He did have warning. Mayhugh's bill the previous month had been $24,925.47. That one arrived seven weeks after Mayhugh's wife, Shirli, 49, had her pocketbook stolen in New York's Pennsylvania Station. Everything from her wallet was eventually returned—except $500 in cash and her phone company credit card. The Mayhughs informed Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone, which nevertheless continued to allow hundreds of calls a day to be charged to the couple's account. "I think the fault is with the computer," says Mayhugh, but his wife is less complacent. "The consumer will eventually have to pay, and it annoys me," she says. Comments a spokesman for the phone company, which deducts the fraudulent charges from its pretax profits, "People make mistakes, and in this particular case, we made one."
Giant phone bills recently have been turning up around the country. One, in a New York suburb, totaled $109,504.86 and a Florida tab hit $176,983. The phone company doesn't know who is making the calls, although one theory is that computer "hackers" somehow get hold of the numbers and use the purloined telephone time to communicate with each other around the world. So far, however, the Mayhughs' is the biggest reported charge to one family. Says Bill, who hosts a popular late-night jazz show on Washington radio station WMAL, "In 35 years in the business, I've never gotten this much attention. I love it."
There's one part he isn't wild about. Although the Mayhughs won't be responsible for calls they didn't make, the phone company wants them to sift through the bill and pick out the charges that are theirs. The Mayhughs are balking. Says Bill, "I invited the phone company to send someone over for a month to help out."
It came in a foot-and-a-half-long cardboard box. It was 2,199 pages long and weighed 8 pounds. It detailed more than 15,000 calls to a dozen states and 47 foreign countries. Most importantly, it totaled $194,656.79. Understates Bill Mayhugh, 56, a Washington, D.C. radio host, of his latest phone bill, "It blew my mind."