headquartered in southeast Pennsylvania, is home to close to seven million egg-laying hens.  On its website, Kreider Farms says that number is closer to five million and says the farms are dedicated to being "stewards of the land, operating clean, efficient and state-of-the-art facilities and creating a work environment of openness, honesty, trust, and personal satisfaction." 

The Humane Society estimates there are a total of 280 million egg-laying hens in the United States.

The family-owned company has been the recipient of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association's Excellence in Food Safety award, according to its website.

Videos available on the website show what appear to be much cleaner conditions for the hens compared to the undercover footage and claim, contrary to the Humane Society report, that the chickens have plenty of room to stretch out in their cages.

A spokesperson for Kreider Farms did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this report, but the company's president, Ron Kreider, told The New York Times the Humane Society report was a "gross distortion of Kreider Farms."

"The reality of food processing can be off-putting to those not familiar with animal agriculture," Kreider told The Times.  "When dealing with millions of birds, there is always a small percentage of dead birds." 

UPDATE: Click here to read Kreider Farms' statement on the Humane Society's allegations.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


How Did Most Desperate US Cities Fall into Bankruptcy?

Comstock/Thinkstock(VALLEJO, Calif.) -- The city of Vallejo, Calif., knows what it's like to go through desperate times -- a distinction it shares with similarly-blighted towns and counties around the U.S., including Central Falls, R.I., Harrisburg, Pa., Boise County, Idaho, and Jefferson County, Ala.

All these municipalities are either facing bankruptcy, have already declared it, or, like Vallejo, are now emerging from it painfully.

Few cities get so desperate as to seek bankruptcy protection.  Since 1937, when Chapter 9 filings first became an option for municipalities, there have been only 625 filings, says Chicago attorney James Spiotto, who has written books on the subject.  Only five communities this year have filed for bankruptcy, while six filed in 2010.

For some towns, bad times arrived slowly by a variety of roads.  For others, a single event tipped them into darkness.

The closing in the 1990s of a U.S. Navy base pulled the financial rug out from under Vallejo.

Boise was the victim of bad legal luck: A jury ruled in 2010 that the county had wrongly prohibited a developer from building a teen treatment center.  The developer won a $4 million judgment, which Boise has been hard-pressed to pay.

Harrisburg fell victim to the "incinerator from hell" -- a waste-to-energy incinerator whose renovation caused the town to go $310 million into debt, five times as much money as the city has in its general fund, according to the Stateline newspaper.  Pennsylvania in December declared the city -- its capital -- financially distressed.

Jefferson County in Alabama, home to Birmingham, has been suffering for three years from the collapse of a sewer bond refinancing.  As of mid-August, it stood poised to file the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, according to Bloomberg News.  It has since delayed filing to continue negotiating with its creditors.

Central Falls' economy declined over many years, starting in the 1970s, when local textile makers began moving plants overseas.  Some 1,400 jobs ultimately were lost, according to the National Council of Textile Organizations.  Crime increased to the point that Central Falls in 1986 was crowned the cocaine capital of New England by Rolling Stone magazine.

According to court papers, Central Falls ran out of money to pay its bills on Aug. 31.  It has a structural budget deficit of $5.6 million and an unfunded liability of about $80 million for retirement benefits and pensions.

To stave off bankruptcy, Central Falls now is trying to wrest back from its police and firemen some $2.5 million in promised pension benefits.  It has eliminated funding for its library, laid off staff, and has closed a community center.

All this pales, however, in comparison to what Vallejo has been through. Since filing for bankruptcy in 2008, the town has become overrun by crime and prostitution in the wake of budget cuts that have reduced the city's police force by almost half.  Prostitutes and pimps can be seeing plying their trade in the middle of residential areas.

In response, residents have taken matters into their own hands, instituting a neighborhood watch program, The Kentucky Street Watch Owls -- or, unofficially, the "Ho Patrol."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Shell Nears Decision on Where to Build New Plant

Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/Getty Images(PITTSBURGH) -- Shell Oil Co. is close to reaching a decision on where to build an enormous petro-chemical facility in the Appalachians.

Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia are all competing for the plant that could potentially bring thousands of jobs to the area.

Shell, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, is a multinational oil company that is among one of the largest oil companies in the world.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pizzeria Owner Tries to Sabotage Rivals with Mice

File Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(UPPER DARBY, Pa.) -- Cops arrested pizza man Nicholas Galiatsatos on Monday after a crosstown rival allegedly caught the owner of Bella Pizzeria in Upper Darby, Pa., trying to stash bags of live mice in two competing pizzerias.

"It's insane. It's crazy. I never heard of anything like that. I never witnessed anything like that," Fanis Facas, the owner of Verona Pizza told ABC affiliate WPVI-TV.

Facas said a man entered his restaurant Monday carrying a bag and made his way to the bathroom.

"He goes to the bathroom and I heard a noise going on in the bathroom. I thought it was just him banging around or something, so I checked after he had gone out of the bathroom," Facas said.

Inside the restroom, Facas said he found footprints on the toilet seat and a ceiling tile that had been tampered with. Upon further investigation, he said, he found a bag stashed in the ceiling filled with live mice.

Facas alerted two police officers who happened to be in the restaurant having lunch. The cops spotted Galiatsatos crossing the street and entering another pizzeria with another bag under his arm. When he noticed the police, Galiatsatos allegedly ran into Uncle Nicks and discarded the bag of mice in a garbage can. Cops found it and arrested him.

Police said they believe Galiatsatos was hoping to drum up business for his own struggling pizzeria by discrediting his rivals.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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