Whistleblower Accountant Seeks $2.5 Million in Suit Against Duke Power

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An accountant with Duke Power Co. — a major utility in North and South Carolina — claims in a federal suit that he was harassed in a five-hour interrogation and was forced to take an unwanted job change.

Barron Stone said these events occurred after he reported questionable accounting practices to South Carolina regulators and Duke's ethics hotline in 2001, which led to Duke paying $25 million to both states after admitting to underreporting of profits by $124 million from 1998 to 2000.

In a suit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, Stone seeks the $2.5 million settlement he claims the company offered him late last year and then later reneged. He seeks a jury trial to find out whether he was harassed, demoted and done out of the settlement.

Stone has already been shot down by the U.S. Department of Labor, which rejected his petition in March, stating his case was without sufficient evidence of retaliation or that the company's actions predated the federal whistleblower protections that became effective last year. Duke has stated that it agrees with the Labor Department's findings, but Stone disagreed and is taking his case to federal court.

"(Duke has) tried to make it tough for me," said Stone, who still works at the utility's Charlotte-based parent, Duke Energy Corp. "I have to extend a strong will, and I'm going to be here. We're not going away."

A federal grand jury is probing Duke Power's accounting practices and the company has denied any intentional wrongdoing. The company said that an accounting firm it hired found fault with the independent auditor's report, but admitted to improperly explaining important changes to its accounting practices.

Stone claims he was harassed during a five-and-a-half hour "interrogation" by Duke attorneys without a break and that he was moved from a job in the forecasting department — with access to classified information and his own office — to a lesser position in a cubicle.

Stone further accused Duke abandoning a $2.5 million settlement, which the suit states was reached in late 2002 and required Stone to stop talking to the media. Duke denies that there was a $2.5 million offer.

"There was nothing to pull out of," Duke spokesman Tom Williams said Wednesday. "Nothing existed."

Williams said Stone's transfer was a move to a comparable position and that it was part of a restructuring that resulted in 13 people being moved.

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