`Free power' promise generates curiosity

Its developer shows up for Knight Center show many dismiss as a scam
By Richard Thompson -- Ohio Beacon Journal business writer

To its followers, the International Tesla Electric Co. is referred to as Jesus Power & Light, and its controversial point man, Dennis Lee, is the free energy messiah.

But to physicists, electrical engineers and electric industry officials, ITEC is nothing more than a scam, and Lee is a stage magician who has been recycling old tricks for more than 20 years.

Last night, Lee brought his show to the John S. Knight Convention Center in Akron.

There were about 100 people in attendance, a mixed crowd of young and old, skeptics, curiosity seekers and Y2K survivalists.

David Dwigle of Akron, a fan of the late scientist Nikola Tesla, brought his two children to see the show. He said he was excited that his children would be able to see Tesla's inventions and theories at work.

``This guy (Tesla) has more to offer than any other person on the globe since Jesus Christ,'' Dwigle said.

However, Tesla, who died in 1943, obviously wasn't onstage last night with gadgets and motors in the background. It was Lee, using heavy scientific terms as if they were everday language.

Lee, who said his boss is God, was promoting a machine that he says generates free electricity -- a machine that produces more energy than it takes to run it.

Observers say that can't be done. Andy Stromquist of Cuyahoga Falls, who attended last night's show, is one of them.

``It as phony as a $3 bill,'' said Stromquist, a semi-retired engineer who has worked on electric power systems for 45 years. ``I know you can't run a machine at 200 percent efficiency. He didn't make any real attempts at real authenticity.''

Stromquist said Lee didn't allow audience participants to test the machines for themselves. That wasn't good, he said.

``You had to take him at blind faith,'' Stromquist said.

Several times, Lee said he couldn't fully demonstrate a product because the Akron fire marshal wouldn't allow him too. He also spent much of the time giving explanations and asking the audience ``to trust me that it does what it will do.''

He referred audience members to his company's Web site, where they could download videos or buy his products.

To Cindy Broida of Akron, Lee ``was just trying to sell something.'' Broida and two of her friends left the show early to go home and check out the company's Web site to research the product for themselves.

But the free electricity machine hasn't been made yet -- although there were two slides shown of the product in development. It resembled a portable toilet on a trailer on a hitch.

In any event, Ralph DiNicola, a spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp., said the public should be cautious.

``The claims being made by this individual violate the laws of physics,'' DiNicola said. ``The public should be very careful about investing with this individual.''

Lee is trying to get investors and money, rather than tout a new technology, said Robert Park, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland.

``It's all about money, and it has been that way for a number of years,'' said Park, who attended one of Lee's previous shows.

In Lee's offer, before customers can have the opportunity to receive a ``free electricity machine,'' they must give a one-time contribution of $275 to ITEC.

Paul M. Grant, a science fellow at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., said schemes promoting free energy are plentiful. Consumers should be wary, he said.

``If you look closely at the wording of Lee's ad, it's extremely carefully worded,'' Grant said. The ad has words and phrases like ``may,'' ``possibly'' and ``as long as.''

``He's asking you for money and you just get a videotape in return,'' Grant said.

To explain ``free electricity,'' ITEC offers a kit including videos and a book Lee wrote during a two-year prison stint on a civil code registration violation. The kit costs $50.

Yet, those who attend his shows don't see a former inmate, Park said.

``When Dennis Lee represents himself as a scientist and inventor, the audience judges him by a different standard,'' Parks said. ``I compare him to a stage magician. Instead of pulling a rabbit out of his hat, he just assures the audience that the rabbit is there.''

ITEC says its machine uses ``counter rotation'' technology to produce energy.

To Park and other observers, the technology seems to borrow from perpetual motion theories that date back to the 19th century.

``They didn't work back then either,'' Park said.

Then again, Lee and his followers believe there is a conspiracy afoot that has kept the inventive ``breakthroughs'' of Nikola Tesla hidden from the public's view.

Tesla, who was born in Serbia in 1856, was a ``fascinating man,'' Grant said. He invented the Tesla coil, which is widely used in radios and television sets. Tesla, who once worked with Thomas Alva Edison, proved electricity could be delivered over long distances.

But after that, Grant said, Telsa ``went off the deep end.''

He held demonstrations, where he allowed currents of electricity to appear to flow through his entire body, Grant said.