The retail electric market has drawn scores of operators with little experience in the energy business—but lots of history running afoul of regulators. A sampling:
Dallas-based electricity and natural gas provider operating as a multilevel-marketing company, in which salespeople make money from signing up other salespeople.
Of note: Cofounder Jere Thompson Jr. also helped start CapRock Communications, which partnered with an Enron telecom subsidiary to build a Southwestern fiber-optic network. CapRock settled a securities fraud class action suit in 2003 for $11 million.
Legal trouble: Accumulated $57,500 in Texas fines between 2010 and 2012 for violating customer protection rules.
Just Energy Group
Publicly traded company whose affiliates include Hudson Energy, Commerce Energy, Momentis, Amigo Energy, and Tara Energy.
of note: Has more than 4 million customers.
Legal trouble: Fined $200,000 by New York attorney general in 2008 for deceiving customers; predecessor US Energy Savings paid $1 million for misleading consumers in Illinois in 2009; Just Energy Group sued by salespeople for affiliate Commerce Energy in Ohio in 2012 for failing to pay wages and overtime (case is ongoing).
North Carolina-based MLM company that sells everything from phone service to home security.
Of note: Donald Trump has featured ACN on The Celebrity Apprentice.
Legal trouble: $45,000 Pennsylvania fine over "slamming" allegations in its electricity business in 2002; accused of being a pyramid scheme by state of Montana in 2010 (case settled after a state investigation laid the blame with rogue contractors).
New Jersey-based shop originally part of a telecom company.
Of note: As a New York City council member, future Mayor Bill de Blasio raged against IDT, warning of its door-to-door marketing scams and pledging to "drive [it] out of New York." Advisory board members of parent company Genie Energy have included Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch.
Legal trouble: Fined $39,000 in Pennsylvania in October 2013 for abuses including slamming.
Great American Power
Georgia-based company founded as part of a telemarketing outfit.
Of note: Once called a single prospect 14 times in 26 days.
Legal trouble: Fined $10,000 in Pennsylvania in 2013 for harassing said prospect.
Energy Plus Holdings
Philadelphia-based company founded by former credit card executives, including Richard Vague, chairman of the Philly Fringe Festival.
Of note: Offers frequent-flier miles, Amtrak discounts, and other rewards to sign up.
Legal trouble: $14 million class action settlement in February 2013 over allegations that Energy Plus promised consumers big savings, only to deliver rates (two or three times) higher than those of local utilities.