Mon. Aug 02, 2004
Atlas Line, Star Logistics, and Missing Charity Money
If you’re one of those people who insists you have a right to every sordid and unconfirmed detail of a story if someone elects to tell you only a portion of it, please stop reading. Right now. The following will only disappoint you. This time around, I intend to only state known agreed facts, followed by some rhetorical questions.
You may then draw whatever conclusion you wish, and fill in the blanks for yourself.
Here’s the original story of Atlas Line, Operation Give, and 30 Grand Missing, and here’s today’s updates from Chief Wiggles (with a detailed and damning timeline), and Dean Esmay. I want to emphasize I am in no way affiliated with either party in this matter, I was a third party voluntarily trying to “arbitrate” some resolution. Now, the facts as I have heard them from both sides, or personally witnessed.
There was a dispute over the state of deposit funds for shipping containers, but it has been confirmed to me that Operation Give’s check was deposited in the account of Atlas Line by June 21, at the latest (the Chief has since posted a copy of the cancelled check, deposited June 18). What happened to the money then is unclear, unprovable, disputed, and therefore not a fact I can state. However, there was a clear dispute, and I visited the offices of Atlas Line on the afternoon of July 14 to try and clear it up. At their offices I met with Brian Blish, who told me in no uncertain terms that the check had been cut, and would be FedEx’ed overnight to the vendor in Kuwait. Furthermore, he said a copy of the FedEx receipt and check had already allegedly been faxed to the vendor in Kuwait. I was not the only person who heard this pledge, as it was repeated to others on the phone that day. Thus “assured” the problem would be fixed within 24 hours, I told everyone the issue was resolved, Call Off Da Dawgs.
I was wrong. The dogs should have never been called off. The check was never FedEx’ed.
I found this out 16 days later, in a call from Chief Wiggles last Thursday night. The next morning (last Friday) I got on the phone to the person I’d met with, Brian Bliss, to see what he had to say. He claims that the check was indeed cut that day I visited, but their new part-time accountant did not know the urgency of the matter, and placed the check in regular mail. To Kuwait. Today, 19 days later, no one seems to know where that check is, and due to the method it was sent, there is no way to track it.
Rhetorical Question #1: If you’d spent the day being assailed by phone calls, e-mails, and media inquiries, would you not make certain the urgency of the check’s delivery was clear to your new employee, so that your promises were properly executed, and your misery would come to a quick end?
Rhetorical Question #2: If you were an accountant sending a check for $20,000 to the other side of the world, would you simply slap a stamp on it and send it with a prayer, or would you spend a few bucks more to make sure that check was traceable from either end? (My wife, an accountant, has already given me a thunderous response to this one)
Last Friday, I was told more than once by Brian that the check is “obviously” in Kuwait. I pointed out to him it wasn’t obvious to me at all, nor could he prove it. Supposedly Atlas Line was asked to put a stop payment on the missing check that could not be traced, and cut a new one. I was told by Brian they simply would not do that, as they’d cut a check and sent it, so they felt they’d fulfilled their end of the deal. In so many words, I was told they were “washing our hands” of the matter.
From this conversation, it seemed clear to me they’d made a business decision to do no more, and ride out whatever bad publicity they get from this. When I said as much, I was told that their position (the one he claimed he would offer to anyone who called) was that Atlas Line is owned and operated by Chris Ludwig, and person I was talking to, Brian Blish, and his boss, Alicia Ludwig, work for Star Logistics International Inc. An entirely separate business. That just happens to be located in the very same offices. And is owned by someone with the same last name. They therefore claim no liability for the … inaction … by Atlas Line. Chris Ludwig, from what I’ve been told, is still somewhere in Europe, and cannot be found by anyone. For over 19 days.
I explained to him that regardless of any name game they wanted to play, the public perception is that the people at the address of Atlas Line, and who answer the phone of Atlas Line, are Atlas Line. And I didn’t think of it at that moment, or I would have asked him this directly:
Rhetorical Question #3: If you claim on July 30 that you don’t work for Atlas Line, why would you hand out this business card on July 14?
I told Brian that I was contacting him again because the people at Operation Give felt like they’d run out of options. They turned to me as a last resort before going public and looking at legal options (so you know they had to be desperate). So I made it clear to Brian I was probably the last person he would get to talk to calmly about resolving this that wasn’t a lawyer, a member of the media, or an angry contributor to Operation Give. I reminded him of how quickly it got ugly last time, how I was probably one of the few reasonable voices he heard on that ugly day, and pointed out the commotion died down not long after I left and spread the word the issue was resolved. Based on the fact he’d given me his word it was resolved.
I asked him if he could imagine how that makes me look today. Got a lot of silence in response to that.
I pointed out to him that if you do a Google search for Atlas Line, the #1 return is my site (as of today) ... and that my little site is the least of his worries if the negative publicity starts up again. And then I told him, “the saddest thing is that you can make all of this go away today for $50.” Pay to stop payment on the check, pay to FedEx a new check to Operation Give or to Kuwait. Done deal, at a cost of about 1/1000 of the amount of the lawsuit and bad publicity likely headed their way.
He seemed to consider that, and said he would take it to his boss in that manner. I asked if he would call me back Friday, even if it was simply to say “no deal,” and he promised he would.
I never heard another word from him.
Rhetorical Question #4: If your company was facing an ocean of bad publicity, and the potential cost of fending off a lawsuit, wouldn’t spending fifty bucks to make the problem go away seem like the deal of a lifetime? Can you think of one logical reason why you wouldn’t take that deal?
And that’s where I have to stop. Those are the facts as I know them, and some rhetorical questions. There’s $30,000 that’s been hard for anyone to lay their hands on since June 21, and currently is untraceable, while Operation Give has had to spend additional thousands of dollars to store the things they can’t ship. And the only people willing to respond at the address Atlas Line occupies say they don’t work for Atlas Line (despite what the business card says), and have washed their hands of the matter.
I obviously came into this story midway as a third party, so I can’t personally verify everything that came before July 14 (see the Chief’s timeline for that). But, in the past 19 days I’ve personally had someone who handed me an Atlas Line business card with their name on it make me two very basic and simple promises; one mailing, and one phone call. Neither one happened as promised. So that’s been my personal experience with Atlas Line, and those who’ve presented themselves as its representatives. They made me two simple promises, both of them inexpensive solutions to fill the ugly hole in which they found themselves, and both of those promises went unfulfilled. They’re still in that hole, and in my opinion, haven’t figured out they’re just digging deeper.
For the rest of the story, you can fill in the blanks, draw your own conclusions, and act accordingly.
Later: An update from August 5: The Check’s In, and It Bounces!