Excerpted from The Morning Call story by Anthony Salamone
Energy supplier Vista Energy Marketing faces a record fine for hiring door-to-door salespeople without criminal background checks in a case stemming from a Bucks County rape in Pennsylvania.
The state Public Utility Commission (PUC) voted 5-0 Thursday for a “modified” settlement between its Bureau of Investigation & Enforcement and Houston’s Vista that hiked an initial civil penalty to more than $50,000.
PUC spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said the commission has faced at least two other cases involving allegations of improper background checks by energy suppliers.
“But this is the largest fine in a background-check case,” he said in an email.
The case came to the PUC’s attention after Bensalem police in August 2017 charged a Vista solicitor with rape and indecent assault of a woman. The man admitted to the rape and was sentenced last year, according to media reports.
The PUC learned Vista enlisted a third-party vendor for door-to-door sales and marketing to encourage consumers to switch energy suppliers. The vendor failed to comply with PUC requirements for background checks on workers, according to the PUC.
Investigators found 124 violations, the PUC said.
The commission restricts suppliers from employing a door-to-door salesperson unless the supplier has obtained a criminal history record about the person from state police. The criminal background investigation must include checking sex offender records, commonly referred to as the Megan’s Law registry.
“The regulations in this instance are clear, permitting any person to conduct door-to-door marketing or sales activities without having obtained and reviewed a background check is a violation,” PUC Chairwoman Gladys Brown said in a motion.
Vista attorney Murray E. Bevan declined to comment. In the settlement document, the PUC said Vista did not dispute the complaint and will work to prevent future occurrences. The company works statewide seeking to switch consumers’ electric or natural gas suppliers under state-monitored energy competition.
Vista and the PUC earlier agreed to a $37,500 penalty, but in her motion, Brown raised the fine to $52,700, based on an increase to $425 for each infraction.
“It is apparent from the record that these violations are of a serious nature,” Brown wrote.