Ex-QVC Exec Stole Over $1M to Fund Botox and Luxury Travel, Feds Say

A U.S. attorney just blew the lid off an intricate fraud scheme allegedly orchestrated by a former QVC director.

The ex-executive, 42-year-old James D. “Jamie” Falkowski, was charged with multiple accounts of fraud for stealing over $1 million worth of money, goods and services from the popular West Chester-based TV shopping network. And no, he didn’t use the funds to cover some aging relative’s medical bills. Instead, he dropped thousands on extravagant spa treatments, Botox appointments, first-class travel to destinations like Turks and Caicos, plus all the lavish meals and hotel stays that accompanied his faux swanky agenda.

QVC fired Falkowski in December 2013 after he had worked with the company for six years. During his stint, he also allegedly duped the company out of about $200,000 in private luxury rides for himself and friends and about $70,000 in payments to his personal vendors and creditors. That even included more than $28,000 in payments to a custom furniture maker commissioned to design two tables for his Philly pad and about $60,000 in pre-paid American Express, Tom Ford, and Barney’s New York gift cards that he used for himself. He gave at least tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of QVC products to his friends and associates by abusing the company’s product requisition process, prosecutors said in a statement.  Read more »

I Love My Job: Cloudamize Founder and Chairperson Khushboo Shah

Courtesy photo.

If you think you’re working hard in life, Khushboo Shah’s story will likely make you rethink the meaning of hard work. Just a week ago, Cloudamize — the infrastructure analytics startup that Shah launched just five years ago (fresh out of DreamIt’s Fall 2012 accelerator cohort) — announced that it will merge with London-based Cloudreach, a cloud computing consultancy owned by the New York-based investment firm Blackstone. News of the exit sent ripples through Philly’s tech community as local investors like MissionOG and DreamIt Ventures applauded the company’s steady growth and as Cloudamize execs called the acquisition a win for Philadelphia.

While the development represents a great Philadelphia story, it also speaks to the power and journey of Shah—an entrepreneur whose path has been anything but easy and traditional. Shah says being an immigrant, a woman and a mom are three big factors driving her resilience. Though she’s stumbled on many “bad times” as she says it, Shah’s constantly looking ahead, preparing for the next move. As Cloudamize’s chairperson, Shah tells BizPhilly how she fell in love with data in the first place and why the cloud is still revolutionary. She shares her excitement and worries around the company’s big news and where she hopes to be in five years. Ultimately, it’s all about impressing her daughters! Read more »

Lyft Lands Amtrak Deal, Philly Taxis Feel Shut Out

Photo by B. Krist for GPTMC

When will Philadelphia’s transportation wars end? Ridesharing services Uber and Lyft aren’t the best of friends. The taxicab industry hates them both. And the PPA is the PPA.

It must be time for Amtrak to get involved.

Following Amtrak’s announcement last week of a partnership with Lyft that will allow railway passengers to seamlessly request cars from the station at the end of their ride, the Philadelphia Business Journal reported on Wednesday that Amtrak’s 30th Street Station is among the involved locations.

As of now, the partnership simply means a new button within the Amtrak app that links directly to Lyft’s, but both have hinted that they are looking to further collaborate in the future. The move will likely boost profits for Lyft, as rides to transit stations account for up to 25 percent of the transportation network company’s (TNC) activity in major U.S. cities.

While a simple app-to-app link seems like a harmless move, concerns were raised about the legality of the partnership’s presence in Philadelphia and the responsibility of the PPA to monitor it. Act 164, signed last year by governor Tom Wolf, outlines Philly-specific limits to TNC-Amtrak relationships. Read more »

Sunoco Agrees to More Rigid Pipeline Drilling Rules

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

It looks like environmental groups won’t immediately take Sunoco to court over its controversial pipeline after all. On Tuesday, the company reached a draft settlement with opponents that calls for greater drilling safeguards and accountability measures. In exchange, the three environmental groups—the Clean Air Council, the Mountain Watershed Association, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network—agreed to withdraw their court challenge. The hearing scheduled to begin Wednesday has been canceled.

If a judge signs off on the settlement terms, Sunoco will face heightened supervision on the 350-mile Mariner East II pipeline and take new steps to protect private water wells. A long list of new measures is included in the settlement, all of which will create more transparency for environmental groups and residents living near construction sites.

One big measure requires the company to re-evaluate its horizontal directional drilling (HDD) technique with special attention to the geography of each drilling site.  Read more »

Philly, It’s Time to Test Your Drinking Water

Tern Water’s “Know Your Water” testing kit. Photo via Twitter.

Even if you don’t live near a Sunoco drilling site, you might be interested in learning what’s in your drinking water.

Philadelphia startup Tern Water has officially made their Know Your Water test kits available to the public. They’re currently on sale for just $15 and offer a uniquely inexpensive way to test the chemical content of your home’s drinking water.

Tern Water’s CEO and founder Mohamed Zerban hopes that testing kit results will help the company collect data to develop a deep understanding of the state of Philadelphia’s drinking water neighborhood by neighborhood. Read more »

Uber’s Philly Ride Pass: Worth It, but Impossible to Get

If you’re still riding with Uber, the company’s new “Ride Pass” option has officially launched with rates that are surprisingly enticing.

The subscription service allows you to pay an activation fee upfront for a package of flat rate rides. The company says Pass is a way for Philly riders to get guaranteed low fares. And just how low are they? Riders can choose between two options: 20 flat rate rides for a one-time $10 activation fee or unlimited rides for a one-time $20 activation fee. Each package unlocks $2.99 Uber POOL rides and $5.99 UberX rides for 28 days. But the one-time fee won’t cover a ride from West Philly to King of Prussia. Rides must be requested within the Philadelphia Pass Zone, which unfortunately excludes the Philadelphia International Airport no matter where you request a ride.  Read more »

Don’t Want Your Boss Implanting a Microchip Into Your Body? A Pa. Lawmaker Wants to Help With That

An RFID microchip implant | Photo courtesy of Three Square Market

It’s been nearly two weeks since a Wisconsin company made the announcement that it would be implanting tiny microchips into the palms of willing employees. The chips, about the size of a grain of rice, will allow workers to unlock doors, access copy machines, and purchase food in the office. Cue colossal amounts of news coverage, think pieces on the future of technology, and general trepidation. Some even think the chips signal the apocalypse.

Doomsday prophets aside, perhaps nobody was quite as spooked by the news as local lawmaker Tina Davis (D-Bucks), who has since introduced what she calls the Employee Subdermal-Microchip Protection Act. The bill would prevent private employers and government entities from making microchip implants mandatory, and would protect workers in Pennsylvania from any sort of consequences or backlash if they someday refuse a chip offered by employers.

“An employee’s body is their own and they should have the final say as to what will be added to it. My bill will protect employees from being punished or retaliated against for choosing not to have the subdermal microchip or other technological device implanted,” Davis, who co-owns a trucking company with her husband, told Lehigh Valley paper The Morning Call. “As technology advances, we need to make sure we provide employee protections that keep up with these advances and do not allow employers to have control over their employees’ bodies.” Read more »

Perelman School of Medicine Joins National Initiative to Increase In-Home Primary Care

Photo via Pixabay

The Home Centered Care Institute (HCCI) announced last week that eight nationally recognized academic centers and hospitals, including the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, will soon offer the first and only comprehensive home-based primary care curriculum in the United States.

HCCI is a national nonprofit dedicated to expanding the availability and practice of in-home primary care visits. The organization estimates that there are only about 1,000 providers making the majority of home-based primary care visits nationally, a number it hopes will reach 6,000 in the next five years thanks to the new HCCI Centers of Excellence program. Additionally, the program and ensuing home visits made by Centers of Excellence physicians will allow the non-profit to build a new data registry to gain insight into in-home practices.

“HCCI is committed to inspiring, engaging and growing the next generation of home-based primary care professionals,” said Dr. Thomas Cornwell, founder and CEO, HCCI. “We are working to improve the lives of medically complex patients and preparing the nation for future pressures on the health care system as America’s aging population grows.” Read more »

Judge Lifts Drilling Ban at Select Sunoco Pipeline Sites

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

A Pennsylvania environmental judge has allowed Sunoco to resume horizontal drilling at 16 of 55 sites along the company’s controversial Mariner East II pipeline route.

The new ruling follows a July 25 order that banned all horizontal drilling until August 7 when a now postponed hearing would be held to determine whether the ban should be lifted or extended. Multiple incidents of water contamination prompted the order.

On July 27, Sunoco requested an exemption on 17 of the 55 active drilling operations, arguing that the ban would damage equipment, compromise safety and cause more environmental harm than good, State Impact Pa. reports. Judge Bernard Labuskes of the Environmental Hearing Board decided to lift the ban on 16 of the 17 locations requested by Sunoco. Read more »

We Want Answers: Josh Kopelman on Technology’s Next Wave of Disruption

Photograph by Adam Jones

For much of the past 15 years, venture capitalist Josh Kopelman has lived his life in 15-minute increments, dashing from one phone call or meeting with a prospective entrepreneur to another. It’s paid off handsomely: Among the start-ups that Kopelman’s First Round Capital has backed are Uber, Refinery29 and Warby Parker. Meanwhile, Kopelman himself — a 46-year-old Penn grad whose second company, Half.com, was sold to eBay for more than $300 million in 2000 — has become one of the most influential people in Philadelphia, not only as the tech scene’s biggest player but also, more recently, as the chairman of Philadelphia Media Network (PMN), the company that operates the Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com. On a warm day in late June, Kopelman offered up a few of those coveted 15-minute slots and sat down in his University City office to chat about tech, Philly, and the next wave of disruption that’s headed our way. Read more »

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