Best Buy Attorney Admits To Falsifying Emails In Racketeering Case

The racketeering case against Best Buy and Microsoft has taken an ugly turn. An attorney for Best Buy has admitted to altering emails that were to be used as evidence in the case. If you’re new to this class action lawsuit, Microsoft is accused of paying Best Buy to collect and use customer’s credit card information without their permission, signing them up for “free trials” of MSN that they didn’t want and or weren’t aware existed. When the free trial period was up, MSN began to bill them without their knowledge or consent. A former Best Buy employee wrote in to confess to pulling this sort of scheme on customers, if you’re looking for more detail on how it all worked.

Now Best Buy’s lawyer has confessed to altering documents in the case and has been put on medical leave.

From Law.com:

In a May 24 motion received by a San Francisco Bay Area plaintiffs lawyer involved in the case, Minnesota-based Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Cerisi says partner Timothy Block had been placed on an indefinite medical leave. The day after he stopped working, he informed the firm “that he had redacted and altered documents that he later produced to plaintiffs in this matter.”

The motion adds that the defense firm had been informed by Block’s attorney that he had self-reported his actions to the Minnesota Board of Professional Responsibility.

Richard Thomas, a partner at Minnesota’s Burke & Thomas, said Friday that he is representing Block in dealing with the state’s professional ethics board. He did not say much about his client’s actions, but did offer that “he’s being treated now for psychological conditions related to stress and depression.”

He was not aware of any wrongdoing on the part of the firm, he added.

The plaintiffs attorney in the class action, Daniel Girard of San Francisco’s Girard Gibbs, said a Washington state judge has already granted Best Buy a stay in the litigation. Robins Kaplan’s withdrawal motion will be heard June 22, he added.

The Associated Press writes:

Block reported his wrongdoing to Minnesota’s Board of Professional Responsibility as well as the three other states where he is licensed to practice, and is on medical leave for stress and depression, said his attorney, Richard Thomas.

The altered documents are limited to two e-mails and one memo, Thomas said. The documents have not been publicly released in the case.

Asked why Block falsified the documents, Thomas said, “I don’t know that even he can tell you that. … I don’t think he is going to claim his actions were motivated by Best Buy.”

But given the extent of Best Buy’s foot-dragging regarding document production in the case, Terrell and another attorney for the plaintiffs, Dan Girard of San Francisco, wondered aloud whether Block felt pressured by the company to withhold or redact documents that could prove damaging. A senior partner at Block’s firm, Elliott Kaplan, is a corporate officer and director at Best Buy.

“Best Buy has been violating court orders willfully. This is sort of the last step,” Terrell said.

This case has been hanging around since 2003 and it looks like it’s going to hang around a little longer. —MEGHANN MARCO

Firm’s Mea Culpa Adds Twist to Class Action Against Best Buy
[Law] (Thanks, Tom!)
Best Buy in hot water for altering documents in class-action suit [KOMO] (Thanks, Random Majority!)
(Photo: crawfishpie)

RELATED: Best Buy Employee Confesses To Scams Similar To Ones Outlined In Racketeering Lawsuit

Best Buy, Microsoft Accused Of Racketeering

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  1. CaptainConsumer says:

    Medical leave? Since WHEN did blatant dishonesty become a medical condition?

  2. Quickness says:

    Really? Best Buy is finally getting sued for forcing people to take MSN? That brings back some memories.

    I worked at Best Buy during the time where we had to push MSN on people. At the time, for each MSN that was sold, that Best Buy store would get a $68 kickback. It didn’t matter if you went home that night, called MSN, and cancelled. We got the $68 on our daily numbers for the next day.

    The managers had contests focused around MSN, AOL, Netflix, RewardZone, and various other digital subscriptions (in Best Buy lingo, called D-Subs).

    We were told and taught how to lie to con people into signing up for MSN. The most common practice was saying “It comes with the PC, we have to sign you up.” You’d shouldn’t be suprised on the amount of arguments that I got in with customers. Another popular strategy to get people to get MSN would be to ring up everything really quickly, and just say “sign here” — most people would blindly sign thinking they were paying for it. Then, when we’d actually need the credit card for the sales order, we’d say “Oh, the credit card must not have gone through, we need to try again.” And wa-la, we signed you up for MSN (among other things) and you paid for your PC package.

    The last thing we did, which was the even worse than the stuff up above, we’d sign you up with an invalid credit card. You see, Best Buy giftcards are simply American Express cards. So, we’d scan the MSN CD, give you a userid, and when it would ask for a credit card to swipe, we’d wait until you weren’t looking and swipe the gift card. Because it was an American Express card, the computer took it. But of course, you’d get a call in a month after the free trial from MSN saying how the card was declined, and how you owe money. But who cares, we got $68!

    I’m not proud of any of that. But it was my job, and I had to do it. I needed the money.

    I recall an employee who was selling a wireless router and USB wireless device to a customer, and he didn’t offer MSN. He was yelled by the department manager at and written up. So, you did what you were told.

  3. catnapped says:

    @CaptainConsumer: No doubt after the goons decided to pay Mr. Block a visit.

  4. MalichiDemonos says:

    I just wanted to say…

    hahahahahahha

    That will be all. Thank you. Come again.

  5. CRSpartan01 says:

    Why is it that every time someone does something foolish, it’s always the result of some undiagnosed medical or psychological issus??

    “Yes, I robbed a bank. But it’s okay because I was depressed and it was just my undiagnosed clinical depression acting up again.”

  6. CRSpartan01 says:

    Missed an “e” in “issues.”


    Sorry to ruin anyone’s fun.

  7. moosetoga says:

    Quickness: I’m not proud of any of that.

    Jesus dude. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.

  8. ThinkAboutItPlease says:

    Quickness: The people making the case against Best Buy in this lawsuit would probably appreciate your input.

    It sounds like a miserable place to work: You get punished for not tricking people. You get punished for not selling something a customer doesn’t want.

  9. Eukaryote says:

    @CaptainConsumer:

    The same time that ranting about alleged jewish control of the world, molesting senate pages, and calling people “faggots” was because of drinking…

    Rehab is the hot mea culpa these days, and the way that people who can afford it get out of going to jail.

  10. Buran says:

    @Quickness: So, how does it feel to know that you are guilty of fraud? You belong in jail, asswipe.

    People like you are why I never go to Best Buy. I hope you’re proud of losing your entire company a customer.

  11. mikyrok says:

    @Buran: Oh yea, blame the guy who would get fired had he not done such acts. Obviously it is all his fault and management is 100% in the clear.

  12. Quickness says:

    @Buran

    I worked there in college with a bunch of friends for a few years. I’ve since moved on. If insulting me makes you feel good, then by all means, insult away. I was young, got paid well, and was in college. I wasn’t going to give that up.

    The intentions of my post were simply to give everyone a little more insight into what was done at Best Buy and what practices probably caused the lawsuit. It wasn’t just one customer who got tricked, and then decided to sue. The company did it nationwide. Best Buy had “D-Sub” contests per store. Because of the contests, I have hundreds of dollars in prizes (leather jackets, Coach purses, bags, grills, etc.).

    So, to be honest, I don’t care if you never shopped at Best Buy ever again, asswipe.

  13. JREwing says:

    Wow, very interesting! I just got this link after posting yesterday about Best Buy and Sports Illustrated doing this.

    I am actually dealing with a Sports Illustrated charge to my credit card, that is very similar to this. According to Sports Illustrated customer service employees, by signing the electronic pad you are not only authorizing the charge of your card for the items purchased but are also agreeing to any “terms and conditions” that you may or may not have been aware of prior to signing the pad.

    I find this sort of business unethical at best, and am shocked that any large businesses like Best Buy, Sports Illustrated or apparently MSN would stoop to this level. Definitely not going to ever purchase anything with a credit card again with any of these companies or their related companies.

    Just not worth the risk that I get charged for whatever they want to charge me for.

  14. healthdog says:

    @mikeyrock: Can’t we blame the company AND the douchebag employee? One sucks for pushing fraud and illegality, the other sucks for not quitting and getting another crappy $8/hr job. ‘Cause that’s always the excuse;
    “I needed the money.” Were they paying you so much that you couldn’t afford to leave? Were the blue polos just too sexy?

  15. jwarner132 says:

    @Quickness:

    I worked at BBY from 2001-2002 and our supervisors instructed us to do a lot of what you said. I remember specifically my supervisor (who knew nothing about computers, he came from Home Theather) telling us to tell customers that they didn’t have a choice for the MSN. It came with the computer, period. If they were paying with credit card, ask them for ID. That way you have both the ID and the credit card necessary to do the MSN signup. And like you said, a lot of times all we had to do was tell the customer where to sign and they just did without asking why.

    We never did the gift card trick though. I think if my supervisor had told me to do that it would have pushed me over the edge.

  16. healthdog says:

    Cool. My morality can be bought for a Coach purse, too.

    You know how it’s done? When I worked at NordicTrack (young and in college, too!), I was ordered by the District Manager to sell a greater variety of exercise equipment. You see, I only sold the eight or nine pieces of equipment that I thought were truly great, not all twenty varieties. I nodded, then continued to sell as usual. I was yelled at and almost written up. However, they never fired me, and I kept my dignity.

    If they had fired me, I would have gone to work at some other comission-based sales job. And kept my dignity.

  17. jeffj-nj says:

    Ya know, Best Buy might suck and everything, but it still seems easy enough to avoid these things. I’m asked to signup for AOL constantly when I go there. Every time (except once*) I said “No”, and that was it. I’ve never had any trouble.

    *One time, I was promised $15 off, twice, (on two $50 items) if I signed up for AOL. That meant paying $70 when I was ready to pay $100. Yeah, okay, sign me up. I cancelled in the parking lot, before I even made it to my car.

    Me: “I’d like to cancel my account. My username is rezigene.”

    (That name, btw, is Enegizer spelled backwards. I got the idea from the batteries next to the cash register; the fact it’s pronouncable is just lucky.)

    AOL: “Uhm, sir, it appears you only opened this account only 5 minutes ago. You haven’t even logged in. Why do you want to cancel?”

    Me: “I only opened the account to receive 30% off at Best Buy, which I have already done, and now no longer have any need for it.”

    AOL: “But, have you considered all AOL has to offer, including exclusive access to music and, blah, blah, blah…”

    Me: “Try to sell me if you want, but I’m not keeping this account. This phone call can last as long as you want it to, but when it’s over, I’m not going to be an AOL customer. There is nothing you can say that’ll change my mind.”

    AOL: “(pause) Well, okay then, let’s get you cancelled.”

    Anyway, point is, stick to your guns. As wrong as Best Buy is for trying to sell you something you don’t need, you’re still wrong too if you buy it anyway.

  18. thunderstruck says:

    The point, again, proven: Best Buy’s better at the con than carnival hucksters.

    Recite the mantra: Friends don’t let friends buy at Best Buy!

  19. Quickness says:

    @JREwing: You fell for the classic (and still used) tactic of getting people to sign up for the EWSI D-Sub (Entertainment Weekly Sports Illustrated Digital Subscription).

    If you’ve ever shopped at Best Buy, I’m sure you’ve heard “With your purchase of ______, you receive a free subscription to _______. Which one do you want?” People then feel like they have to take it, and they pick one.

    You are required to swipe a credit card. For those who are not aware.

    THIS IS NOT TO VERIFY YOUR ADDRESS, THIS IS SETTING UP BILLING INFORMATION SO YOU ARE CHARGED AFTER THE TRIAL.

    The customer service rep (the cashier) is expected to get so many per shift or per hour, depending on the store. Once again, Best Buy gets a kickback. I’ve sat in several trainings where they showed how to trick people into signing up. The giftcard trick was used often, also the “please swipe your card” and then “oh, the card didn’t take, please try again”. The card took, but for the magazines, not for the actual sales order.

    But I’ve been witness to MANY pissed off customers who came back in after finding out they have been charged, talked to the manager, and got some free stuff (deals, giftcards, etc). So, if you’re that type of person who can yell at a retail store manager because you’ve been screwed, you’ll probably end up getting something for it.

  20. enm4r says:

    @jeffj-nj:

    I have used this move as well. Honestly, you can usually tell them “no” before they’re even done talking and they’ll stop. Same goes for any other store that offers you something at the register. If I’d wanted it, I’d have walked to the counter with it or asked, thanks anyway.

    Also, to quickly end the counter offer on the phone, I’ve found that “There is nothing you can say that will convince me not to cancel this service.” Or however close to that you can get based on the situation. Everytime I’ve ever said that, they’ve cut to the chase and took care of business.

  21. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    Time to add another company to the “Do Not Shop There” list. Actually today I had to get some RAM for a PC I’m fixing / upgrading for a friend. Best Buy costs on average $10 more than TigerDirect for the same memory. That’s after shipping, handling & tax.

  22. JREwing says:

    Yes, I normally just say “no” to these things. They must have caught me at a moment of weakness. The thing that got me though was that there was absolutely no terms and conditions given to me or explained to me before I swiped my card (again thinking it was only for the payment of what I was buying). Pretty low, I thought.

    If they go bankrupt because of these lawsuits do you guys think they’ll still honor all of the extended warranties I purchased? ;)

  23. Quickness says:

    @JREwing: The area above the box where you signed your name is where all the terms and conditions were. You know, that really small text behind a worn down piece of scratched plasic? :)

  24. filker0 says:

    This probably isn’t only a Best Buy thing. I’ve turned down AOL subscriptions, magazine subscriptions, you name it. Even when it would get me a discount. And not just at Best Buy.

    I’ve also come to the realization that they beat employees for not getting you to buy a service contract or extended warrantee. I recently purchased a CPU fan (

    Once, on a laptop purchase at BestBuy (in the 1990s), I was followed to the checkout by the associate still trying to get me to sign up for an extended product service agreement that, when I looked at it, excluded most of the things that I was worried about (LCD screen breakage or failure, mostly).

    Still, I feel bad for the employees who are pressured to behave this way. The power of the purse is more compelling than idealists like us like to think it is. I’ve quit good paying jobs over ethical conflicts (well, once), but I knew I had some other job available when I did it.

    I hope BestBuy and their clients (M$N, AOL, Sports Illustrated, etc.) get a very public settlement or verdict on this case, and that such behavior becomes unacceptable to the public in general, and too risky for the companies themselves to engage in.

  25. exkon says:

    @Quickness:

    Applaud you for your honesty dude, while most people would flame you right now. I have to say that honestly most people would end up doing the same thing.

    Money is money folks, though we all like to hold moral highground, it just basic human nature to survive. Let’s see how cheesy that Best Buy tactic looks when your faced with a rent check every month and barely going by.

    I pretty damn sure we’ve all regretted doing something bad to someone to further their own needs. Ever screw over another co-worker to get that promotion? Same thing here folks.

  26. ThinkAboutItPlease says:

    I also applaud Quickness for his or her honesty, and being candid about participating in Best Buy’s deceit, which is apparently not at all uncommon. Hundreds of AOL employees, for example, were essentially required to trick people. I’ve been in a position myself where a former boss asked me to do something unethical, and my job (income, livelihood, next meal) was on the line. It’s not an easy position to be in, and I’m not proud of a few things I did as a result. Quickness gets huge kudos from me for recognizing that what happened at Best Buy was not cool, and not trying to laugh it off, or pretend that there was nothing wrong with it. He (I’m assume a he for now) is someone who has learned from his experience, and increased his moral sense in the process. That alone can make someone a valued employee, to an employer with integrity (i.e., not Best Buy). I imagine Quickness is someone who doesn’t check his brain at the door. Good for him.

    Further, in my view, management of Best Buy bears absolutely overwhelming responsibility for any customer-tricking that goes in their company. They establish the whole business model…the culture…and the policies. They, not Quickness, created the pressure and contingencies under which Quickness operated.

  27. crankymediaguy says:

    “I’m not proud of any of that. But it was my job, and I had to do it. I needed the money.

    “I worked there in college with a bunch of friends for a few years. I’ve since moved on. If insulting me makes you feel good, then by all means, insult away. I was young, got paid well, and was in college. I wasn’t going to give that up.”

    What does this remind me of? Oh right, every actress who ever said, “I’m not proud of that porn I did with the midget and the donkey, but I was young, trying to break into the business and I needed the money.”

    Whether you realize it or not, what your story really says is that you didn’t think you had the ability to make a living honestly. At the very least, Quickness, PLEASE tell me you haven’t “accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior since then” and all that bullshit. At least keep that much dignity.

  28. BrianDC says:

    @ Quickness

    “I’m not proud of any of that. But it was my job, and I had to do it. I needed the money.”

    What is this? The corporate stoolie version of the Nuremburg defense? You did NOT have to do it, it was just easier for you to help the company con its customers than find a new job.

    I held a sales job in the early 90′s for a company which made notoriously bad electronic equipment. (Upwards of 50% defect rate on some items.) They coupled that with a ‘Repair’ Department which would hold your defective item for several weeks/months (getting you closer to the end of your warranty.) and then ship it back to you unfixed. I was paid much better than minimum wage.

    I was warned several times each for the three offenses of telling customers the truth about badly designed items and their defect rates, letting them know a product was discontinued (and replacements would be unavailable if it went bad), and for advocating for them internally when they got screwed by the ‘Repair’ Department. Even so, I never shut up and I never caved in. I consistently topped the overall sales charts, selling only the products that were of decent quality, until they fired me.

    Two of the larger customers tracked me down immediately to offer me jobs – both said they were extremely impressed with my honesty, as well as my loyalty to the company (I never said anything negative about the company to customers while I worked there, despite the situation.) I declined both offers.

    I left the industry with my integrity intact and an education in corporate malfeasance. These days I work for a company that I expect to act honorably, and it does. It’s much easier this way.

    The company I used to work for went under amidst a wave of consumer complaints, and a low-rent set of SEC violations where the CEO was discovered to have pumped-and-dumped the stock, screwing the shareholders as well as the other officers of the company.

    Nobody was surprised.

  29. Jesus On A Pogo Stick says:

    @Quickness: I feel your pain. I worked inside a Best Buy for a cell phone company a few years ago. I was told to force that crap down my customer’s throats too. What’s worse, is after I would talk to them about all that crap (d-subs, the PSP, the PRP) they would get ANOTHER round of it from the cashiers. Finally, I said “fuck hawking shit for Best Buy” and just never talked to any of my customers about d-subs again. I was constantly yelled at by the DI supervisors and the GM for not trying to sell their shit and I just didn’t care.

    @exkon: All of your points are so true.

  30. Quickness says:

    First off, I’d like to say thank you to those people who had kind words to say regarding what I’ve been posting (ThinkAboutItPlease and exkon especially). I wish I wasn’t posting this information. Not because I regret telling you about it, but I regret it even happened in the first place. And the worst part about this, is that the stories of corruption I have are endless. This is only a small branch to a large tree. I could post stories all day that would make you go “man, I shopped there?”

    @BrianDC: I was young, working at a company in a small town (30,000 people). Jobs were hard to find, and being in college, finding a part time job that worked around your class schedules was almost just as impossible.

    So, I found one that paid over $10 an hour, worked around my schedule, gave me a super discount to electronics, and allowed me to meet friends and work with them. I’m just one of the thousands of other employees in the same situation. So if I had to force people to take MSN (or AOL, another store), so be it. I knew it was shady and never would I justify what I did was right, but I had to do it to keep my job, so I did it.

    @crankymediaguy: I haven’t found Jesus, but I did find this really cool shirt at the store yesterday for super cheap. I’d rather have found the shirt.

  31. ThinkAboutItPlease says:

    Again, I really dig your candor, Quickness. Your candor is a service to the world. I hope you’ll share more, in fact. We can all learn from your unfortunate experiences as a threatened-with-punishment Best Buy employee. And while I appreciate the rage toward Best Buy — I completely share that rage — good Lord, sweet Jesus, holy t-shirt, Quickness is not the appropriate target for it — not remotely.

    I wish I were a journalist, and had the time and money to take on a book project: If that were the case, I’d want to interview Quickness (and other Best Buy employees) to learn about all the little branches, supported by the big tree-trunk o’ deception, skank, looking the other way, and pretending that these business practices are just fine.

    Best Buy has a bit of Enron, a bit of AOL (pre-Vinny Ferrari), and an incredible amount of short-sightedness and shallow, myopic thinking. They both screw their customers and screw their employees — the latter by pressuring sales at any cost and encouraging customer-screwing, robbing employees of satisfying work and a decent work environment. There are better ways to run a business, and it makes me crazy that Best Buy’s upper management is apparently unaware of them. (Hint: Go visit Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s would not even conceive of magazine subscription quotas or rip-off extended warranty plans. No subjecting any customer to any kind of selling gauntlet ever. No upselling. They provide great value, and a great environment. As a result, both customers and employees there tend to be very happy.)

  32. BrianDC says:

    Back @ Quickness:

    So you were “…young, working at a company in a small town (30,000 people). Jobs were hard to find, and being in college, finding a part time job that worked around your class schedules was almost just as impossible.”? So what?

    Since when is “But I needed the money!” an excuse for stealing? And, since you brought it up, since when is convenience ever an excuse for not doing the right thing?

    I stand by my original assessment: It was easier for you to help the company rip people off than to either stand up for the customers or quit and go work somewhere else. Your choice = your responsibility. I can’t speak to the entirety of your situation, but I am pretty sure you would not have died if you had chosen a different job.

    To speak to the larger situation that you helped perpetuate: if nobody conned customers on behalf of Best Buy, none of this would have to be said. While it might take a determined group of truly immoral louts to create this type of systemic abuse, as well as to make it the status quo, it only takes laziness and moral flexibility to allow it to continue.

    You share the blame.

  33. microsham says:

    …Microsoft is accused of paying Best Buy to collect and use customer’s credit card information without their permission, signing them up for “free trials” of MSN that they didn’t want and or weren’t aware existed. When the free trial period was up, MSN began to bill them without their knowledge or consent.

    This matter doesn’t surprise me at all. Sadly, BB is no different from the throng of box-store retailers that attempt to monetize on people’s ignorance.

    The one thing that does surprise me is how no one has thought to question the relationship between Microsoft and a Canadian broadband provider by the name of Sympatico.

    The thing that is most interesting about Sympatico is that is not so much that they have a very tight relationship with Bell. A relationship which hinges on Sympatico’s necessity for broadband to be carried over a land line on Bell’s copper backbone. Its a captive audience for Sympatico to deliver its high-speed service offerings, and the perfect symbiotic relationship allowing Bell to leverage its revenue base on monthly land-line fees that would otherwise be irrelevant in the age of cellphones.

    Where it gets interesting is how Bell and Sympatico’s broadband integration strategy means a default access to member profiling right down to residential address, age, full legal name and bank or credit card details depending on how you pay for your high-speed (I know in Sympatico’s case, they offered a rebate if I paid by Credit Card when I signed-up). So given this “default” access to land-line customer base and broadband membership, what would stop Microsoft from utilizing this information for their own commercial purposes?

    Sympatico.ca’s main login page is an MSN portal. Imagine now the possibility whereby any search or link visited on the Sympatico website can be easily tracked while being connected by your broadband account and point of access to a Bell/Sympatico switch. Lifestyle preferences, buying habits, surfing patterns, etc. can now easily be monitored, with the possibility of metrics being compiled by matching consumer surfing patterns with precision demographic profiling.

    Whether the intention is to populate the metrics and analytic profiling for AdCenter, or pushing Microsoft’s products and services to a broadband audience, I’m not understanding how so much leeway and freedom to access sensitive customer information is permitted, and is able to continue to occur under our noses without any punishment – with an unabashed confidence and bravado in partaking in such bold practices as if to imply that these large companies are somehow beyond reproach.

    I hope this lawsuit forces people to look at Microsoft under a microscope, preferably one with a higher level of magnification than that which has been used up until now.