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Floyd
Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ohio shut down business of data center promoter

Paul Allen arrived in Floyd a few months ago with all the subtlety of a Tasmanian Devil, whirling about with grand promises of bringing a mutli-million dollar data center to the county's commerce park.

He had plenty of time of his hands because the State of Ohio had shut down his data center business there by revoking his company's registration and Certificate of Authority.

Allen's bold stories and grand plans sparked interest with the revenue-starved county government, which jumped to embrace the wheeler-dealer from Ohio. He rented one of the most expensive apartments in the new Station on South Locust complex across the street from the Floyd Country Store and then asked locals to help him find free or cheap used furniture. He drove around in a fancy white Mercedes G-Class SUV and talked about buying land, making Floyd his home and even buying Citizens Telephone Cooperative because, he said, they are in trouble, and need his help.

In Floyd County, being showy attracts attention and also creates doubt. People started talking about the flashy promoter and asking questions. No land purchases are on file with the Circuit Clerk's office. As a public-owned cooperative, Citizens would be difficult, if not impossible, for an indivual to buy.

He bragged about big contracts with the federal government, the Radford Army Ammunition Plant and pending deals with Virginia Tech.  None of these deals, however, can be confirmed.

He said his company was a multi-million dollar operation wth locations around the world. Manta, which tracks small businesses, reports:

B Telecom, Inc is a private company categorized under Data entry service and located in Parma, OH. Our records show it was established in 2002 and incorporated in Ohio. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of $630,000 and employs a staff of approximately 11.

Manta's information came from Dun & Bradstreet, the business and commercial rating company.

Some said Paul Allen was too good to be true. They might be right. Although he shares the same name as the billionaire Paul Allen who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, this Paul Allen is not the same force in the technology industry. Questions are arising about this Paul Allen, his past, and his promises.

Not long after Allen hit town, the Ohio Secretary of State canceled the Articles of Incorporation certificate for his company, B-Telecom Inc. (also known as Bti) for failure to file necessary corporate franchise tax reports or pay taxes. 

In a March 6 letter signed by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, Allen was notified of the revocation and told to stop practicing business under the B-Telecom name. The registration for that company remains "on hold" by the state of Ohio.

A month after Ohio revoked Bti's business credentials, Amish businessman Bill Byler, an Allen partner, filed corporation papers creating Data Knight 365 LLC and Allen continued promoting his latest venture.

It's not Allen's first run-in with government or those with questions. An investigation is open in Ohio regarding questions about the validity of letters of credit used by Bti.  Questions about the authenticity of letters of credit provided by Bti were cited in the company's failure to win a bid for the controversial Networx project in Memphis, TN.

Memphis Light, Gas & Water hired The McLean Group, a prominent investment banking firm headquartered in Northern Virginia, to vet the bidders. McLean found problems with B Telecom, saying their letters of credit were "unconvincing" and the company failed to show for a due deligence meeting.

Others who have dealt with B Telecom and Allen report similar problems. Some said Allen would not show for scheduled meetings but would send Byler or Don Sabin, who served as spokesman when DK3 announced plans for the data center in Floyd. Sometimes, nobody would show.

"I would advise Floyd County to stay as far away from these guys as possible," says a Virginia-based procurement officer who has dealt with Bti and who asked not to be identified. That procurement officer contacted us this week after reading our earlier reports about Data Knight 365.

When the Networx deal fell through, Allen told Memphis media that the "fix was in" and that the McLean Group was not a competent organization to judge his credentials. The McLean Group's managing director is Dennis Roberts, a former bank President, certified valuation analyst and a teacher and writer on mergers & acquisitions, business valuation and corporate finance. The McLean Group's board of advisors includes former Congressman Vic Fazio, former White House National Security Director Robert McFarlane, who also served as US Ambassador to the Middle East and retired Navy Vice Admiral Al Burkhalter Jr.

The county and Data Knight 365 announced a deal last week for plans to spend more than $20 million for a "world class data center" in Floyd's industrial park. Allen has said the deal is done and the land is his but no contract has been signed and no money has changed hands. There is a performance agreement in place and it outlines things that Data Knight 365 must deliver before the deal can move forward. Two supervisors told us they need more information and some questions answered about Paul Allen and the DK3 deal but the board will not have a role in this transaction unless the Economic Development Authority wants the county to spend money. From what we have been told, the county is not granting any concessions or spending any taxpayer funds.

(Updated to include new information)

Power Direct: A company of aliases and problems

Power Direct, the telemarketing company behind Data Knight 365, the shadowy firm that announced last week it would spend more than $20 million to build a "world class data center" in Floyd's industrial park, is an operation of aliases, multiple listings of "dbas" (doing business as) and run-ins with consumers and the law.

It's a privately-held company sometimes known as Power Direct, but also known as D.R.D. Inc., R D D Inc. and several other names we have discovered in a search of business databases, public records and corporation filings.

D.R.D. stems from the initials of Daniel R. Delfino, the owner of record of the many different identities of Power Direct. In his biography on the Power Direct web site, Delfino sounds like a man of many great accomplishments:

Dan Delfino brings over 20 years experience in the call center and data/marketing arenas. Multiple Fortune 1000 companies can credit their wealth and prestige to his unique revenue generating strategies. He sampled the telemarketing industry at Dun & Bradstreet where he marketed its list management services and quickly acquired more responsibilities. His progressive success and leadership in developing marketing strategies led him to consulting in the publishing and telecommunications fields. And in 1994 his own company, Power Direct was born. Dan’s ambition and entrepreneurial spirit has never wavered as Power Direct holds its own as a call center powerhouse. He upholds his initial vision of providing clients with turnkey marketing solutions, inbound/outbound telemarketing and database mining solutions. Dan earned his Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration at Baldwin Wallace College. The school also honored him as a 1998 Football Hall of Fame inductee, remembering his contribution to its 1978 Division III National Championship.

Baldwin Wallace College is a private, Methodist-oriented liberal arts school in Berea, Ohio, about 20 minutes outside of Cleveland. Delfino graduated from the school in 1981 and was inducted into the school's "Hall of Fame" in 1998.  It is an athletic hall of fame specific to the school and includes alumni who contribued "in other ways" to the school along with past school officials.  It is not part of the College Football Hall of Fame located in South Bend, Indiana.

Delfino and DRD Inc. were also "honored" on December 14, 2006, by the Federal Trade Commission with fines and injunctions because Delfino and his company violated the "Do Not Call" rules of the commission.  The FTC press release:

The Federal Trade Commission today announced it has entered into court settlements with the final defendants charged with violating the Do Not Call (DNC) provisions of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by calling consumers whose numbers were on the DNC Registry in an attempt to sell them DIRECTV satellite television subscriptions. The orders require the defendants to pay a total of $100,000 in penalties and bar them from future TSR violations.

In December 2005, the Commission charged DIRECTV and other defendants that telemarketed on DIRECTV’s behalf – including those settling today – with violating the DNC Rule and the TSR by calling consumers, despite the fact that their numbers were on the National DNC Registry. In settling the charges, DIRECTV paid $5.3 million, representing the largest-ever DNC penalty obtained by the Commission.

The final court orders announced today settle the Commission’s charges against the following defendants: D.R.D., Inc., also d/b/a Power Direct; Daniel R. Delfino, individually and as an officer of D.R.D.; Global Satellite, LLC., also d/b/a Mavcomm; William King, individually and as an officer of Global Satellite; and Michael Gleason, individually and as an officer of Global Satellite.

The FTC placed Delfino, D.R.D. and Power Direct under a special monitoring program to keep an eye on future telemarketing abuses, noting:

The stipulated final judgments and orders against the D.R.D. and Global Satellite defendants contain both monetary penalties and conduct provisions...Finally, both orders bar the defendants from violating the TSR in the future and contains monitoring and record keeping provisions to ensure their compliance.

Detailed information on a privately-held company is not always easy to get because public disclosure filings are not required. Manta, which tracks small businesses says this about Power Direct:

Power Direct is a private company categorized under Nonclassified Establishments and located in Cleveland, OH. Our records show it was established in 1994* and incorporated in Ohio*. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of unknown and employs a staff of approximately 1 to 4.

Dun & Bradstreet, however, lists Power Direct's "estimated" annual revenue at $17 million and says the company has 577 employees.

While Delfino's background does involve the collection of data and information, it does not match Data Knight 365's claim that:

For the past 15 years, DK3 senior management staff has operated and managed Data Center storage and management facilities, collocation facilities, and private fiber networks providing connectivity services that ensure clients are able to run their businesses with maximum efficientcy and reliabiliy.

Fifteen years is the length of time Delfino's operations have been in business but DK3's connection to the data center business appears to be Don Sabin, a former salesman for Fiber Media in Hollywood, Florida. Fiber Media was founded in 2000.

Complaints about D.R.D., R.D.D. and Power Direct continued to flow into the Better Business Bureau and web sites that monitor telemarketing abuses long after the FTC fined the company and ordered it to stop violating telemarketing laws. The web site 800 Notes cataloged complaints about telemarketing abuses from phone number (216) 453-1979 through June of last year. The number backtraces to Delfino's companies.   Delfino's three call centers in Cleveland use several different numbers and recently changed some because of consumer complaints.

Power Direct's web site uses photos not of the company and its personnel but "stock" photos from an agency that sells the images for generic use. The "news" section of Power Direct's web site lists seven stories about the company from August 2005 to May 2008 but does not link to a single outside source for the "news."  Two of the stories announce the company was on Crain's Ohio Business list of "Leading Edge" for two years but Crain's dropped the company from the list this year with no explanation. Three stories tout the company's listing on the "Weatherhead" list of fastest growing companies in Northeast Ohio.

We checked the Weatherhead list. Power Direct is 92nd. In Northeast Ohio, just about every company that didn't lose money the previous five years makes the list. Companies can apply to make the list. They are not nominated. The key is to be in the top 25.

Click here to read the PDF file of the FTC order against Delfino and D.R.D. Inc.

Data center’s publicly-listed owner is an “Amish entrepreneur” who sells wood, not data services

How did an "Amish entrepreneur" who owns wood products stores in Ohio become the owner of record for Data Knight 365, the mysterious company that announced last week it will build a "world class" data center in Floyd's industrial park.

Good question, but Bill Byler of West Farmington, Ohio, is better known as the co-owner of Amish wood product companies in Middlefield and Cleveland as well as a demolition company.

In November 2007, the Cleveland Plain Dealer profiled Byler, reporting:

Each weekday morning, Bill Byler gets up well before dawn and puts on wool pants, a cotton shirt and a straw hat.

Up to that point, it's a typical routine for any Amish man.

But few Amish ever do what Byler does next. Rather than climb into a buggy and head for the fields, Byler grabs his cell phone, hops into a taxi and rides 45 miles from his home in rural Middlefield to a spot on West 25th Street just south of Lorain Avenue. Like many other commuters, he leaves early to avoid rush-hour traffic.

Byler is an Amish entrepreneur in the city. Along with his father, Wally, and sister, Ellen, he owns and operates a store in Cleveland called Amish Heritage Wood Floors and Furnishings. The store sells the handiwork of 12 area Amish families, everything from hardwood flooring, tables and entertainment centers to honey, pies, artwork and quilts. 

Byler and his father also own Cherokee Hardwoods in Middlefield. The address for that store was the one he used to register the domain name for Data Knight 365 last April. The domain is registered in his name, not the name of the proposed data center company.

Byler is also listed as a partner in Cherokee Demolition of Burton, Ohio.  Cherokee has demolition contracts primarily in the Cleveland area.

These days, Byler is not in the woodworking shops, or blowing things up near Lake Erie, but staying in one of two apartments rented by Data Knight 365 in The Station of South Locust, the mixed use project across the street from the Floyd Country Store. While Byler looks and dresses Amish, those who have met him say using a cell phone isn't the only non-Amish habit he has acquired.

Data Knight 365 didn't exist until April 13, 2009, the day a Cleveland law firm filed articles of incorporation with the Ohio Secretary of State's office. No company officers were listed in that filing. The company's original filing as an LLC (limited liability corporation) was amended on August 7 -- three days ago -- to appoint an agent for LLP (limited liability partners) for the company.

The partners: William W. Byler and Laura Mae Byler of West Farmington, Ohio.

The presence of an Amish woodworking shop owner on Data Knight 365's team is just one other oddity in an operation that is keeping Floyd's rumor mill going and while others shake their heads and wonder what the heck is going on.

"They're an odd bunch, that's for sure," says one local businessman who asked not to be identified. "They sure claim to know a lot about the data center business but the talk is usually a bit short on specifics."

The lack of specifics seems to be a growing problem for the DK3 team. Some who have dealt with the crew cite a growing list of claims that don't check out. One such claim says the group has built 15 data centers worldwide but a search of public records failed to find a single data center either built or maintained by DK3.

We're continuing to look into claims made by the DK3 team. The closer we look, the weirder this whole thing gets.

(Updated on August 10 to include additional information on Byler and DK3's corporate filings.)

Company behind data center has little history and is part of Ohio telemarketing firm...

Data Knight 365 LLC, a new company with so little history that it doesn't even show up in most public database searches, says it will spend millions of dollars and put 20 people to work building a data center in the Floyd County economic park on Christiansburg Pike, joining truck-recycler Dex and Dreaming Creek Timber Frame Homes in the mostly-empty complex.

DK3, as it is known, says on its two-page web site: "Data Knight 365 is a design/builder and operator of world-class data facilities," yet it does not list the location as any such data facilities and an extensive search of public databases does not point to a single facility built or operated by DK365. The company's web site also says:

For the past 15 years, DK3 senior management staff has operated and managed Data Center storage and management facilities, collocation facilities, and private fiber networks providing connectivity services that ensure clients are able to run their businesses with maximum efficientcy and reliabiliy.

This "senior management staff" is not identified nor are the companies they woked for to give them all this experience. The company is also strangely vague in describing just exactly what data its proposed "data center" will be storing. Reports today's Floyd Press:

“DK3 is pleased to announce its growth in the SW Virginia market,” Don Sabin of the company said. “We are very excited to announce our plans to expand into the state of Virginia. We will be constructing several buildings over the course of this project with an investment in excess of $25,000,000, and we will employ a variable workforce that will be in excess of twenty employees during the next twelve to eighteen months.

“The choice in location was easy based upon our business infrastructure needs and after working with the local community, the Economic Development Authority and Floyd County officials it is evident that not only did we want to be in the chosen Floyd County location but we were welcomed. Over the next several years DK3 will invest millions of dollars, but that will pale in comparison to the revenue dollars being generated with the State of Virginia and within the County of Floyd.

“Again, we would like to thank all Local and County officials and the Economic Development Authority in allowing our business to realize its immediate and long term goals.”

Sabin told the Press the company would seek local employees during the construction phase and thereafter. The company employees would be technicians and security personnel. He explained, “It is the kind of facility that requires 24-hour security, and a certain amount of technical support is needed to make sure everything is functioning properly.” Data storage is the function of a data center, he added.

Data Knight 365's web site only went online recently. The domain name was registered in April not by a company with that name but by Bill Byler of Middlefield, Ohio. The street address for the domain registration is listed not to a company called Data Knight 365 but to Cherokee Hardwoods, an Amish wood products firm.

Don Sabin of DataKnight 365 was part of B-Telecom, Inc. (Bti), which the Ohio Secretary of State shut down in March of this year.

DK365 may not have much of a history but its parent company, Power Direct, a telemarketing call center operator, has a checkered past of legal problems and run-ins with the Federal Trade Commission for violating "Do Not Call Registry" rules.

In 2004, the FTC went after DirecTV and several telemarketing firms the company employed for calling people on the "Do Not Call" list. DirecTV in 2005 paid the largest fine in history -- $5.3 million -- for breaking the law.

In 2006, the FTC obtained $100,000 judgments and a permanent injunction against other telemarketers involved with DirecTV, including DRD, Inc. -- a dba (doing business as) name for Power Direct of Cleveland.  The FTC settlement also penalized Daniel R. Delfino, the President and CEO of Power Direct.

Complaints against DRD and Power Direct continue to appear on web sites that deal with telemarketing abuses. Who Called Us and 800 Notes report many annoying calls from phone numbers that trace back to Power Direct.  Those who post on the web sites report receivng multiple calls startng at 7:30 in the morning and running until 10 at night from the company.

Complaints continue to be filed filed with the Better Business Bureau in Cleveland and the FTC in Washington.

All this leaves us wondering if anyone in Floyd County's governmental apparatus bothers to check out those who want to locate here. While DK3 should be welcomed as a new business that will bring a non-polluting company to the county, its ownership by a telemarketing firm with a questionable history has to raise eyebrows. In addition, a brand new company that claims to be "a design/builder and operator of world-class data facilities" does not appear to, as yet, have built or operated its first facility.

The county government has a history of jumping into bed with partners they know little about. The Branwick Center, built by fast-talking Virginia Beach developer Robert Smithwick, loomed as a big potential liability for the county when the deadline approached that would have forced the county to pay for construction of the facility if a tenant could not be found. Dex, a subsidiary of Volvo, stepped in at the last minute only after the county agreed to pick up the company's rent for the first phase of the lease and pay for changes to the building. If Dex does not renew its lease, the county is still on the hook for the cost of the building. Yet Floyd made the deal even though other Smithwick projects failed to deliver on their promises.

As Roanoke Times reporter Tonia Moxley reported on her blog in 2005:

Radford taxpayers, who have seen their city’s budget shrink in recent years, may have to shoulder up to $2.2 million in debt to pay for an empty industrial shell building Branwick built there in 2002.

Blacksburg taxpayers have paid Branwick nearly $70,000 since 2002 to help bring retail businesses to downtown, but officials can’t point to a single business that has opened because of Branwick’s work.

Branwick opened a new shell building in Floyd County in June, but so far does not have an interested tenant or a buyer. If it’s not filled by April 2007, the county will have to buy the $2 million building from Branwick.

Two other NRV projects listed on the company’s Web site portfolio, titled “Snapshots of Success,” do not exist.

A shell building slated for Giles County was proposed in 2002, but never was built because financing fell through - yet it was listed on the company’s Web site until Monday.

A “Blacksburg, Virginia Main Street” project that’s still listed on the site never existed, even on paper.

(UPDATE: Sun., Aug. 9, 2009 - Fellow Floyd County blogger David St. Lawrence uncovered some interesting information about the address in Cleveland, Ohio, used by Power Direct and Data Night 365. In addition, I'm getting a large number of emails and phone calls from residents not only of Floyd County but also from readers around the country who providing information about the companies and those involved in their operation. Some report the folks behind Data Knight 365 have made some incredible claims about who they are and what they have done. We're checking those stories out.)