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[GreenYes] Touted disposable cell all promise, no delivery
Why does any one need a disposable cell phone?  How many toxins are in that?
-Stephanie
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No clear connection for phone company
Touted disposable cell all promise, no delivery

Todd Wallack, Chronicle Staff Writer          Sunday, February 10, 2002
 
If you listen to the media buzz, Hop-On.Com Chief Executive Officer Peter
Michaels could be close to launching one of the hottest gadgets around: a
cell phone so cheap you can toss it away when you are done.

In December, Time magazine dubbed Michaels' $30 disposable phone one of the
best inventions in 2001. A Washington Post business columnist raved about
Hop- On's "exceptionally clear" reception last month. And BusinessWeek
mentioned Hop-On in three separate issues in November and December.

Michaels, 37, says the phone, about the size of a deck of cards, would be
perfect for parents to give to their children or to keep in a car glove box
for emergencies. 

The stripped-down phones, initially designed to make only outgoing calls,
would come with 60 minutes of air time.

But despite promising in a news release to deliver the phones to stores by
October, Michaels has yet to deliver. The company also missed its revised
launch dates in November and December.

A closer look at the publicly traded Garden Grove, Calif., company indicates
it might be as thin as the plastic phone itself.

Hop-On is officially registered as a Las Vegas corporation that focused on
online gambling under its prior name, NWDP.com. It also is intertwined with
a defunct online betting firm, also run by Michaels, called World Wide Web
Casinos. That Orange County company was raided by California regulators two
years ago for allegedly fleecing hundreds of investors out of as much as $20
million. 

A separate shareholder lawsuit filed against WWW Casinos accused Michaels of
siphoning off funds to pay for at least five cars, a $125,000 racing boat
and gambling trips in Nevada. The suit was settled out of court two years
ago. 

In addition to Hop-On, three small rivals have been touting the disposable
cell phone concept. But none of those companies -- or Hop-On -- has received
approval from the Federal Communications Commission to ship the devices.

Many analysts are skeptical about whether disposable cell phones are
economically viable.

"It is probably vaporware at this point," said Giga Information Group
wireless analyst Ken Smiley.

One of the firms, San Francisco's Telespree, which wowed reporters last year
with a prototype of a one-button, voice-activated phone, now says it has no
plans to develop the device. Instead, the company will focus on wireless
software, said Gail Redmond, marketing vice president.

The other two firms promoting the device are small and have little track
record. 

One, New Horizons Technologies International of Orlando, employs 25 people
and doesn't have a Web site. It didn't garner any media attention until it
showed off a disposable phone prototype at a Las Vegas trade show last
month. 

"We have tried to stay totally below the radar screen before we were ready
to launch," said Stephen Romeo, the company's marketing director.

Romeo said New Horizons plans to offer a $40 plastic phone in March through
a network of resellers and Duane Reade Pharmacies in New York. He wasn't
sure when the product would be available in the Bay Area.

Another firm, Dieceland Technologies in New Jersey, is still searching for
office space and has even fewer workers on the payroll. Company founder
Randi Altschul, a toy inventor in Cliffside Park, N.J., said she wasn't sure
when or where the phone would premiere. Dieceland signed a distribution deal
with GE Capital Communications Services last year, but GE spokesman Eric
Jones said the company hasn't decided when or if it will actually ship the
phones. "We have not finalized our plans," Jones said.

Analysts note that major telecom players like Nokia and Motorola have shied
away from the market so far, apparently because they don't regard it as a
viable or lucrative business.

"I don't see it as a very large market," said Scott Ellison of International
Data Corp. "If there is any kind of market, it is less in retail and more in
promotional opportunities, like giving away free long-distance calling
cards." 

But ever since someone labeled the super-low-cost phones "disposable" more
than two years ago, the concept has caught fire in the media.

No company has received as much attention as Hop-On in recent months.

In the fall, Hop-On struck a deal with Universal Studios to give away
several thousand pinkish phones in May branded with Jurassic Park's logo.
(The company already sent working prototypes to The Chronicle and other
publications.) And Wakefern Food Corp. of Elizabeth, N.J., agreed to sell up
to 50,000 phones through its ShopRite Supermarkets in the Northeast.

Hop-On's stock soared last year from as little as 2 cents per share to $1.
50 after the deals were announced before falling to 42 cents Friday in over-
the-counter trading.

But even with those accomplishments, it's unclear when Hop-On phones will be
available in stores. Hop-On hasn't shipped the phones to Wakefern yet, and
Wakefern spokeswoman Karen Meleta said last week she wasn't sure when the
phones would be available.

The company issued press releases last year promising the phone would
premiere first in September or October, then November or December. But the
company missed those launch dates.

Hop-On Vice President Dan Demo said the company has reached an agreement
with Cingular Wireless of Atlanta to use its network.

But Cingular executive Michelle Mindala said: "We are in discussions with a
number of disposable phone vendors; however, we have not signed an agreement
with anyone." 

Hop-On has also suffered from some executive turnover.

In October, the company issued a press release saying it hired accountant
Allen N. Kimble as its chief financial officer. Two months later, Kimble
left the company, according to a Hop-On receptionist. The company did not
publicly announce his departure and declined to say if it has hired a
replacement. 

Another former executive and board member, Kenneth R. Toll of Beverly Hills,

complained to the state labor commissionert March that he was paid only
sporadically from 1997 until he resigned as vice president of software
development in November 2000. After Hop-On failed to show up at a hearing
last June, the state ordered the company to pay Toll $168,103 in back wages
and penalties. 

Hop-On has two board members, according to the company's most recent filing
with the state of Nevada. One is Michaels. The other is his mother, Carol
Michaels, who also served as a secretary and treasurer for WWW Casinos.
Carol Michaels did not return a phone message left with the company last
week. 

Though Peter Michaels spoke to The Chronicle on two occasions, he did not
respond to repeated phone calls and e-mails during the past two weeks after
The Chronicle discovered additional information about his companies. David
Pasquale, a Hop-On spokesman who works for a New York public relations firm,
also declined to comment on the findings. He said Michaels was busy raising
money for the company and signing deals with partners. "He's been on the
road, " Pasquale said. "He's running the company."

Michaels also has been aggressively promoting Hop-On to other reporters. He
told a publication called the Wireless Reporter in August that the company
would reach $500 million in sales in the next year. "Even that prediction,
he thinks, is conservative," the online publication said.

And Michaels told the Newhouse News Service in August that the company would
ship 30 million phones this year, making it one of the world's largest cell
phone manufacturers. Experts said there's little hard data to support his
claim. 

Though Hop-On is publicly traded, it doesn't file financial statements with
the Securities and Exchange Commission or publish quarterly earnings
statements. The company told the SEC it need not file under Regulation D, an
exemption for small businesses that have raised little public capital.

"That is the first red flag," said Bob Davis, a securities analyst who runs
a Web site that tries to identify fraudulent companies
(www.securitiessleuth.com).

"Here is a company that is going to do great things and have $500 million in
sales, and they haven't put the effort into getting an initial filing with
the SEC." 

And a cloud remains over WWW Casinos, which Michaels described as Hop-On's
predecessor company.

In 1996, the state ordered WWW Casinos to stop selling stock in California
until it properly registered the securities. Two years ago, state
investigators, cooperating with local law enforcement authorities, seized
six computers and 50 boxes of records from the company to probe whether it
swindled millions of dollars from investors, said Andre Pineda, assistant
commissioner for the state Department of Corporations, which helps regulate
stock sales in California.

Prosecutors haven't filed any charges, but investigators say the case
remains active. "Because of the nature and complexity of the investigation,
it is still being worked through," Pineda said.

Separately, a 1997 shareholder lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court
against WWW Casinos accused Michaels of squandering money on everything from
an opulent office to buying a worthless potato chip company and diverting
funds to a complex web of other corporations he controlled.

The suit also detailed some unusual business practices. The board of
directors never held any meetings. The president of the company, Peter
Demos, complained in sworn testimony that he wasn't able to see detailed
financial statements. And the financial records were so disorganized that
accountants couldn't complete an audit, the suit said.

But Michaels' attorney points out that the court never ruled on whether the
claims were true because the case was settled.

"They are unproved allegations," said Marcello M. Di Mauro, Michaels'
lawyer, who is based in Glendale, near Los Angeles. As part of the 1999
settlement, WWW Casinos agreed to pay the shareholders' legal tab and
exchange their shares for stock in Hop-On. Michaels described the lawsuit as
a nuisance suit. 

At least one stock watcher, however, said Hop-On has all the hallmarks of a
penny stock investors should avoid.

"The whole thing smells," said Davis, the financial analyst. "It is totally
irrelevant that it has been mentioned in Time magazine."


E-mail Todd Wallack at twallack(at)sfchronicle.com.

©2002 San Francisco Chronicle   Page G - 1
--------------------------------------------------------------
              Stephanie C. Davis
       WASTE REDUCTION REMEDIESSM
                510/527-8864
  ScD18@WasteReductionRemedies.com

On Tuesdays, Wednesday, Thursdays I can regularly be found at :

      Sutter Delta Medical Center
Quality Management / Infection Control
3901 Lone Tree Way,  Antioch, CA 94509
           DavisSt@sutterhealth.org
phone:      925-756-1118      fax:     925-779-3044

 Where I am the Infection Control Coordinator,
         work which is separate from WRR
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 "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as much as you please."
 Mark Twain, 1835-1910
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