|A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES $90 MILLION MULTI-STATE SETTLEMENT WITH T-MOBILE OVER PRACTICE KNOWN AS ‘CRAMMING’
Settlement Requires T-Mobile To Reform Business Practices, Provide Consumer Relief, And Make $500,000 Payment To New York State
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a $90 million multi-state settlement with T-Mobile to resolve charges that the company engaged in cramming. Cramming is a practice where cell phone providers place unauthorized third-party charges on consumers’ bills. One common cramming charge is a $9.99-per-month premium text messaging subscription service (also known as PSMS) for horoscopes, trivia, sports scores or other information that consumers often never requested.
“Today’s settlement makes it clear that nobody is above the law, including large multinational corporations, and will provide relief to consumers across New York State,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “When customers are billed for services they did not request, it picks the pockets of hard-working New Yorkers.”
The Attorneys General and federal regulators allege that cramming occurred when T-Mobile placed charges from third-parties on consumers’ mobile telephone bills without the consumers’ knowledge or consent. T-Mobile is the second mobile telephone provider to enter into a nationwide settlement to resolve allegations regarding cramming; Attorney General Schneiderman announced a similar, $105 million settlement with AT&T in October of this year. T-Mobile and AT&T were among the four major mobile carriers—in addition to Verizon and Sprint—that announced they would cease billing customers for commercial PSMS in the fall of 2013.
The settlement agreement requires the following:
- T-Mobile must only bill for third-party charges that have been authorized by consumers, improve how third-party charges appear on consumers’ mobile phone bills, better enable consumers to block the placement of third-party charges on their bills, and make it easier for consumers who are crammed to get relief;
- T-Mobile must provide full refunds to consumers charged for unauthorized PSMS charges paid after January 1, 2010, either in the form of a payment or as forgiveness of a debt, amounting no less than $67.5 million – it is estimated that nearly 700,000 New Yorkers are eligible for a refund;
- T-Mobile must pay the individual states a total of $18 million, including $515,673.54 to the State of New York; and
- T-Mobile must pay $4.5 million to the United States Treasury on behalf of the Federal Communications Commission.
Consumers can submit claims under the Program by visiting http://www.t-mobilerefund.com. On that website, consumers can submit a claim, find information about refund eligibility and how to obtain a refund, and request a free account summary that details PSMS purchases on their accounts. Consumers who have questions about the Program can visit the Program website or call the Refund Administrator at (855) 382-6403.
The settlement also requires T-Mobile to stay out of the commercial PSMS business—the platform to which law enforcement agencies attribute the lion’s share of the mobile cramming problem. T-Mobile must also take a number of steps designed to ensure that it only bills consumers for third-party charges that have been authorized, including the following:
- Obtain consumers’ express consent before billing consumers for third-party charges, and ensure that consumers are only charged for services if they have been informed of all material terms and conditions of their payment;
- Present third-party charges in a dedicated section of a consumer’s mobile phone bill so as to distinguish them from T-Mobile’s charges and include in that same section information about the consumer’s ability to block such charges;
- Inform consumers when they sign up for services that their mobile phone can be used to pay for third-party charges, and inform consumers how those third-party charges can be blocked if they don’t want to use their phone as a payment method for third-party products; and
- Give consumers an opportunity to obtain a full refund or credit when they are billed for unauthorized third-party charges.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Office partnered with the other 49 states attorneys general, the District of Columbia, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission on the case.
This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Kate Matuschak of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau. The Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Jane Azia. The Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau is part of the Division of Economic Justice led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Karla Sanchez.
A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN INVESTIGATION REVEALS MAJOR RETAILERS ILLEGALLY SELLING PROHIBITED TOY GUNS Cease And Desist Letters Sent To Wal-Mart, Amazon, K-Mart And Other Retailers To Halt Sale Of Toy Guns Lacking Distinguishing Designs
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office sent cease and desist letters to several major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Amazon, K-Mart, and others for allegedly selling prohibited toy guns online to residents of New York State, and, in at least one case, in a K-Mart store in suburban Rochester. The letters, stemming from an ongoing investigation, call for retailers to immediately stop the in-store and online sale and shipment to New Yorkers of toy guns that violate New York State law pending the resolution of Attorney General Schneiderman’s investigation.
“When toy guns are mistaken for real guns, there can be tragic consequences,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “New York State law is clear: retailers cannot put children and law enforcement at risk by selling toy guns that are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.”
The Attorney General’s investigation is focusing on ensuring compliance with state law to prevent the purchase of prohibited toy guns both in stores and online. State law prohibits the sale of imitation guns in realistic colors such as black, blue, silver, or aluminum, unless it has a non-removable one-inch-wide orange stripe running down both sides of the barrel and the front end of the barrel.
One of the retailers sent a cease and desist letter, Wal-Mart, was the subject of an earlier investigation by the Attorney General’s office into in-store sales of such toys, which resulted in a court order prohibiting them from selling toy guns in New York State. It now appears that those sales have moved to the online marketplace. This new investigation reveals that many prohibited toy guns, priced from less than $10 to as much as several hundred dollars, can be easily purchased online and shipped into the state. The recent investigation also uncovered that at least one retailer is selling illegal toy guns in its stores.
Some of the toy guns discovered during the investigation are advertised as “realistic looking” and “full size.” Since they lack the orange striping down both sides of the barrel as required under state law, these imitation assault rifles, shotguns, and pistols closely resemble dangerous weapons, and could be easily mistaken for real weapons by law enforcement and civilians alike.
The Attorney General sent cease and desist letters to the following online retailers for selling illegal toy guns:
Since 1997, at least four individuals have been killed in New York State, and one child was seriously wounded, when law enforcement officers mistook toy guns for real guns. To report the sale of illegal toy guns, consumers are encouraged to contact Attorney General Schneiderman’s consumer help line at (800) 771-7755.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Bruce in the Rochester Regional Office, which is headed by Assistant Attorney General in Charge Debra Martin and is part of the Division of Regional Affairs, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Marty Mack.
A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES GUILTY PLEAS AND JAIL TERMS IN LARGEST COCKFIGHTING BUST IN NYS HISTORY
“Operation Angry Birds” Takedown Spanned Three NYS Counties And Has Resulted In Nine Convictions
Schneiderman: Cockfighting Is A Brutal Form Of Animal Cruelty; Is Linked To Other Crimes
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the felony convictions of two Ulster County men charged as part of the three-county takedown, “Operation Angry Birds,” which resulted in the dismantling of the largest known cockfighting ring in New York history, reaching from Ulster County to Brooklyn and Queens, and one of the biggest in the country. Farm owner Moises Cruz, 71, and farm manager Manuel Cruz, 60, pleaded guilty to the top count felony of violating New York Agriculture and Markets Law, Prohibition of Animal Fighting. The men are among nine defendants who have pleaded guilty in the case. Upon the request of the Attorney General’s office, the guilty pleas include a ban upon the two defendants from owning animals in the future. The men face up to nine months in jail when they are sentenced by Ulster County Court Judge Donald A. Williams on February 26, 2015.
“Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive and barbaric practice. It tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of our communities and is known to facilitate other crimes,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “We are holding accountable those who raised animals for illegal sport, operated illegal gambling venues and trafficked fighting animals to New York City. My office, along with our partners in law enforcement and animal welfare, are committed to ending this vicious blood sport in New York.”
The two men were arrested in February when Attorney General investigators, officers from the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, the State Police and other local law enforcement, raided a 90-acre farm at 230 Plattekill Ardonia Road, in Plattekill, operated by the men. Manuel Cruz and his nephew, Jesus Cruz Mendez, 37, were two of approximately 70 arrests made in the three counties in two days. Moises Cruz was later apprehended in Florida.
Hours before the Upstate arrests, dozens of people were initially detained after a raid at a Queens cockfighting event. Seven of them were charged with felony Prohibition of Animal Fighting. They pleaded guilty in April.
Elisandy Gonzalez, 45, of Brooklyn
Orlando Bautista, 52, of Queens
Noel Castillo, 67, of Brooklyn
Edward Medina, 42, of the Bronx
Francisco Suriel, 45, of Brooklyn
Jeremias Nieves, 75, of Brooklyn
Samuel Rodriguez, 46, of Bay Shore, New York
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® recovered almost 4,000 birds at the farm, which was previously registered as a commercial farm under the name CMC Plattikil, Inc., but had then been unregistered since 2010. The farm had operated under the guise of a live poultry farm and its owners hid thousands of makeshift cages within the center of the property to avoid detection by neighbors and law enforcement. Significantly, well over half of all the chickens seized were roosters, a statistic which is completely inconsistent with the operation of a legal poultry farm. Roosters and chickens were found to be boarded in deplorable conditions. The owner charged rent to board, feed, and care for roosters that were bred and trained for fighting, with blood sport enthusiasts and rooster owners from NYC, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts boarding, training and sometimes fighting their roosters there. For years, roosters bred and trained at this farm were transported to cockfighting events throughout the region and specifically to the event raided on February 8 in Queens County. The investigation revealed that roosters were also transported to the Brooklyn pet shop that was raided as well.
The Attorney General’s OCTF unit was assisted with the investigation by the ASPCA®, which offered its expertise in evidence collection as well as removal and sheltering of the seized animals, the Ulster County Sheriff’s office, which provided physical surveillance, and the Department of Homeland Security (HSI), which provided local aerial surveillance. The New York State Police also assisted with the raids.
Arrests in the case came as investigators raided the cockfighting event at 74-26 Jamaica Avenue in Queens on February 8. While the 70-person event, including bettors and spectators, was busted up, six individuals who had brought and fought birds were charged. The others were released. The ASPCA took control of 65 fighting birds. The ring had been operating bimonthly events there since at least May 2013, when OCTF first began monitoring cockfighting at this location. At the same time, OCTF investigators executed a search warrant upon Pet NV, a pet shop owned by Jeremias Nieves, located at 71 Central Avenue in Brooklyn. Dozens of fighting birds were removed from a basement beneath the pet shop. The roosters, found in poor condition, had been kept inside individual metal cages and exhibited all the physical hallmarks of having been bred, trained, and altered for fighting.
Cockfighting contraband and implements were found within the basement, including artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape, syringes used to inject performance-enhancing drugs to strengthen the roosters’ fighting ability and other cockfighting implements and paraphernalia. The farm was raided the following morning. The two Cruzes were arrested and the roosters were seized. These roosters were bred, trained, plied with performance-enhancing drugs, had razor-sharp gaffs attached in place of their natural spurs and were locked in a small pen to be wagered upon. The ASPCA®’s Field Investigations and Response team was on hand to remove the animals, and identify and document forensic evidence.
Cockfighting is a crime in all 50 states. In New York, cockfighting and possession of a fighting bird at a cockfighting location are felonies. In May 2013, the Attorney General announced his Animal Protection Initiative, which included the goal of shutting down underground animal fighting rings across the state. New Yorkers seeking to give anonymous tips about potential animal fighting rings or report animal abuse should call 1-866-697-3444 and alert their local authorities. For more information on Attorney General Schneiderman’s Animal Protection Initiative, visit www.ag.ny.gov/animals.
The Attorney General thanks the ASPCA®, the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, the New York State Police and HSI.
This case was investigated by OCTF Senior Investigator Jose Rojas, with Deputy Chief Christopher Vasta and Chief Dominick Zarrella. The case was prosecuted by OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorney General Diego Hernandez and OCTF Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff. The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice is Kelly Donovan.
STATEMENT BY A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN IN OBSERVANCE OF HANUKKAHNEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today released the following statement in observance of Hanukkah.
“My warmest wishes for a healthy and happy Hanukkah to all those celebrating. This holiday is not only honors resistance to oppression, but also celebrates the place of miracles in our lives. While we will reflect on that spirit over the next eight nights, I hope that all New Yorkers will carry that courage and light throughout this holiday season and year round. Chag Sameach.”
STATEMENT BY A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON NYS BOARD OF REGENTS’ ADOPTION OF EMERGENCY REGULATIONS GOVERNING SCHOOL ENROLLMENT.
New Rules Adopted As AG’s Office Continues To Work With NYS Department of Education To Address Concerns Related To Unaccompanied Minors And Undocumented Youth
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today released the following statement supporting the New York State Board of Regents’ approval of an amendment to the New York State Education Commissioner’s Regulation. The revised regulation will help ensure equal educational opportunity for all students seeking to enroll in New York State schools regardless of immigration status.
Attorney General Schneiderman said, “Schoolhouse doors must be open to every student in our increasingly diverse state, regardless of their immigration status—and there is simply no excuse for denying children that basic, constitutionally protected right. The Board of Regents’ emergency regulation will help eliminate significant barriers faced by unaccompanied minors across the state.”
The Board of Regents today adopted a revised version of New York State Education Commissioner’s Regulation 100.2(y). The adoption of the regulation marks a significant development as the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau and the New York State Education Department continue their joint review into enrollment policies and procedures of school districts across New York State. More information about the joint review is available here.
The emergency regulation was adopted to help bring greater clarity and uniformity to districts across the state with respect to their enrollment and registration processes. Materials presented to the Board of Regents providing a basis for the amended regulation note: “some school districts are refusing to enroll unaccompanied minors and undocumented youths if they, or their families or guardians, are unable to produce documents sufficiently demonstrating guardianship and/or residency in a district. Such enrollment policies, as well as highly restrictive requirements for proof of residency, may impede or prevent unaccompanied minors and undocumented youths from enrolling or attempting to enroll in school districts throughout the State.” The amended regulation expressly prohibits school districts, at the time of or as a condition of enrollment, from inquiring about the citizenship or immigration status of students, or their parents or guardians. The regulation sets forth non-exhaustive lists of permissible documentation—including acceptable proof of residency, age, and guardianship documents—that districts may use to determine a student’s age and residency. The rule requires that such lists be disclosed to the public in the school district’s enrollment materials.
A copy of the emergency regulation can be found here.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Justin Deabler, Ajay Saini, Diane Lucas, Anjana Samant, Dariely Rodriguez, and Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Bureau. Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.
The Attorney General’s Office is committed to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity. To file a complaint, contact the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ag.ny.gov.
A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN SUES PAPA JOHN’S FRANCHISEE FOR UNDERPAYING EMPLOYEES AT SIX LOCATIONS
Lawsuit Alleges That Papa John’s Franchisee Emstar Pizza Inc. And Owners Emmanuel Onuaguluchi And Uchenna Onuaguluchi Shaved Hours From Workers’ Pay And Failed To Pay Proper Overtime To Hundreds Of Workers
Attorney General Obtains Temporary Restraining Order To Prevent Dissipation Of Assets
Schneiderman: We Will Continue To Vigorously Enforce New York Labor Law In The Fast Food Industry
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman yesterday filed a lawsuit in Brooklyn County Supreme Court against Papa John’s pizza franchisee Emstar Pizza Inc. and its owners, Emmanuel Onuaguluchi and Uchenna Onuaguluchi, alleging that they significantly underpaid employees in violation of State Labor Law. According to the complaint, the violations include shaving workers’ pay by under-reporting hours and rounding down fractions of hours and compensating them nothing for this work, as well as nonpayment of overtime premiums. The lawsuit seeks to require that Emstar Pizza, Inc., Emmanuel Onuaguluchi and Uchenna Onuaguluchi pay restitution and damages to hundreds of employees who have worked for Emstar and its owners over the past six years. The lawsuit also seeks to halt any ongoing illegal business practices that are ongoing. In addition, the lawsuit seeks an accounting of damages, because flaws and inaccuracies in the company’s records prevented a swift and accurate restitution calculation. Yesterday afternoon, the Court granted a temporary restraining order in order to prevent dissipation of the employer’s assets.
“Like every other business in New York, fast food employers must follow the law,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Employers must pay for all hours worked – without shaving hours and without rounding down. And when people work long weeks, they are entitled by law to get overtime pay. My office will combat wage theft whenever and wherever we see it in order to protect the rights of hardworking New Yorkers, including workers who labor at fast-food restaurants.”
The lawsuit stems from an investigation by the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau into Emstar’s pay practices, supplemented by information provided by the United States Department of Labor, which is also conducting an investigation. Some of the affected employees were underpaid by hundreds of dollars in a given pay period. As alleged in court papers, the evidence gathered over the course of the Attorney General’s investigation, including Mr. Onuaguluchi’s testimony and the company’s time and payroll records, showed that the company:
- Brazenly shaved work hours during most pay periods and did not compensate employees anything for this work (usually in an attempt to get employees’ biweekly hours below 80). Sometimes as many as 18 hours were shaved from an employee’s reported work hours in a given pay period;
- Routinely rounded down employees’ hours worked to the nearest whole hour increment, and regularly failed to pay any wages at all for fractions of hours worked.
- Regularly failed to pay proper overtime by giving certain overtime eligible employees managerial-sounding titles such as “head drivers” and “assistant managers,” in an effort to avoid the overtime requirement;
- Regularly failed to pay proper overtime by calculating overtime – in the rare instances when overtime was paid – based on employees working over 80 hours in a two-week period (instead of after forty hours in one week), thereby underpaying employees who worked over forty hours in one week and fewer than 40 hours in the next;
- Never paid employees “spread of hours” pay, an additional hour of pay required by the Labor Law for shifts in which the interval between the start and end time was longer than 10 hours;
- Failed to pay employees “uniform maintenance allowance,” required under the Labor Law when employers require employees to wear uniforms at work, and failed to provide laundry services or sufficient numbers of uniforms.
- Failed to keep accurate payroll records. The company’s documents listed certain hours worked under obviously fictitious or placeholder names, like “Training Driver,” “Emstar3 Joe,” “Emstar Emergency,” “Emstar Pizza,” and “jjjj kill.”
The lawsuit notes that the majority of evidence in the case arises from the employer’s own admissions and documents. The lawsuit also alleges that in addition to the corporation, Mr. and Ms. Onuaguluchi are individually liable for damages owed to employees, because they were the employer. The Attorney General is also seeking injunctive relief, in order to ensure labor law compliance going forward, and obtained a temporary restraining order in order to preserve the company’s assets for restitution purposes in light of recent store closures and imminent sale of its remaining, open store.
The Attorney General thanks the United States Department of Labor for its cooperation on this matter.
The lawsuit is the second to come out of ongoing investigations of numerous fast food employers by the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau for labor law violations. In October, the Attorney General sued another Papa John’s franchisee, New Majority Holdings LLC, and its owner. That case is ongoing.
The Attorney General has also reached several settlements with fast-food franchises. In March 2013, the Attorney General secured a settlement with six Domino’s Pizza franchises, which collectively owned 23 restaurants throughout the state, for unpaid minimum wages, overtime, and vehicle expense reimbursements for delivery drivers. In a separate matter in March 2013, the Attorney General secured a settlement of almost $500,000 for mostly minimum-wage employees of New York City-based McDonald’s franchises operated by the Cisneros Group and its owner Richard Cisneros. In December 2013, the Attorney General obtained reinstatement for 25 workers at a Domino’s pizza franchise located in Washington Heights, in New York City. In June 2014, the Attorney General obtained $10,000 in restitution for an employee unlawfully discharged after reporting a gas leak at a McDonald’s franchise located in Lyons, in upstate New York.
Emstar’s Papa John’s pizza restaurants have been located at:
- 11702 Atlantic Avenue, Richmond Hill, New York 11419;
- 2838 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11207;
- 63110 Woodhaven Boulevard, Rego Park, New York 11374;
- 3114 Farrington Street, Flushing, New York 11354;
- 1011 Broadway, Brooklyn, New York 11221; and
- 9431 Rockaway Boulevard, Ozone Park, New York 11417
The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Kevin Lynch and Section Chief Andrew Elmore in the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau, which is led by Bureau Chief Terri Gerstein. The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.
A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN AND NYC DEP COMMISSIONER LLOYD ANNOUNCE AGREEMENT WITH LANDOWNER TO CLEAN UP ILLEGAL LANDFILL THAT POLLUTED NYC DRINKING WATER RESERVOIRLandowner Will Clean Up Site, Pay $245,000 In Penalties And Water Quality Improvements For Discharging Carcinogens, Lead, And Other Toxins Into Croton Falls Reservoir
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Emily Lloyd today announced a legal agreement with a Putnam County landowner to clean up an illegal landfill that discharged pollution into the Croton Falls Reservoir – a New York City drinking water reservoir that has historically provided 10 percent of the daily water supply for New York City. The agreement requires the landowner, Gary Prato, to clean up the site and pay $245,000 in penalties. The agreement was reached in a consent judgment entered into by the state, city, and Prato and was signed by Putnam County Supreme Court Justice Victor G. Grossman. This agreement follows a July 2014 legal victory by Attorney General Schneiderman and the City of New York that ruled that Prato and his contractor, Anthony “Dirtman” Adinolfi, violated several state environmental laws in creating and operating the landfill on Prato’s estate on the shores of the Croton Falls Reservoir. Water from the Croton Falls Reservoir has not been used in New York City for several years, while a filtration plant has been under construction in the Bronx.
“Today’s agreement makes it clear that clean, healthy drinking water is a basic right for all New Yorkers,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Nobody is above the law, including illegal polluters who would put a drinking water reservoir for over 1 million New Yorkers at risk.”
“I would like to thank Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter for pursuing this case and securing a settlement that addresses the illegal landfill,” said DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd. “Although illegal dumping and regulatory violations are relatively rare in the watersheds that surround New York City’s reservoirs, it is important that we remain vigilant about identifying and pursuing cases like this one in order to protect the drinking water supply that 9.4 million New Yorkers depend on every day.”
Pollutants at the illegal landfill site included known carcinogens, lead, and other toxins. In the consent judgment, Prato makes a number of legal commitments, including:
- The complete investigation and cleanup of the site, including areas of the Croton Falls Reservoir impacted by the pollutant discharge from the site, according to a detailed and expeditious schedule; and
- Payment of $245,000, including a $225,000 civil penalty to the State and $20,000 to the City.
In 2009, Prato decided to add a pool house and garage to his 27-acre estate on Croton Falls Road in the Town of Carmel in Putnam County. Prato arranged with Adinolfi and his company, Dirtman Enterprises, Inc., to provide material necessary to fill in and grade steeply sloped areas as part of the project. For most of 2010, Adinolfi dumped more than 40,000 cubic yards of fill on the site under Prato’s direction. Adinolfi provided the fill at no cost and did the grading for free.
The fill dumped at the site consisted of construction and demolition debris containing waste materials, including coal ash and slag. Sampling of the debris by the defendants’ own consultants showed that it contained a variety of likely carcinogens called “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons” at levels exceeding State standards for protecting public health and the environment. Some of the fill material eroded and was discharged into the Croton Falls Reservoir. Although currently off-line awaiting next year’s anticipated activation of a filtration plant under Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, the Croton Falls Reservoir is part of a the Croton drinking water system that has historically provided 10% of the drinking water consumed daily in New York City.
In his July 28, 2014 decision, Justice Grossman agreed with Attorney General Schneiderman and New York City Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter and ruled that Prato and Adinolfi violated multiple state laws and underlying regulations through their activities at the site, including the construction and operation of a solid waste management facility without obtaining a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Solid waste management facilities are also subject to strict operational and closure requirements to avoid adverse impacts to public health and the environment. The City’s watershed regulations govern certain land use activities within its upstate watershed to protect the water supply and preserve it from degradation. These regulations do not allow landfills to be located within 1000 feet of a reservoir, prohibit the discharge of solid waste into a reservoir, and allow only uncontaminated construction debris to be used as fill in the watershed. Justice Grossman found Prato liable for violations of these watershed regulations for his illegal landfill activities. Justice Grossman also ruled that discharges from the site into the Croton Falls Reservoir violated water pollution laws that require permitting and control of pollutants discharged into state waters.
Attorney General Schneiderman and Commissioner Lloyd thank the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for its participation in this case.
In 2012, Attorney General Schneiderman obtained a guilty plea in a separate criminal case brought against Adinolfi in the Putnam County Supreme Court. That case involved, in part, Adinolfi’s operation of an illegal solid waste management facility at the Prato property. As a result, Adinolfi was sentenced to four months behind bars and five years of probation.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General and New York City Watershed Inspector General Philip Bein and Environmental Scientist Mauricio Roma, with support from Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg and First Deputy for Affirmative Litigation Janet Sabel. Assistant Corporation Counsel Linda Geary handled the case on behalf of the New York City Law Department, with support from Hilary Meltzer, Deputy Chief of the Environmental Law Division, and Senior Counsel Carrie Noteboom. DEC Regional Solid Waste Geologist Steven Parisio and Assistant Regional Counsel Carol Krebs also worked on the case.
THIS WEEK IN THE NEWS
December 8 to December 12, 2014
Joined by a broad coalition of elected officials in New York City, Attorney General Schneiderman outlined an immediate first step toward restoring public trust and confidence in the fairness of reviews of cases involving unarmed civilians killed by law enforcement officers. In a letter sent to Governor Cuomo, Attorney General Schneiderman formally requested that the Governor immediately issue an interim executive order now directing the Office of the Attorney General to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute cases involving unarmed civilians killed by police officers. The Attorney General further discuss the need to address the “crisis of confidence” in our criminal justice system in interviews on Ronan Daily, All In with Chris Hayes, Inside City Hall, Capital Tonight, WNYC and The Capitol Pressroom, and in his op-ed posted on The Huffington Post.
This week, a federal court granted a motion filed by Attorney General Schneiderman to stop drug manufacturer Actavis’s plan to discontinue its Alzheimer’s drug Namenda, a scheme that would have blocked competition and maintained its high drug prices for patients. The Attorney General hailed the victory as sending a clear message: “Drug companies cannot illegally prioritize profits over patients.” Learn more about the Attorney General’s case here.
Attorney General Schneiderman reached a $750,000 multistate settlement with digital advertising company PointRoll. The agreement resolves an investigation into whether the company violated consumers’ privacy by unlawfully circumventing the privacy settings in Apple Inc.’s Safari Web browsers. Along with monetary relief, the settlement also ensures the company will implement new, stronger standards to protect users’ privacy.
Attorney General Schneiderman secured the criminal conviction of the owner and manager of a Massena-based restaurant, for violating New York State Child Labor Laws, by instructing a minor employed by the restaurant to clean an industrial machine. While cleaning the machine, the victim’s right arm was severed at the elbow. The defendants will pay more than $13,000 in restitution to the victim and his family as well as unpaid wages to the victim.
Through his settlement with The Inn at Menorah Park, Attorney General Schneiderman has ensured the Syracuse adult care facility, which had been operating as an unlicensed facility, will come into compliance with New York State law and provide the quality of care families and patients expect. The settlement also requires The Inn to create a new $110,000 fund to assist individuals who otherwise would not financially qualify for admission to the facility.
Attorney General Schneiderman arrested a nurse for allegedly slapping an 83-year-old, wheelchair-bound resident of a Dutchess County nursing home. The nurse, who no longer works at the facility, faces a felony endangerment charge, and up to four years in prison. This arrest is the latest in the Attorney General’s ongoing effort to ensure New York patients have a safe and secure living environment.
Attorney General Schneiderman reached an agreement with a PATH Medical, a Manhattan doctor’s office, to ensure his patients receive accurate information about their financial responsibility before undergoing medical testing and other services. The settlement with PATH Medical concludes an investigation by the Attorney General’s Health Care Bureau that alleged PATH Medical misrepresented to patients how much of the cost a health insurer was likely to cover, including for the extensive testing PATH Medical routinely conducted on new patients.
STATEMENT FROM A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON DECISION BLOCKING PHARMACEUTICAL MANUFACTURER FROM MANIPULATING ALZHEIMER’S PATIENTSNEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released the following statement on today’s decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, which granted New York’s motion for a preliminary injunction against Defendants Actavis plc and Forest Laboratories LLC. “Today’s decision prevents Actavis from pursuing its scheme to block competition and maintain its high drug prices. Our lawsuit against Actavis sends a clear message: drug companies cannot illegally prioritize profits over patients. We will continue to protect New Yorkers from anticompetitive practices by drug manufacturers.” A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES ARREST OF NURSE ACCUSED OF STRIKING ELDERLY RESIDENT IN DUTCHESS COUNTY NURSING HOME LPN Maria Fernandez Charged With Hitting An 83-Year-Old Dementia Patient; Alleged Abuse Caught On Camera Schneiderman: New York Health Care Workers Have A Legal Duty To Protect Their Patients PEARL RIVER – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the arrest of Maria Fernandez, a licensed practical nurse, for allegedly slapping an 83-year-old, wheelchair-bound resident in the dining hall of Victory Lake Nursing Center in the Town of Hyde Park. Fernandez, who no longer works at the facility, faces a felony endangerment charge, and up to four years in prison, after the interaction was caught on a surveillance camera. The resident, whose identity is being kept confidential, suffers from dementia and other ailments that rendered her totally dependent on others for care. “Our healthcare workers have a basic legal duty to provide a safe and secure living environment for all patients, and especially for those who cannot care for themselves,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Abuse of our most vulnerable citizens cannot and will not be tolerated — and my office will pursue criminal charges were appropriate.” A felony complaint filed in the Hyde Park Town Justice Court by the Attorney General’s Office charges Fernandez, 53, of Poughkeepsie, with one count of Endangering the Welfare of an Incompetent or Physically Disabled Person in the First Degree, a class E Felony, and one count of Wilful Violation of the Health Laws, a Misdemeanor. The complaint alleges that Fernandez struck the resident on the afternoon of September 3, 2013, inside the facility, located at 419 North Quaker Lane. At Fernandez’s arraignment, prosecutors stated that evidence shows that Fernandez struck the resident after the resident argued with an aide who was attempting to clear the resident’s meal tray. Fernandez , who pleaded not guilty, was arraigned yesterday before Hyde Park Town Justice John M. Kennedy and released on her own recognizance. The charges are accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. The case was investigated by Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) Senior Investigator Frank Bluszcz, Senior Investigator Frank DiChiaro and Supervising Investigator Peter Markiewicz. The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Todd Pettigrew of the MFCU Pearl River Regional Office with the assistance of Regional Director Anne Jardine. Thomas O’Hanlon is the Chief of Criminal Investigations-Downstate. The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is led by Acting Director Amy Held. The Division of Criminal Justice is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan. A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES $750,000 MULTISTATE SETTLEMENT WITH DIGITAL AD FIRM OVER VIOLATION OF INTERNET PRIVACY Settlement Requires PointRoll To Implement New Policies To Protect Consumers’ Privacy On The Internet Schneiderman: No One Should Have To Fear A Business Is Violating Their Privacy By Bypassing Personal Settings On Their Computers Or Mobile Devices NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today that New York has entered into a $750,000 multistate settlement with digital advertising company PointRoll, Inc. The agreement resolves an investigation concerning whether the company violated consumers’ privacy by unlawfully circumventing the privacy settings in Apple Inc.’s Safari Web browsers. “When it comes to the privacy of consumers on the Internet, every company is expected to play by the same set of rules: No one should have to fear a business is violating their privacy by bypassing personal settings on their computers or mobile devices,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Today’s settlement with PointRoll should serve as a reminder that we will protect New Yorkers when they’re surfing the web, and we will not tolerate any abuses of consumers’ trust.” PointRoll is a digital ad and technical services company owned by the Gannett Company. New York and five other states allege that PointRoll unlawfully deployed a browser circumvention technique that allowed it to place browser cookies on consumers’ Safari Web browsers despite privacy settings configured to block cookies from third-parties and advertisers between December 13, 2011 and February 15, 2012. Cookies are small files set in Internet users’ Web browsers that allow advertisers to gather information about those users including, depending on the type of cookie, their Web surfing habits. In addition to the monetary terms, the settlement agreement also requires PointRoll to:
- Not take action to override an Internet browser’s cookie-blocking settings configured by user choice or by default.
- Not misrepresent or omit material facts concerning the purposes for which it collects and uses consumer information, or the extent to which consumers may exercise control over the collection, disclosure or use of such information.
- Implement a Privacy Program within six months that includes employee training on the importance of user privacy, as well as the duty of PointRoll employees to help maintain it. The Privacy Program is also to include annual internal assessments of the effectiveness of the Privacy Program’s controls, and updates to those controls when the internal assessments identify a need.
- Ensure that its servers are configured to instruct Safari Web browsers to expire any cookie placed by PointRoll using its browser circumvention technique, if those systems encounter such a cookie, for a period of two years.
- Cooperate with compliance monitoring by the participating states, including providing a written report that describes PointRoll’s compliance with the Privacy Program requirement, and allowing the inspection and copying of all records that may be required to verify compliance.
New York’s share of the settlement announced today is approximately $110,000. Connecticut, Florida, Maryland and Illinois also joined in the multi-state settlement, which was led by New Jersey. New York was represented by Internet Deputy Bureau Chief Clark Russell. The Internet Bureau Chief is Kathleen McGee and the Executive Deputy Attorney General of Economic Justice is Karla G. Sanchez. A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN OP-ED: FOLLOWING THE GARNER CASE, WE NEED TO RESTORE CONFIDENCE IN OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM NOW NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today published an op-ed on The Huffington Post on restoring public trust and confidence in the fairness of reviews of cases involving unarmed civilians killed by law enforcement officers. Yesterday, the Attorney General sent a letter sent to Governor Cuomo formally requesting that the Governor immediately issue an interim executive order directing his office to investigate cases involving unarmed civilians killed by police officers, ensuring that these cases receive a thorough, impartial and independent review. The following are excerpts from the op-ed: ON THE PUBLIC’S LACK OF CONFIDENCE: Many have suggested there is an inherent conflict when local district attorneys who work with police departments every day are asked to investigate members of those departments. I have the highest possible regard for the district attorneys in the State of New York. But as prosecutors, it is time to acknowledge that the public has lost confidence in this part of our criminal justice system. ON THE NEED FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION: Some have already proposed legislation that would address this apparent conflict. I look forward to working with everyone here to pass meaningful reforms that move us closer to the basic promise of equal justice under the law for everyone. But the fact is, we cannot afford to wait until the legislature returns to Albany, conducts its debates and passes a bill. The crisis of confidence in our communities is real. It is powerful. It is happening now. And it carries an imminent risk of danger. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC TRUST IN POLICE: When the trust between the police and the communities they serve breaks down, everyone is at risk. New Yorkers must be able to trust the men and women of the NYPD. They must come forward to report crimes. And they must come forward as witnesses. We cannot wait months for the legislature to act. We can, and must, act now. ON THE GOVERNOR’S AUTHORITY: Existing state law authorizes the governor to supersede any local district attorney on any criminal matter by appointing the attorney general to investigate and prosecute the case. This broad grant of authority is based in Article IV, Section 3 of the state constitution and has been invoked many times in the past. In addition, executive law section 63 (3) authorizes the governor to direct the attorney general to “investigate the alleged commission of any indictable offense or offenses,” and to prosecute the person or persons believed to have committed any such offenses. Consistent with this legal authority, the governor should to immediately issue a temporary standing order authorizing my office to investigate the circumstances surrounding cases in which unarmed civilians are killed as a result of the actions of a police officer who is engaged in the performance of his or her official duties. The full op-ed by Attorney General Schneiderman can be read here. A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN REQUESTS EXECUTIVE ORDER TO RESTORE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEMBroad Coalition Calls On Governor To Act Immediately NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today was joined by a broad coalition of elected officials in outlining an immediate first step toward restoring public trust and confidence in the fairness of reviews of cases involving unarmed civilians killed by law enforcement officers. In a letter sent to Governor Cuomo, Attorney General Schneiderman formally requested that the Governor immediately issue an interim executive order now directing the Office of the Attorney General to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute cases involving unarmed civilians killed by police officers. While several proposals for reforming the criminal justice system are expected to be considered when the State Legislature reconvenes, the Attorney General noted the urgent need for immediate action to restore public trust in the outcome of cases involving unarmed civilians killed by law enforcement officers by ensuring these cases receive a thorough, impartial and independent review. The proposed order would be drafted to expire when the Legislature acts to permanently address this problem. Attorney General Schneiderman announced his proposal at a news conference in Manhattan, where he was joined by a broad coalition of elected officials, including New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and City Comptroller Scott Stringer. “The horrible events surrounding the death of Eric Garner have revealed a deep crisis of confidence in some of the fundamental elements of our criminal justice system,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Nothing could be more critical for both the public and the police officers who work tirelessly to keep our communities safe than acting immediately to restore trust and confidence in the independence of reviews in any case involving an unarmed civilian killed by a law enforcement officer. While several worthy legislative reforms have been proposed, the Governor has the power to act today to solve this problem. I strongly encourage him to take action now.” In his letter to the Governor, Attorney General Schneiderman wrote, “This crisis of confidence is long in the making and has deep roots. But it is not a problem without a solution. A common thread in many of these cases is the belief of the victim’s family and others that the investigation of the death, and the decision whether to prosecute, have been improperly and unfairly influenced by the close working relationship between the county District Attorney and the police officers he or she works with and depends on every day. It is understandable that many New Yorkers feel that it is unfair to charge a local District Attorney with the task of investigating and prosecuting those officers when they are accused of a serious crime committed in the course of their duties.” Attorney General Schneiderman’s letter continued, “The question in these difficult cases is not whether a local prosecutor, including one with understandably close ties to his or her fellow local law enforcement officers, is capable of setting aside any personal biases in deciding whether, or how vigorously, to pursue the case. As the State’s chief law enforcement officer, I know that I and the overwhelming majority of my fellow prosecutors are not only capable of doing so, but are conscientious about our ethical duty to see that justice is done in every case. Rather, the question is whether there is public confidence that justice has been served, especially in cases where homicide or other serious charges against the accused officer are not pursued or are dismissed prior to a trial by jury.” The Attorney General wrote, “Subdivision two of Executive Law section 63 currently authorizes you to supersede any local District Attorney on any criminal matter as you deem appropriate by appointing the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute the case.” In addition, Executive Law section 63 (3) authorizes the Governor to direct the Attorney General to “investigate the alleged commission of any indictable offense or offenses,” and to “prosecute the person or persons believed to have committed the same and any crime or offense arising out of such investigation or prosecution or both, including but not limited to appearing before and presenting all such matters to a grand jury.” Consistent with this legal authority, Attorney General Schneiderman stated in his letter that he is requesting that the Governor “immediately issue a temporary standing order, pursuant to subdivisions two and three of Executive Law section 63, authorizing me to: (1) investigate the circumstances surrounding the commission or alleged commission by any police officer or peace officer in the State of any act or acts, committed while the officer is engaged in the performance of his or her official duties, that result in the death of any unarmed person other than a fellow law enforcement officer so engaged; and (2) where warranted, criminally prosecute the officer for such acts as provided in those subdivisions.” In addition, Attorney General Schneiderman wrote, “I would further respectfully request that, to avoid the possibility of compromising any local, state or federal investigations already in progress, the order apply only to incidents occurring on or after the date the order is signed” and that “the order state that it will expire when the Legislature acts to permanently address this issue in such manner as it deems appropriate.” New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said, “Recent national events have raised serious questions about the ability of local prosecutors to bring charges against police officers. It is unrealistic to expect district attorneys who regularly rely on local police to make cases to be absolutely impartial when investigating police misconduct. In order to remove conflict of interest or bias, it is imperative that a separate prosecutor – with no connection to the local police department – pursue police misconduct cases. I’m proud to work with Attorney General Schneiderman in advancing common-sense solutions and restoring faith in our justice system.” New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said, “A central pillar of American Justice is the public’s belief that all people, regardless of background, status, or rank, be subject to equal justice under law. This means having confidence in the criminal process and the police, prosecutors, judges, and others who serve to protect and defend communities every day. Attorney General Schneiderman’s proposal would affirm this high principle by assuring New Yorkers that law enforcement will engage in an independent, thorough investigation of these highly-sensitive cases and, where appropriate, prosecute wrongdoers to the fullest extent of the law.” Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., said, “We wholeheartedly support Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s request to be appointed as a special prosecutor in police-involved deaths and his call for changes in the law that will institutionalize this practice. In fact, we believe special prosecutors should be appointed in all cases where police misconduct is at issue. Placing the authority for investigating and prosecuting cases involving police abuse with an independent and impartial prosecutor will help to ensure that biases, conflicts of interest and politics do not infect systemic efforts to hold police accountable for their conduct and [to] ensure the integrity of the process for all.” U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10) said, “The failure of the Grand Jury to indict in the Eric Garner case, in which there was no question of ample probable cause for an indictment, demonstrates unequivocally the need for an independent investigator with prosecutorial authority in all cases where someone is killed at the hands of the police. The district attorney has an inherent conflict of interest because of his necessarily close day to day working relationship with the police. The Governor can, and should, deputize the Attorney General for this purpose, pending definitive action by the legislature. I commend Attorney General Schneiderman’s on his proposal.” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, “I am pleased that Attorney General Schneiderman is advancing the call for his office to be appointed to the investigations of incidences involving the deaths of unarmed individuals that are related to police activity. A broad coalition of New Yorkers, including elected officials, members of law enforcement, legal scholars and concerned residents, share in the belief that the handling of police shootings should be wholly separated from local grand juries. These bodies cannot effectively handle cases involving local police officers on whom they rely every day. Immediate action is necessary to restore the public’s trust in our criminal justice system, a trust that is essential to the order of our democracy.” Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer said, “New York clearly needs a reliable method of dealing with deaths from police actions against unarmed civilians such as Eric Garner. A standing executive order from the Governor directing the State Attorney General to act as a special prosecutor in such instances – just as is now done in cases of Medicaid fraud – is just such a method, until the legislature decides to act.” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “The failure to secure an indictment in the killing of Eric Garner leaves New Yorkers with an inescapable question: how can we hold police officers accountable for the death of unarmed civilians. The designation of a special prosecutor to handle these cases going forward is an important first step to help restore public faith in our justice system. A special prosecutor along with other criminal justice reforms are needed to help promote police accountability and to ensure protection of civil rights and liberties.” Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said, “Local prosecutors must rely on police departments as partners in law enforcement. These close relationships make it difficult for even the most fair-minded and talented local prosecutor to impartially prosecute his or her own colleagues in the police force. The appointment of a special prosecutor will help ensure that, moving forward, cases of police brutality are thoroughly and fairly reviewed, investigated and prosecuted. Honoring Attorney General Schneiderman’s request would be an important step forward in promoting police accountability and restoring faith in our justice system.” Joo-Hyun Kang, director of Communities United for Police Reform, said, “Given the historic lack of systemic accountability in police brutality cases, we applaud the NYS Attorney General’s move to seek to establish the office’s authority to investigate and criminally prosecute police officers in cases where deadly force is used against unarmed people. For over two decades, there has been a call for independent prosecution in light of District Attorneys’ consistent failure to secure indictments and prosecute in case after case where officers have unjustly used excessive and deadly force. This is a significant step forward in addressing the double standard that has for too long treated officers who brutalize and kill as if they are above the law.” New York State Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “The sad reality is many New Yorkers currently do not believe that all state residents are treated equally within our criminal justice system. We must take immediate steps to address these concerns and I believe the appointment of a special prosecutor to oversee these types of cases would be a smart and positive step forward. I look forward to working with the Attorney General and all my colleagues in State Government to reform the criminal justice system and to enhance New Yorkers’ trust in this system.” New York Senate Deputy Democratic Leader Michael Gianaris said, “Our criminal justice system must have the full confidence of the public it serves, yet at this moment in history it does not. Attorney General Schneiderman’s proposal is a good step forward while we continue to advance legislative solutions to permanently address this issue. I look forward to working with the Governor and the Attorney General to achieve systemic reforms to ensure our justice system works for everyone.” New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat said, “With our criminal justice system failing Black and Latino communities nationwide, immediate action is needed. New Yorkers are experiencing heartbreak and anger in the wake of the Eric Garner grand jury decision, and it is clear we need a better system for assessing police misconduct. The Attorney General’s proposal will bring tougher oversight on this issue and ensure all lives matter.” New York State Senator Brad Hoylman said, “A local grand jury’s failure to bring an indictment after the tragic death of Eric Garner has highlighted serious flaws in our judicial process. An executive order appointing Attorney General Schneiderman as a special prosecutor in future criminal proceedings brought against police officers would help ensure independence and integrity in our criminal justice system. I wholeheartedly support it.” New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery said, “I am tremendously relieved that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has proposed to Governor Cuomo that the State Attorney General be appointed special prosecutor when local district attorneys may face conflicts of interest in cases involving local law enforcement. The application of the law must not vary from county to county, or reflect political concerns of prosecutors. I sincerely hope that Governor Cuomo will see the necessity of AG Schneiderman’s proposal while my colleagues in the State Senate and Assembly and I pursue longer term legislative remedies.” New York State Senator Jose Peralta said, “Public confidence in our justice system has been badly shaken by the events of the past few weeks and fundamental changes are desperately. When a police officer kills an unarmed civilian, we need to know that we can expect a just, fair and unbiased legal process.” New York State Senator Bill Perkins said, “The events unfolding across this nation–from Ferguson to Staten Island–have made a number of things compellingly clear: including the fact that the investigation and prosecution of police officers who kill unarmed and innocent human beings must be truly independent, detached and without local bias. As such, I wholeheartedly support the proposal of Attorney General Schneiderman for an Executive Order that will empower his office to conduct essential investigations and prosecutions in these important matters with the transparency, diligence and forthrightness that such cases deserve. This is one small and necessary step towards ensuring true justice for those who have been senselessly killed at the hands of police officers while concurrently assuring all residents of our City that everyone has an equal right to live, breathe and make their life matter.” New York State Senator Daniel Squadron said, “Restoring faith in its fairness requires reforming each aspect of our criminal justice system, and ensuring that the most difficult investigations for local prosecutors are in the hands of the Attorney General is a very important step. I commend Attorney General Schneiderman, Public Advocate James and my colleagues for this important proposal and urge my colleagues in the legislature to quickly consider and act on a broad reform agenda.” New York State Assemblymember Michael Blake said, “I absolutely applaud the leadership of AG Schneiderman displaying immediate action in the face of injustice and pushing for a much fairer process. We cannot allow for decisions around addressing police misconduct to be up to a local District Attorney where it appears relationships are taking precedence to justice, especially when someone loses their life. This leadership along with the call of Sen. Rivera and Assemblyman Wright is demonstrating that we won’t stand quietly in the face of needed and longstanding justice.” New York State Assemblymember Karim Camara said, “The outrageous grand jury decision last week made it clearer than ever that local District Attorneys should be removed from grand jury proceedings involving the death of an unarmed person by a police officer. While the Assembly has passed, and will continue to pass, legislation making this State law, it’s vital that the Governor steps in now. Too many New Yorkers are losing faith in our criminal justice system. This Executive Order will be a step in the right direction of reversing that trend.” New York State Assemblymember Herman Farrell said, “I wish to thank The Attorney General for working to make sure this moment does not occur again.” New York State Assemblymember Francisco Moya said, “As the Eric Garner case has shown us, District Attorney-led prosecutions of police officers can create a conflict of interests. We must find better ways to police our police. The death of Eric Garner and the subsequent failure of the grand jury to indict the police officer responsible for his death, on any charge, has made that plain. Until we can agree upon a permanent legislative remedy for this problem, putting such prosecutions in the hands of the Attorney General makes sense. I commend Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for identifying and offering a remedy for a serious problem in our criminal justice system.” New York State Assemblymember Felix Ortiz said, “Action is needed now. The Governor should provide the Attorney General with investigatory powers. We must strengthen the public’s trust in the justice system.” New York State Assemblymember N. Nick Perry said, “There was so much widespread concern expressed that the Staten Island District Attorney’s close working relationship with the police would make it difficult for him to fairly prosecute this case, that there should have been no surprise about the findings of the grand jury he impaneled. The real surprise is that no special prosecutor was appointed. Making the appointment of a special prosecutor in police cases standard procedure, as Attorney General Schneiderman is proposing today, would enhance the chances of a fair and impartial investigation in cases involving the police, and relieve local prosecutors of the tremendous pressure they face to bring indictments.” New York State Assemblymember Michaelle Solages said, “In order for our criminal justice system to function, it requires that local prosecutors and the police department have a solid working relationship. However, when the police are the subject of an investigation in which an unarmed civilian has been killed, an independent prosecutor must be appointed to eliminate the appearance of bias and ensure a fair and impartial investigation. It is essential that we immediately restore New York’s confidence in the judicial system. I commend the Attorney General for taking on this issue. New York State Assemblymember Keith L. T. Wright said, “I have been pushing the State Legislature to afford the Attorney General jurisdiction over cases of police misconduct since 1999. I am saddened by the death of yet another black man at the hands of the police but gladdened by Attorney General Schneiderman’s proactive stance today. The employ of an unbiased arbiter is desperately needed in this instance. I urge Governor Cuomo to use his executive authority to bring a sense of hope to communities of color in New York State.” New York City Councilmember Daniel Garodnick (District 4) said, “The current crisis of confidence in our justice system as it relates to police misconduct calls for immediate and unequivocal action. Particularly in light of recent high profile killings by the police of unarmed people of color — in New York and beyond — the public should have further assurance that prosecutorial authorities have sufficient independence. This is a sensible interim measure until the legislature develops a more comprehensive plan, and I support granting this authority to the Attorney General.” New York City Councilmember Andy King (District 12), co-chair of the City Council’s Black, Latino & Asian Caucus,said, “We have witnessed hundreds of cases across our city, state and country in which outside special prosecutors and grand juries are appointed that do not reflect the interest of the local communities. To authorize Attorney General Schneiderman to investigate circumstances surrounding the acts of police officers resulting in the death of unarmed civilians until legislation is passed makes perfect sense. I urge Gov. Cuomo to take executive action to fix our state criminal justice system. I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for taking on this proactive stance.” New York City Councilmember Brad Lander (District 39) said, “As has become painfully clear from Ferguson to Staten Island and far beyond, there is a structural contradiction when local district attorneys prosecute alleged police misconduct in cases involving the deaths of unarmed civilians. DAs must work closely with local police every single day; they simply cannot be fair and objective prosecutors of those very same police. Attorney General Schneiderman’s proposal is a good one, that will help restore the accountability and objectivity that justice demands. I urge Governor Cuomo to support it.” New York City Councilmember Mark Levine (District 7) said, “The results in the case of Eric Garner–and many others–have shaken the public’s confidence in our legal system. We need a fair and independent prosecutor in charge when police officers kill unarmed civilians. I urge Governor Cuomo to grant this power to the Attorney General until a permanent legislative solution can be worked out.” New York City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10) said, “The public’s confidence must be restored in our criminal justice system’s ability to fairly investigate and prosecute deadly incidents involving the police. I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership on this important issue, and urge the Governor to use his authority to appoint the Attorney General’s office as a special prosecutor in these types of cases as the Legislature considers a comprehensive package of reform.” New York City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal (District 6) said, “The Eric Gardner case suggests that the existing grand jury process does not always produce a just outcome. It’s unpredictable to rely upon local District Attorneys to rectify this situation. A more appropriate remedy is to appoint a special prosecutor in these types of cases. I want to thank the Attorney General for seeking the authority to prosecute cases where local law enforcement may not – for whatever reason – adequately dispense justice.” A copy of the letter can read here. A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN OP-ED: SPOT THE SCAMMERS, SAVE YOUR HOME NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today published an op-ed on The Huffington Post describing a new web based app created by his office, AGScamHelp.com, which empowers New York homeowners to easily identify and avoid mortgage rescue scams. The app also directs users to the Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program, a statewide network of housing counselors and legal services organizations that provides free, high quality foreclosure prevention services. The following are excerpts from the op-ed: ON THE THREAT OF MORTGAGE RESCUE SCAMS: Every day struggling New Yorkers who are behind on their mortgages—facing foreclosure, and desperate to keep their heads above water—are bombarded with TV and radio ads promising lower interest rates or a reduction in their mortgage principal if they “call now!” Too many New Yorkers who make that call end up even deeper in debt—victimized by a mortgage rescue scam instead of getting the help they need. ON HELPING NEW YORKERS IDENTIFY SCAMS: This week, we launch an innovative new way for New Yorkers to get help to identify and avoid mortgage rescue scams. It’s a web based app: AGScamHelp.com. Easily accessible from smartphones, tablets and other devices, AGScamHelp allows users to quickly search the name of any organization offering mortgage modification assistance. ON HOW THE APP WORKS: The app will show that an organization is “Trusted” if it is part of the Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program, or has been approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Searching an organization that has not been approved by HUD or my office will produce a “Caution!” message advising that the group is not government-vetted. It will also warn consumers of some of the hallmarks of mortgage rescue scams, including guaranteeing a positive result, asking for an upfront fee or telling a homeowner to stop paying your mortgage and pay them instead. ON CRACKING DOWN ON SCAMMERS: My office recently secured a judgment against a network of Long Island- and Florida-based companies that were found to be preying on vulnerable families. They were ordered to pay $2.5 million in penalties and costs, provide full restitution to their victims, and cease their illegal conduct. We have other cases ongoing, and with the help of tips from consumers using the app, we can stop many more scammers. ON KEEPING NEW YORKERS IN THEIR HOMES: My office has committed $100 million over five years to fund a network of roughly 90 housing counseling and legal services agencies in every region of New York State through the Homeowner Protection Program. In just over two years, the HOPP network has provided free, high quality housing counseling and legal services to roughly 35,000 families statewide. More than 11,000 families already have mortgage modifications pending or approved. The full op-ed by Attorney General Schneiderman can be read here. A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES PRISON SENTENCE IN 1979 BUFFALO COLD CASE KILLINGMichael Rodriguez Receives Maximum Sentence Of 25 Years To Life For Brutally Stabbing His Estranged Wife In Cemetery On Good Friday Schneiderman: After 35 Years, Family And Friends Of Patti Rodriguez Finally Have A Small Measure Of Comfort And Closure BUFFALO – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that Michael Rodriguez, convicted last month of the brutal murder of his estranged wife, Patricia Scinta Rodriguez, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in Erie County Supreme Court. Ms. Rodriguez’s body was found in a deserted section of Lackawanna’s Holy Cross Cemetery in the early morning hours of April 13, 1979 (Good Friday); she had been stabbed 108 times. “After 35 years, the family and friends of Patti Rodriguez finally have a small measure of comfort and closure,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This conviction and sentence, so many years after this heinous crime was committed, sends a very clear message: my office will never stop working to bring criminals to justice.” In June 2013, the New York State Police brought the case to the Attorney General’s Office. The decision was made to retest the clothing the victim had been wearing on the night she was killed. Testing revealed male DNA on an intimate area of the victim’s clothing, and a court-ordered sample from Michael Rodriguez confirmed that the DNA belonged to the defendant. In November 2013, the defendant was indicted by the Attorney General’s Office on the charge of Murder in the Second Degree. In October 2014, the case went to trial in Erie County Supreme Court. The two-week jury trial involved the testimony of over 25 witnesses and the introduction of over 100 exhibits into evidence, and included a key witness who recanted her alibi 30 years after the murder. The jury convicted the defendant after deliberating for just three hours. The Attorney General thanks the New York State Police and Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico, the Lackawanna Police Department, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, the Erie County Central Police Services Forensic Laboratory and the Erie County Office of the Medical Examiner for their valuable assistance in this investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Diane LaVallee and Cydney Kelly of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau and Assistant Attorney General Patricia Carrington of the Organized Crime Task Force, with the assistance of Deputy Bureau Chief Stephanie Swenton and Assistant Attorney General Isaac Gilwit. The case was overseen by Gary Fishman, Chief of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau. The Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau is part of the Division of Criminal Justice, led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan. The prosecution was assisted by Supervising Investigator Richard Doyle, Senior Investigator Sandra Migaj, and Investigator Christopher Bzduch of the Attorney General’s Investigations Bureau, which is led by Chief of Investigations Dominick Zarrella. The investigation was led by New York State Police Senior Investigator Christopher Weber and Captain Steven A. Nigrelli. The Lackawanna Police Department, under the direction of Chief James L. Michel, also assisted with the investigation. A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES CONVICTION OF NYC NONPROFIT DIRECTOR WHO STOLE NEARLY $900K FROM CHARITY Yolanda Gonzalez, Former Director Of Nos Quedamos, Convicted Of Grand Larceny And Fraud, Sentenced To Up To 4.5 Years In Prison Schneiderman: New York’s Not-For-Profit Sector Will Only Remain The Strongest In The Nation If We Continue To Root Out Despicable, Corrupt Behavior NEW YORK – New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the felony conviction of Yolanda Gonzalez, the former Executive Director of We Stay-Nos Quedamos, Inc., for embezzling nearly $900,000 from the long-standing South Bronx-based nonprofit community development corporation. The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that Yolanda Gonzalez, 46, of the Bronx, stole the money from Nos Quedamos by making withdrawals from the organization’s bank accounts to pay her personal expenses, including a new car. Her former business partner, Joseph Ingenito, was also convicted for helping Gonzalez attempt to cover-up the thefts. “New York’s not-for-profit sector will only remain the strongest in the nation if we continue to root out despicable, corrupt behavior like this,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “This case started with Nos Quedamos board members alerting my office to suspicious activity. I encourage the good actors in any organization to stay vigilant and come forward if they suspect wrongdoing. It’s the best and most effective way to keep our nonprofit sector healthy and honest.” “In addition to theft, this individual’s conviction reflects guilt of a range of tax-related felonies – revenue crimes that deprive state and local governments of resources needed to provide critical services,” said New York State Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Thomas H. Mattox. “We will continue to work with Attorney General Schneiderman and other law enforcement partners to prosecute those who would attempt to evade taxes.” A community development organization focused on health, environment, sustainability, affordable housing, and jobs, Nos Quedamos receives grants from several government agencies, including the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Gonzalez became Executive Director after her mother, Yolanda Garcia, who was a founding member of the organization, passed away in February 2005. Gonzalez served as the Executive Director of Nos Quedamos until early 2011, when she was suspended by the Board of Directors. The Attorney General’s investigation commenced in early 2011 with a complaint from Nos Quedamos board members to the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau about possible missing or misappropriated funds from Nos Quedamos bank accounts. The bureau uncovered evidence that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been embezzled from the nonprofit. Gonzalez embezzled funds from Nos Quedamos and two related entities, NQ Development, LLC, and NQ Management, Inc. In addition to her salary of more than $70,000 per year, Gonzalez brazenly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the nonprofit’s bank accounts by writing checks to herself or to cash, making ATM withdrawals, and paying for personal expenses on corporate credit cards, including purchases at department stores, nail salons, jewelry stores, and movie theaters. She also purchased a new 2009 Toyota Sienna with stolen funds, at a cost of more than $29,000. To conceal the thefts, Gonzalez and Ingenito falsified Annual Financial Reports, balance sheets, and financial statements for Nos Quedamos and submitted them to the Board of Directors and the New York State Attorney General’s Office. Gonzalez also failed to file taxes on her illicit income, resulting in tax liability totaling over $64,948. Gonzalez pleaded guilty yesterday evening before the Honorable Judge Steven Barrett in Bronx County Supreme Court to Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a Class C felony, and Criminal Tax Fraud in the Third Degree, a Class D felony. She will be sentenced on January 13, 2015 to 1 ½ to 4 ½ years in prison on the Grand Larceny charge and 1 to 3 years in prison on the Tax Fraud charge. As a condition of her plea, she must also sign confessions of judgment in favor of We Stay-Nos Quedamos in the amount of $886,613.24 and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in the amount of $64,948. Joseph Ingenito, the former Chief Financial Officer of Nos Quedamos, was convicted of two counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, a Class E felony, for misrepresenting information in financial documents to help cover up the thefts. He will be sentenced on February 6, 2015 to 6 months of house arrest and five years probation. The Attorney General thanks the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance and the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal for their assistance in this case. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Gabriel Tapalaga of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau. The Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Gary T. Fishman and Deputy Bureau Chiefs Stephanie Swenton and Meryl Lutsky. The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice is Kelly Donovan. The investigation was handled by Investigator Sylvia Rivera, Supervising Investigator Michael Ward and Deputy Chief of Investigations John McManus. Supervising Forensic Auditor Edward J. Keegan also assisted in the investigation. The Investigations Division is led by Chief Dominick Zarrella. A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN WINS PRELIMINARY ORDER PROHIBITING NYC-BASED ONLINE DRUG DISTRIBUTOR FROM SELLING DESIGNER DRUGS Lawsuit Filed By Attorney General After Undercover Investigation Revealed Brooklyn Online Distributor Sold And Promoted Mislabeled Intoxicants Upstate And Out-Of-State, According to the Petition; Investigation Arises From Earlier AG Action That Stopped Head Shops Across NYS From Selling Mislabeled Drugs Schneiderman: We Will Go After Those Who Flood Our Communities With Dangerous Drugs NEW YORK – As part of an ongoing initiative to stop the sale of so-called designer drugs, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office filed a lawsuit and won a temporary restraining order that prohibits Brooklyn-based KMG Direct, Inc., High Life USA, LLC, and owner Eli Kleiger, from selling synthetic drugs and commonly-known street drug alternatives, for example “salvia,” a powerful hallucinogen, and “spice,” which produces experiences similar to marijuana. The petition, filed in Supreme Court in Onondaga County, and order comes after an undercover investigation revealed that employees of the online, mail-order distributor and retailers were violating state labeling laws by selling and promoting dangerous and illegal drugs in New York State and Colorado. The sale of designer drugs has contributed to a public health crisis in New York State and across the nation. With psychoactive effects similar to those of more commonly known street drugs, these products are typically packaged with innocuous names and bright graphics to give the misleading impression that their use is harmless. Like street drugs, these designer drugs often lead to addiction, psychosis, acute arrhythmia, asphyxiation and even death. “The proliferation of illegal designer drugs is a health crisis with a national reach, and it is one that is hurting New York families and communities,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “After successfully stopping 20 head shops across our state from selling these dangerous drugs, my prosecutors and investigators are tracking down dealers who are operating online. There is one set of rules for everyone, and whether you are selling illegal drugs on the street or on the web, you must stop — or we will stop you.” The Attorney General’s investigation found that the distributors named in the lawsuit were labeling dangerous products with names like “KratoMonster,” “ZanziBarz,” “Vector,” “Sativah,” “BaliDiesel,” “Salvia Max” or “Salvia Zone,” and marketing them with false descriptions such as “dietary supplement,” or “Euphoric Relaxation Tablets.” Some products had practically no label information and most lacked comprehensive ingredient lists, warnings and directions for use, as required by law. Without ingredient disclosure, adequate usage and warning information, the labels are deceptive and the drugs are dangerous for consumers. The investigation revealed sales being made in New York, and as far away as Colorado. The Attorney General’s lawsuits have also pursued retailers for illegal sale of nitrous oxide, better known as “Whip Its,” to the public, a specific violation of the State Public Health Law. Nitrous oxide has been linked to deaths by asphyxiation and other adverse health effects. The gas is typically used by youths who see it as an easy “high.” Today’s lawsuit is part of an ongoing effort by Attorney General Schneiderman’s office aimed at stopping the sale of designer drugs. The initiative, which began in 2012, successfully removed street drug alternatives and synthetic drugs from the shelves of numerous head shops across New York. The Attorney General’s office has filed dozens of lawsuits against head shops that sold designer drugs, which resulted in judges across the state issuing permanent injunctions barring stores from selling these products. The rulings came after the office showed the products were illegal because their contents are not properly labeled, thus violating state and federal laws. This newest lawsuit is the result of information received from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office that Kleiger’s companies were shipping drugs from New York to customers in Colorado. That tip came after Colorado prosecutors, in the course of their efforts to combat the scourge of designer drugs in their state, contacted Attorney General Schneiderman’s office about New York’s successful actions against head shops. From March to September of this year, senior investigators from the Attorney General’s Office made multiple buys from wholesalers KMG and High Life, and their affiliated online storefronts, which operated out of a large warehouse located at 33 35th Street in Brooklyn. Operating on the phone and the internet, the agents purchased a variety of mind-altering substances including Xanax-lookalike pills called ZanziBarz, “Vector” party pills containing a banned stimulant, two smokable “spice”-type products named “BaliDiesel” and “Sativah,” psychoactive pills called “KratoMonster,” and multiple strengths of the highly hallucinogenic herb salvia, branded “Salvia Zone,” and “Salvia Max.” The agents also bought a variety of drug paraphernalia including disguised digital scales, grinders, crack pipes, marijuana pipes, among other items. The agents purchased a large box of nitrous oxide (N2O) along with the paraphernalia used to ingest the gas at a controlled pace. A total of four deliveries were shipped to a P.O. Box on Hiawatha Boulevard in Syracuse in the name of a fake head shop, the Hiawatha Phatty Shack, created by Attorney General investigators. The lawsuit is seeking an accounting of all commodities sold or offered for sale by the companies, including the name of the product, the manufacturer and distributor of the product, a description of the product, the wholesale and retail prices of the product and the number of units sold. Federal and state laws and regulations require that all consumer commodities, at a minimum, be labeled to describe net contents, identity of the product, and the name and place of business of the product’s manufacturer, packer, and distributor. Drugs of any kind must be further labeled with particularized directions for use and comprehensive, intelligible warning information. Although federal and state authorities have outlawed certain chemicals and their analogs in order to remove these items from commerce, their efforts continue to fall short as the chemists and producers providing the products to head shops simply alter formulas to stay ahead of the legislation. The Attorney General’s office has obtained an affidavit from the medical community highlighting the need to combat these drugs. Dr. Maja Lundborg-Gray told the Attorney General’s office that patients who have taken these street drug-alternatives are frequently violent and present a definite danger to the public and first responders who care for them. As one label noted, consumption was expected to cause headache, disassociation, and/or an altered sense of perception. Ingestion was to take place only when sitting or lying down. “Always have a sitter present,” cautions the label. Maja Lundborg-Gray, M.D., of Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown, said, “There is a completely new level of violence and unpredictability associated with these patients. This demonstrates the gravity of the danger posed by users of designer drugs. I support Attorney General Schneiderman’s efforts of getting these unlabeled, misbranded and misleading so called ‘designer drugs’ off store shelves in New York State.” Like the earlier cases, the lawsuit, filed yesterday, and TRO, signed today, seek a permanent injunction against the online distributors, barring them from selling misbranded designer drugs. Further information about previous cases is available here. The investigation was conducted by Attorney General investigators David Buske, Dennis Churns, Chad Shelmidine, Supervising Investigators Richard Doyle and Chris Holland and Deputy Chiefs of Investigations Antoine Karam and Jonathan Wood. The Chief of Investigations is Dominick Zarrella. The case is being jointly prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Judith Malkin, and Assistant Attorneys General In-Charge Vincent Bradley and Deanna R. Nelson, who are led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Offices Martin J. Mack. STATEMENT BY A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON FAST FOOD STRIKES IN NEW YORK AND NATIONWIDENEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following statement on the fast food worker strikes that are taking place today in at least 190 cities across the country: “I hope all New Yorkers and all Americans will sit up and listen to the message of the fast food workers taking to the streets today: Everyone deserves a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. As New York State attorney general, it is my job to ensure equal justice under law. It’s why I’ve fought to recover more than $19 million for nearly 14,000 workers over the past four years and why we continue to crack down on wage theft by unscrupulous employers in every industry, including bringing criminal charges. It’s why my office supports New Yorkers’ right to a safe working environment and their right to join a union, without fear of retaliation. And it’s why I stand with all workers in their struggle for justice and fairness.” A new report released today by the United States Labor Department shows that up to 6.5 percent of New Yorkers are paid less than the minimum wage, with more than 300,000 workers suffering minimum-wage violations each month. Since taking office in 2011, Attorney General Schneiderman has successfully take action in more than 50 cases of labor violations, returning more than $19 million in restitution to almost 14,000 workers across New York. Some of the Attorney General’s actions, including:
- Protecting the rights of fast food, car wash and airport workers, among others;
- Enforcing the prevailing wage laws, which require a higher rate of pay for construction workers on public works projects and for employees of building that have received lucrative tax incentives;
- Combating unlawful employer retaliation against employees who have stood up for their rights or voiced public safety concerns;
- Criminally prosecuting employers who commit egregious violations, showing extreme disregard for workers’ basic rights and the rule of law;
- Innovating to protect workers who are not covered by traditional labor laws; and
- Defending workers in a digital world.
Attorney General Schneiderman encourages every worker who feels that his/her rights have been violated to contact the Office of the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau by calling (212) 416-8700 or visiting the Office of the Attorney General’s website at www.ag.ny.gov. STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY GENERAL SCHNEIDERMAN ON THE DECISION BY A GRAND JURY NOT TO BRING AN INDICTMENT IN THE DEATH OF ERIC GARNER NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued the following statement on the decision by a grand jury in Staten Island to not issue an indictment in the death of Eric Garner: “My heart and prayers go out to the Garner family. I understand and respect the anger and frustration that many are feeling right now, but I join Mayor de Blasio and the Garner family in calling for a peaceful response from anyone who may choose to exercise their right to protest. As New Yorkers, we have a proud history of respectful and peaceful protests. Continuing that leadership is critical to moving forward together toward meaningful reform.” A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN AND D.O.I. COMMISSIONER PETERS ANNOUNCE ARRESTS OF NYC SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION AND HOUSING AUTHORITY CONTRACTORS AND LABOR BROKERS Contractors Allegedly Paid Workers Below Prevailing Wage, Labor Brokers Demanded Kickbacks On NYC School And Housing Construction Projects Schneiderman: Contractors Who Work On Public Projects Cannot Ignore New York State’s Labor Laws In Order To Line Their Own Pockets NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters announced today the arrests and indictments of a contractor and two labor brokers overseeing New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) and Housing Authority (NYCHA) projects for allegedly underpaying construction workers. The arrests stem from a joint investigation into underpayment and kickback schemes on projects at P.S. 196K, a public school in Brooklyn, and the Pomonok Houses Project in Queens. As alleged in two indictments, several workers were deprived of several thousand dollars each from the alleged schemes. If convicted on the top counts, each defendant faces up to seven years in prison. “Contractors who work on public projects cannot ignore New York State’s labor laws in order to line their own pockets,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “In this case and many others, my office is taking aggressive action, including criminal prosecution when appropriate, to ensure that workers are paid the wages they’ve earned.” “Not only does prevailing wage fraud deprive honest workers of fair pay, but it is a gateway to other schemes that endanger public safety. Exposing and putting an end to prevailing wage fraud is a cornerstone of DOI’s multi-pronged effort to combat corruption in New York City construction. I thank the Attorney General and his staff for their partnership on these important cases,” New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters said. Singh Indictment: Exterior renovations at P.S. 196K were being performed under a contract with the SCA. Article 8 of New York State Labor Law mandates that construction workers on any “public works” project receive prevailing wages, an hourly rate (above minimum-wage) that varies depending on the classification of the worker, and benefits. Many of the construction workers got their job through “labor brokers” Baldev and Avatar Singh. The Singh brothers would receive the workers’ wages from the contractor and disperse the money to the workers. However, as alleged in the indictment, the Singhs then established what amounted to a maximum daily rate for each worker – a figure well below the proper prevailing rate of pay – and demanded any earnings above that amount for themselves. While the contractor was paying the proper wages, the Singhs would allegedly deliver the paychecks, require that they be cashed and then require the return of any money above the “daily rate.” Baldev and Avtar Singh would allegedly demand these “kickbacks” from employees under the threat of termination of employment or preclusion from further employment, which is a violation of New York State Labor Law. After the P.S. 196K construction was complete, the Singhs moved on to act as “brokers” on a NYCHA project in Queens known as the Pomonok Houses Project. There too, from September 2014 through November 2014, Baldev and Avtar Singh allegedly engaged in the same systematic scheme of demanding “kickbacks” from workers who were being paid proper prevailing wages but who were not allowed to keep any portion over their so-called “daily rate.” The total amount of “kickbacks” totaled in the thousands for each of several workers, according to the indictment. Defendants Baldev Singh and Avtar Singh were indicted on multiple counts of Grand Larceny in the 3rd Degree under Penal Law Section 155.35(1), a class D felony, multiple counts of Grand Larceny in the 4th Degree under Penal Law Section 155.30(6), a class E felony, Scheme To Defraud in the 1st Degree for each project under Penal Law Section 190.65(1)(b), a class E felony, and multiple counts “Kickback of Wages Prohibited” under Labor Law Section 198-b(2), an unclassified misdemeanor. If convicted, Baldev Singh and Avtar Singh each face a prison term of 2 1/3 to 7 years on the top count of Grand Larceny in the 3rd Degree. Chatha Indictment: Mohammed Chatha is the owner of M.B. Din Construction, Inc., a Brooklyn-based construction company that performed pointing, grinding and caulking work as a subcontractor on the P.S. 196K project between December 2012 and June 2013. As alleged in the indictment, which charges both Chatha and his company, Chatha failed to pay prevailing wages and benefits to several workers; in total, these workers were underpaid more than $100,000. To cover up that crime, Mohammed Chatha, on behalf of M.B. Din, allegedly submitted falsified payroll records to the SCA. According to the indictments, these records indicated either that certain workers worked fewer hours than they had or that the workers had not worked at all, when they had. The workers’ real hours were being monitored by investigators, who were tipped off at an early stage that several workers were not getting paid properly on the P.S. 196K project. Mohammed Chatha and his company, M.B. Din Construction, Inc. were indicted on one count of Failure To Pay Prevailing Wages and Benefits under Labor Law Section 220(3)(d)(i)(3), a class D felony, several counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the 1st Degree under Penal Law Section 175.35(1), a class E felony, and several counts of Falsifying Business Records in the 1st Degree under Penal Law Section 175.10, a class E felony. Mohammed Chatha faces a maximum prison term of 2 1/3 to 7 years if convicted of the top count of Failure To Pay Prevailing Wages and Benefits. Additionally, both he and his company M.B. Din Construction, Inc. face debarment from performing public work for 5 years as well as significant fines. The Attorney General thanks the Inspectors General for the School Construction Authority and the New York City Housing Authority, both of whom report to the Department of Investigation, and their staffs for their assistance on this investigation. Both cases were investigated by William O’Brien and Lee Callier of the School Construction Authority, Office of the Inspector General, under the supervision of Assistant Inspector General Thomas Mullen, Director of Investigations John Gray, First Assistant Inspector General Gerard McEnroe and Inspector General Maria Mostajo. Investigators Elsa Rojas, Sixto Santiago, Edward Ortiz and Salvatore Ventola and Supervising Investigators Luis Carter and Michael Ward, as well as Deputy Chief Investigator John McManus, all of the Attorney General’s Investigations Bureau, also assisted with the investigation. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Investigator Dominic Zarrella. The Pomonok Houses development project case was also investigated by Deputy Inspector General Douglas Schneider and Special Investigators Robert Diienno, Ryan Covino and Emily Bizzarro of DOI’s Office of the Inspector General for NYCHA, under the supervision of Inspector General Ralph Iannuzzi. Both the SCA and NYCHA Offices of the Inspector General are overseen by William Jorgenson, Associate Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation. Both cases are being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ross and Labor Bureau Criminal Section Chief Richard Balletta. The Labor Bureau Chief is Terri Gerstein, and the Bureau is overseen by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg. All charges are accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN RELEASES NEW GUIDANCE TO LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES ON TERMINATION OF SECURE COMMUNITIES PROGRAMNotice Alerts Law Enforcement Community In New York State To Termination Of Secure Communities Program Schneiderman: I Am Committed To Ensuring That Law Enforcement Has The Up-To-Date Information Necessary To Implement Effective Policing Policies NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued a bulletin to law enforcement agencies around the state regarding the recent termination of the Secure Communities program. Under the Secure Communities program, United States Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued detainer requests which asked that local law enforcement agencies hold an individual in custody beyond the normal release date, while ICE decided whether to take custody of the individual and commence immigration proceedings. This program had come under increasing scrutiny since its launch in 2008. Going forward, ICE will no longer request that local law enforcement detain an individual and will instead seek notification of an individual’s pending release from custody. Requests for detention must specify that the individual in question is subject to a final order of removal or that there is sufficient probable cause to believe that the individual is removable. The Attorney General reminds law enforcement agencies around the state that compliance with any request for detention is not mandatory and remains at the discretion of the responding agency. Following President Obama’s recent executive action concerning immigration reform, ICE issued a directive immediately terminating the Secure Communities program. “While more work remains to be done, termination of Secure Communities is an important first step towards more effective and supportive policing strategies,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “As the chief law enforcement agent for the State of New York, I am committed to ensuring that our police departments and sheriffs’ offices have the most up-to-date information necessary to tailor effective policing strategies to meet the needs of the communities they serve.” The Secure Communities program will be replaced with the more narrowly prescribed Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). While additional federal guidance is anticipated, under the new program, ICE will continue to review data obtained about individuals who are arrested by local law enforcement. However, going forward, ICE will no longer request that local law enforcement detain an individual and will instead seek notification of an individual’s pending release from custody. Decisions about whether to respond to such requests for notification of release are voluntary and compliance with these requests remains at the discretion of the local police department or sheriff’s office. In a limited set of circumstances, ICE may ask that an individual be detained until it takes custody. Under the new federal program, requests for detention must specify that the individual in question is subject to a final order of removal or that there is sufficient probable cause to believe that the individual is removable. The Attorney General reminds law enforcement agencies around the state that compliance with any request for detention is not mandatory and remains at the discretion of the responding agency. Law enforcement agencies across New York State may need to take steps to review their policies and procedures in light of the termination of the Secure Communities program. For more information regarding the termination of the Secure Communities Program, click here and here. A copy of today’s bulletin can be read here. This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Anjana Samant, Special Counsel Jessica Attie and Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Bureau. Alvin Bragg is the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice. A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ISSUES ALERT TO PROTECT NEW YORK WEBCAM USERS FROM HACKERSAG Urges Consumers To Change The Default Login Credentials On Their Web-Based Security Cameras, Also Known as Nanny Cams Or Home Security Cameras Schneiderman: No New Yorker Should Feel Violated In Their Own Home NEW YORK — Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued a consumer alert following recent reports that live feeds from unsecured wireless network cameras, or “IP cameras,” have been made publicly available on several websites. These cameras, which thousands of New Yorkers use to remotely monitor their homes, offices, businesses, pets and loved ones, are often shipped to consumers with default user names and passwords that are publicly available. By not changing these default settings, many consumers unwittingly allow their IP cameras to broadcast unsecured, and sometimes unencrypted, live video feeds across the Internet. “No New Yorker should feel violated in their own homes – especially by a webcam intended to keep our belongings and loved ones safe,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “As we increasingly rely on web-based services, we must all take additional steps to inform ourselves of any dangers and protect our privacy. By following some simple steps and taking basic precautions, consumers can keep their webcam feed out of the reach of hackers and improve their security.” Using simple software, anyone can identify operational IP cameras whose default security settings have not been changed. From there, a hacker could gain access to the camera’s settings using the default login credentials and not only view the camera’s live feed, but also identify the geographical coordinates of the camera. The hacker can also pan, tilt and zoom the camera to view different parts of the user’s home or business, and change the device’s settings so that the camera’s owner is no longer able to control it. Attorney General Schneiderman issued the following tips to educate the public so they can better safeguard their privacy:
- If you have not already done so, change the default username and password on your IP camera immediately. Use a strong password that only you know. You may be able to change the password by visiting the website that you use to access the live feed from your camera. Otherwise, follow the instructions that came with your camera to learn how to change these settings. If you no longer have the user manual that came with your camera, you may be able to find it on the camera manufacturer’s website.
- Some cameras allow users to deactivate the device’s security functions. Verify that your camera’s password requirement is turned on. If your camera supports data encryption, make sure this feature is turned on as well.
- Be aware that if you either enter your camera’s login credentials or view your camera’s video feed on a website that does not use encryption technology, that information may be intercepted by others. Websites that begin with “HTTPS” protect your information by encrypting data transmitted through the site.
- If you use a mobile app to access your camera’s video feed, check to see if the app encrypts your data. If not, avoid using the app on unsecured WiFi networks, such as public hotspots.
- Make sure that the software used to operate and manage your camera is up to date. Check your camera manufacturer’s website to see if you have the latest version of the software and sign up for update notices.
A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ISSUES ONLINE SHOPPING TIPS IN ADVANCE OF ‘CYBER MONDAY’Schneiderman: As Holiday Shopping Season Kicks Off, Online Shoppers Should Be Wary Of Scams And Insecure Websites NEW YORK – In advance of Cyber Monday – consistently one of the most popular days of the year for online shopping – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued tips for consumers who plan to shop online. Last year, consumers spent almost a record $2.29 billion on Cyber Monday, and sales are expected to exceed that this year. Unfortunately, not all advertised deals are what they claim to be, and some websites may be fake or tools for scammers. “As the holiday shopping season kicks off and more consumers plan to shop online, there are simple steps you can take to avoid scams and protect your personal data,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Consumers should know how to spot fake websites and deals that are too good to be true.” In an effort to help consumers shop safely online, Attorney General Schneiderman issued the following tips:
- Shop only on secure Internet connections: Do not conduct any transaction that involves personal, financial or credit card information while using an open and unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Unsecured connections are common in public spaces such as transportation hubs, municipal hotspots, and in stores and coffee shops. Be careful not to shop, conduct business, or send sensitive or personal information out on these networks because identity thieves often stake out open networks seeking victims. Shopping and other activities that involve sensitive information may be performed safely on password-protected wireless networks, virtual private networks (VPN), or on hardwired Internet connections.
- Only process payment on HTTPS web pages: When entering payment information online you should verify that HTTPS is in your address bar to protect yourself from identity thieves and cyber criminals. URLs that begin with https:// instead of the standard http:// are secured by SSL, an internet security protocol. Web pages served over SSL help protect you by encrypting sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, during the transaction.
- Do not be tricked by confusingly similar website and domain names: Pay particular attention to your retailer’s URL when shopping online. Scammers use variants of a known company’s Internet address to try and lure users into visiting fake websites. They often target users through email or social media. Avoid clicking on links from email or social media sites. Watch out for websites with URLs that differ slightly from those of legitimate online retailers, and also links that appear genuine but direct your browser to a completely different URL. To ensure safe shopping online type the URL of your desired retailer directly into your web browser — and watch for typos.
- Protect yourself by using credit cards: With the advent of point-of-sale malware and rampant data breaches, identity thieves are now more sophisticated and dangerous than ever. If you are going to make purchases online, you can best protect yourself from the risks of identity theft and fraud by using credit cards. Credit cards generally offer better purchase protection and fraud dispute resolution than other methods of payment. Debit cards link directly to your bank account, potentially threatening your entire account balance. Some banks also offer temporary credit card numbers with a set purchase maximum, which may be useful for some transactions or some consumers. Remember that credit cards charge high interest rates so it is best to use credit cards for only those purchases you can afford.
- Be wary of too-good-to-be-true contests and prize promotions: Consumers should be suspicious of any email, messages, or posts on social networks promoting giveaways or contests that seem too good to be true, e.g., free high-value gift cards, tablets, and smartphones. These “contests” are often scams designed to bilk consumers out of money and/or to collect consumers’ personal information for resale. Genuine sweepstakes and contests are commonplace on the Internet; however, you should avoid any contest or promotion that requires you to pay money or to perform any sort of financial transaction. Also, think twice before participating in promotions that require entrants to register with multiple third-party websites; often these are ploys to build marketing lists. Promotions that require users to provide more than simple contact information may even be phony or run by scammers who resell consumer information to collect referral fees!
- Read the fine print: Broadly worded promotional offers and advertisements often mislead consumers into paying full price for items they believed were on sale. Consumers should carefully examine Internet deals by reading any and all fine print in the promotional materials, identifying the exact brand and model number on sale. Consumers should also avoid bait-and-switch advertisements or promotions that lure consumers with basement prices that are not guaranteed to be in stock. Fine print stating that quantities are limited is a tell-tale sign of this bait-and-switch tactic.
- Watch out for hidden shipping costs: Internet shoppers will undoubtedly find great deals this holiday season. It is common practice for Internet retailers to advertise prices that do not factor in shipping and handling. This makes the Internet retailer’s pricing appear lower than what the consumer will actually pay. This holiday season consumers should be sure to examine all shipping and handling costs before committing to any online purchases. When all costs are considered, what you may have thought was a great Internet deal may be more costly than your local retailer.
WEEK IN THE NEWS
November 24 to November 28, 2014
With the holiday shopping season now in full swing, Attorney General Schneiderman is taking action to keep New Yorkers safe from toxic toys and scams. This week, he was joined by consumer advocates and elected officials in announcing his letter to retailers across New York State reminding them of their legal obligation to ensure the safety of children from toys that contain toxic chemicals that present risks to human health. Along with NYC Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Menin, the Attorney General also offered tips for consumers to avoid hazardous toys as well as tips about charitable donations, online shopping, and purchasing gift cards.
As Western New York recovered from last week’s historic blizzard, Attorney General Schneiderman began taking legal action against businesses that engaged in price gouging during the emergency. The Attorney General has already sent a cease and desist letter to one business accused of engaging in price gouging, and is investigating several complaints against other businesses alleged to have engaged in illegal price increases. Attorney General Schneiderman also offered tips to consumers to help prevent them from being victimized by shady contractors performing home repairs and other work in the storm’s aftermath. Anyone who observed price gouging during the storm is encouraged to report it to the Attorney General’s Office immediately.
On Black Friday, Attorney General Schneiderman expressed his solidarity with workers who gathered at more than 2,000 Wal-Mart locations across the country to demand a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. While the Attorney General has used every tool to enforce New York’s labor laws – recovering more than $17 million for nearly 14,000 workers since 2011 – he also emphasized the need for new laws to remedy “the pervasive income inequality that is plaguing our nation.”
Attorney General Schneiderman applauded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal of protective, science-based standards for ozone smog as “a breath of fresh air,” and a necessary step to “help ensure that New York’s efforts to combat ozone pollution are not undercut by pollution generated by upwind states.” The Attorney General also led a coalition of states in a letter urging the federal Office of Management and Budget to support EPA’s proposed standards.
Attorney General Schneiderman announced the indictment of three pharmacies and seven individuals for allegedly defrauding Medicaid out of more than $5 million. The pharmacies were allegedly paying customers for prescriptions obtained from a local doctor and then billed Medicaid for the drugs, even though they were put back on shelves and never dispensed.
In a letter with 37 other states, Attorney General Schneiderman called upon the Federal Trade Commission to update the Telemarketing Sales Rule in order to reflect realities of today’s marketplace and better protect consumers from unscrupulous telemarketers. The Attorney General also offered tips for New Yorkers looking to avoid unscrupulous, for-profit telemarketers soliciting charitable donations.
Attorney General Schneiderman announced the plea of Ock Chul Ha, the President of the Korean Social Service Center for defrauding elderly Korean-Americans out of more than $200,000, during a pervasive scam that lasted for more than three years. Ha falsely promised clients – who came to him for advice regarding Medicare or Social Security – placement in affordable housing. Ha will serve up to three years in state prison, will pay his victims restitution and will never again be allowed to use his social service center as a tool for fraud and deception.
On behalf of the thousands of Wayne County residents who do not speak English as a first language, Attorney General Schneiderman reached an agreement with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office to enhance accessibility of law enforcement services for residents with limited English proficiency, including expanding interpretation and translation assistance. The Attorney General praised the Sheriff’s Office as “a model for other law enforcement agencies in the Finger Lakes region” by ensuring the delivery of police services is not restricted by language barriers.
STATEMENT FROM A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON BLACK FRIDAY WAL-MART PROTESTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today released the following statement in support of all those gathering at more than 2,000 Wal-Mart locations nationwide to demand a fair, living wage for workers. “Today, as millions of Americans kick off the holiday shopping season, I encourage all of them to consider the enormous injustice suffered by many of the workers who are helping them with their purchases. Across the country, workers are standing up to demand a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. I’m proud to stand with them as they raise their voices to send an important message: No one who works full-time should have to struggle to feed their families. Over the past four years, I’ve fought to crack down on employers who cheat hardworking New Yorkers our of their wages. And while we will continue to do everything we can to enforce current laws, we must also move toward enacting new laws to remedy the pervasive income inequality that is plaguing our nation.” Since 2011, Attorney General Schneiderman has successfully returned more than $17 million in restitution to almost 14,000 workers across New York, and recovered more than $2 million in restitution and penalties for the state. Some of the Attorney General’s actions, which were detailed in this report, including:
- Protecting the rights of fast food and car wash workers;
- Enforcing the prevailing wage laws, which require a higher rate of pay for construction and maintenance of governmental buildings;
- Combating unlawful employer retaliation against employees who have stood up for their rights;
- Criminally prosecuting employers who commit egregious violations, showing extreme disregard for workers’ basic rights and the rule of law;
- Innovating to protect workers who are not covered by traditional labor laws; and
- Protecting workers in a digital world.
Attorney General Schneiderman encourages every worker who feels that his/her rights have been violated to contact the Office of the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau by calling (212) 416-8700 or visiting the Office of the Attorney General’s website at www.ag.ny.gov. STATEMENT BY A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON THANKSGIVING NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today released the following statement in honor of Thanksgiving: “Warmest wishes for a happy Thanksgiving to all. As we begin the joyous holiday season by giving thanks for our blessings over the past year, let us also remember the many in our state and across the country who are struggling and in need. Giving back is one of the most important community building efforts we can participate in. I hope all New Yorkers can share in the season’s compassion by showing kindness to friends, neighbors or strangers who are less fortunate.” STATEMENT OF A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN HAILING U.S. EPA’S PROPOSAL TO STRENGTHEN AIR POLLUTION STANDARDS FOR HARMFUL OZONE NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued the following statement applauding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal of new, more health-protective national air standards for ozone pollution: “The EPA’s proposal today of protective, science-based standards for ozone smog is truly a breath of fresh air. These standards will literally save lives and will also help ensure that New York’s efforts to combat ozone pollution are not undercut by pollution generated by upwind states. I applaud the EPA for taking this critical action to protect public health, and look forward to working to ensure these standards are put in place as soon as possible.” Yesterday, Attorney General Schneiderman lead a coalition of states, including Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Rhode Island, in a letter urging the federal Office of Management and Budget to support EPA’s proposal of strengthened national ambient air quality standards for ozone. The letter cited EPA’s independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee’s support of a national primary standard in the range of 60 to 70 parts per billion to better protect public health and a stronger secondary standard to adequately protect forests and crops. Elevated ozone smog levels can cause a range of harmful health impacts, including chronic respiratory illness, decreased lung function, cardiovascular disease, asthma and even premature death. According the American Lung Association’s 2014 “State of the Air” report, more than 4 in 10 people in the United States (44.8%) live in areas with unhealthful levels of ozone. The Association ranks the New York City metropolitan area as the 12th most ozone-polluted city in the nation. A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES INDICTMENT OF THREE BROOKLYN PHARMACIES, PHARMACY OWNERS, AND PHARMACISTS FOR ALLEGED $5 MILLION MEDICAID FRAUD Pharmacies Allegedly Used Pharmacist Barred From Medicaid And Billed Medicaid For Medications Never Dispensed While Hiding The Identity Of The True Owner Who Lived In Pakistan NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the indictment of three pharmacies and seven individuals for allegedly defrauding Medicaid of over $5 million. The pharmacies were allegedly paying customers for prescriptions obtained from a local doctor and then billed Medicaid for the drugs even though they were never dispensed. “Those who defraud Medicaid to line their own pockets are scamming taxpayers and depriving others of important health care services, and today’s indictment sends a clear message that there will be consequences,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “My office will continue to crack down on those who engage in waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer money.” Corporate defendants Perfect Gift US, Inc., d/b/a Central Pharmacy, located at 397 Mother Gaston Blvd., Princess RX, Inc., d/b/a Hastings Drug Corp., located at 2061 Atlantic Ave., and Bright RX, Inc., d/b/a Buffalo Drugs, located at 183 Buffalo Ave., and their owners and operators, Munir A. Khan, Beenish Daha, and Muhammed Z. Khan, a/k/a Sean Chris, were indicted for committing various felonies, including Grand Larceny in the First Degree, Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree. In addition, two pharmacists, Louis A. Pisani and Kenneth Brown, were indicted on similar charges. Two others, Chaudury M. Yaqoob and Jose Cepeda, were also indicted for various felonies, including Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree. If convicted of the Class B felonies, the defendants face up to twenty-five years in state prison. In response to information provided by the New York City Human Resources Administration, the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (“MFCU”), together with the New York State Office of the Welfare Inspector General, learned that Jose Cepeda was allegedly directing or steering patients from a local doctor’s office to Perfect Gift Pharmacy with their prescriptions. The clerk who was working behind the counter, Chaudury M. Yaqoob, would allegedly pay cash for the prescriptions. The pharmacy would then allegedly bill Medicaid for the medications that were never dispensed, but were, instead, placed back on the shelf. The investigation disclosed that Perfect Gift and Princess Pharmacies were owned and operated by Munir A. Khan. Munir A. Khan was banned from billing Medicaid and deported to Pakistan following a 2008 federal conviction for adulteration of prescription drugs and the filing of false tax returns. To hide Khan’s involvement in the pharmacies, a violation of Medicaid’s rules, both Perfect Gift and Princess Pharmacies were allegedly, on documents filed with the state, owned by Khan’s daughter, Beenish Daha, who was listed as President. Bright RX was solely owned and operated by Munir Khan’s son, Muhammed Z. Khan, a/k/a Sean Chris, as President. Audits conducted on Perfect Gift, Princess, and Bright RX pharmacies, revealed a short fall between the amount of drugs ordered by the pharmacies from their suppliers and the amount of medication that the pharmacies claimed to Medicaid to have provided to Medicaid recipients. The shortfall showed inordinate billings of Medicaid for medications that were allegedly never bought and sold. The audit showed a shortfall of $3,523,755.33 at Perfect Gift Pharmacy, $955,341.79 at Princess Pharmacy, and $861,935.80 at Bright RX Pharmacy. The investigation further revealed that two of the pharmacies, Perfect Gift and Bright RX, Inc. billed, and were paid by Medicaid, for allegedly rendering services while using a supervising pharmacist who had been barred or excluded from the Medicaid program – another violation of Medicaid rules and regulations. Medicaid paid Perfect Gift $1,368,300.11 while Louis A. Pisani was allegedly its supervising pharmacist and Bright RX $175,057.37 while allegedly using Kenneth Brown as its supervising pharmacist. The unsealed indictment charged the three pharmacies and seven individuals as follows: Corporate Defendants Perfect Gift US, Inc., d/b/a Central Pharmacy, is charged with two counts of Grand Larceny in the First Degree, Class B Felonies, one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a Class E Felony, and seven counts of Offering a False Instrument For Filing in the First Degree, Class E Felonies. Princess RX, Inc., d/b/a Hastings Drug Corp., is charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a Class C Felony. Bright RX, Inc., d/b/a Buffalo Drugs, is charged with two counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Class C Felonies, and three counts of Offering a False Instrument For Filing in the First Degree, Class E Felonies. If convicted, the corporations can be ordered to pay a fine of double what they gained from their criminal conduct as well as restitution to those victimized by their conduct. Individual Defendants Munir A. Khan, age 61, is charged with two counts of Grand Larceny in the First Degree, Class B Felonies, one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a Class C Felony, one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a Class E Felony, and seven counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, Class E Felonies. If convicted, the defendant faces up to 25 years in prison. Beenish Daha, age 31, of Jersey City, NJ, is charged with two counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, Class E Felonies. The defendant was arrested on November 13, 2014 and was released in her own recognizance after surrendering her passport. She was directed to return to court on January 14, 2015. If convicted, the defendant faces up to four years in prison. Muhammed Z. Khan, a/k/a Sean Chris, age 33, of Queens, is charged with two counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Class C Felonies, and three counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, Class E Felonies. The defendant was arrested today and arraigned by the Honorable Danny Chun. If convicted, the defendant faces up to fifteen years in prison. Louis A. Pisani, age 63, of Elmont, is charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the First Degree, a Class B Felony, and three counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, Class E Felonies. The defendant surrendered to MFCU investigators on November 6, 2014 and was released on his own recognizance after surrendering his passport. He was directed to return to court on January 7, 2015. If convicted, the defendant faces up to 25 years in prison. Kenneth Brown, age 64, of Brooklyn, is charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a Class C Felony, and three counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, Class E Felonies. The defendant surrendered to MFCU investigators on November 6, 2014 and was released on his own recognizance. He was directed to return to court on January 7, 2015. If convicted, the defendant faces up to fifteen years in prison. Chaudury M. Yaqoob, age 56, is charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a Class E Felony, and two counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, Class E Felonies. If convicted, the defendant faces up to four years in prison. Jose Cepeda, age 66, of Brooklyn, is charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree and two counts of Offering a False Instrument for filing in the First Degree, Class E Felonies. The defendant was arrested today and is awaiting arraignment. If convicted, the defendant faces up to four years in prison. Defendants Munir A. Khan and Chaudury M. Yaqoob have not yet been arrested and are believed to be living in Pakistan. Attorney General Schneiderman thanks the New York City Human Resources Administration, the New York State Office of the Welfare Inspector General, the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General and the New York City Police Department for their assistance in this investigation. The investigation was conducted by Senior Investigator Arelis Restituyo, with the assistance of Supervising Investigator Victor Maldonado, and Deputy Chief Investigator Kenneth Morgan. MFCU’s audit investigation was conducted by Associate Auditor Investigator David Verhey and Special Auditor Investigator Ryan Rafferty with the assistance of Principal Special Auditor Investigator Emmanuel Archer and New York City Regional Chief Auditor Thomasina Smith. The criminal case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General William J. Wallace with the assistance of New York City Regional Director Christopher M. Shaw. Thomas O’Hanlon is MFCU’s Chief of Criminal Investigations – Downstate. The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is led by Acting Director Amy Held. The Criminal Justice Division is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan. The charges filed in this case are accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES 1-3 YEARS PRISON PLEA AGREEMENT BY PRESIDENT OF KOREAN SOCIAL SERVICE CENTER FOR THEFT OF OVER $200,000 FROM IMMIGRANTS SEEKING AFFORDABLE HOUSING Ock Chul Ha Posed As A Social Worker, Made False Promises Of Low-Income Housing In Exchange For Thousands Of Dollars In Fees And Took A Plea Of 1-3 Years State Prison And Closure Of His Social Service Center Schneiderman: Fraudsters Who Take Advantage Of Vulnerable Citizens Must Be Prosecuted To The Fullest Extent Of The Law NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the plea of Ock Chul Ha, President of the Korean Social Service Center, a not-for-profit organization, for operating a pervasive scam on primarily elderly Korean-Americans for more than three years. Ha allegedly falsely promised clients – who came to him for advice regarding Medicare or Social Security – placement in low-income housing in the city’s coveted 421(a) program. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Ha will serve 1-3 years in state prison, the Korean Social Service Center will be shuttered, and victims who cooperated with the investigation have received restitution judgments in their favor. Ha pleaded guilty to one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (a Class “C” felony), one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (a Class “E” felony), and Criminal Tax Fraud in the Third Degree (a Class “D” felony). “At a time when more New Yorkers than ever are struggling with the cost of housing, Mr. Ha dangled the promise of an affordable home to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars, ruining lives in the process,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Exploiting insecurity and vulnerability – especially in one’s own community – is despicable, and hopefully this conviction can bring some measure of justice to the victims of Ha’s scheme. This conviction also ensures that Mr. Ha will never again use his social service center as a tool for fraud and deception.” According to Ha’s fully allocated plea, Ha was the President of Korean Social Services, a Manhattan not-for-profit located at 16 West 32nd Street, Suite 301. Based on our investigation, Ha preyed on vulnerable people, who he believed would be least likely to notify law enforcement of his scam. He generally conned elderly Korean-American immigrants, widows and those on disability who spoke limited English. He admitted to scamming an electrician, who lost his entire life savings to Ha and an artist who borrowed money from relatives. He would gain their trust by relying on his position as a social worker, and then offer them an opportunity to obtain a precious commodity in New York: affordable housing. The investigation found that after Ha propositioned his victims, he would call them repeatedly, warning them that they would lose their chance at a 421(a) apartment if they did not act quickly. Often he would demand $28,500 from his victims. Most of his victims drained their bank accounts, borrowed from friends or pooled money from relatives to pay Ha. Ha would then demand more money from his victims, often citing the need for security deposits equaling six months of rent. He would provide his victims with a receipt from the Korean Social Service Center that reflected the total amount provided by his victim (often in the tens of thousands of dollars), the victim’s name, and a note indicating that these monies were for a deposit on a “N.Y.C H.D.” apartment. Ha admitted to stealing approximately $207,000 from such victims. The investigation further revealed that after a March 18, 2014, search warrant was executed at Ha’s office, he began calling his victims and urging them not to cooperate with law enforcement. Ha dangled the prospect of reimbursement as a reward for their refusal to cooperate. Despite such empty promises, several brave men and women cooperated with law enforcement to bring Ha to justice. Ha, 58, of Fort Lee, NJ, pleaded guilty before Judge Larry Stevens and will be sentenced to 1-3 years in state prison on March 3, 2015. This investigation, initiated by the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, was a joint collaboration between the Attorney General’s Office and the New York State Department of Tax and Finance. The Attorney General thanks the New York City Department of Investigation for its cooperation on this case. The investigation was initiated by Assistant Attorney General Michael Torrisi of the Charities Bureau and handled by Investigator Edward Ortiz and Chief Dominick Zarrella of the Attorney General’s Investigations Bureau, and Michael Yun formerly of the NYS Department of Tax and Finance. This case was prosecuted by Special Counsel John R. Spagna, Chief Auditor of the Forensic Audit Section, Edward J. Keegan, Senior Analyst Jacqui Brown, and Associate Forensic Auditor Matthew Crogan, in the Attorney General’s Criminal Division, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan. A.G.SCHNEIDERMAN URGES FTC TO UPDATE TELEMARKETING SALES RULE TO PROTECT CONSUMERS Schneiderman: New Yorkers Deserve To Know How Their Hard-Earned Donations Are Spent NEW YORK—Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today called upon the Federal Trade Commission to update the Telemarketing Sales Rule in order to reflect realities of today’s marketplace and better protect consumers from unscrupulous telemarketers. In a letter, co-sponsored by the Florida and Pennsylvania attorneys general, and joined by 36 other attorneys general, Attorney General Schneiderman asked the FTC to update the Telemarketing Sales Rule to further protect consumers from the continued prevalence of telemarketing fraud and abuse. As detailed in Attorney General Schneiderman’s most recent “Pennies for Charity” report, for-profit telemarketers often retain a very high percentage of charitable donations they raise from the public. In 2012, an average of only 37.5% of funds raised by telemarketers were retained by the charities. In 50.3% of the campaigns, the charities retained less than 30% of the funds raised, or the expenses exceeded contributions. Since that report, the Attorney General has taken action against eight entities under investigation for fraudulent fundraising. “Those who open their hearts and wallets deserve to know how their hard-earned dollars are being spent and how much of their money is going to pay telemarketers’ salaries and costs,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “The FTC’s rules must contain protections for consumers that reflect the most abusive and common types of fraud and abuse. New Yorkers, and donors across the nation, must be able to know how much they give is going to charity, and how much remains in the pockets of fundraisers.” The attorneys general support the existing Telemarketing Sales Rule but contend that the following are areas of concern:
- An increase in the number of fraud complaints from consumers who are contacted by telephone;
- The pervasiveness of general media solicitations and advertisements that have resulted in the growth of inbound telemarketing;
- The use of certain payment methods that allow retrieval of funds with little meaningful scrutiny of the recipient’s identity; and
- The pervasiveness of preacquired account marketing.
Telemarketing and its abuses occur when consumers are engaged in phone calls with businesses in the privacy of their homes or on their personal cellular telephones. State attorneys general are on the forefront in fielding consumer complaints, investigating, and taking legal actions against those who prey on victims using telemarketing and negative option scams. According to recent statistics by the FTC, more than 3.7 million telemarketing complaints were filed with the Commission. Telemarketing complaints also rank among the top five complaint categories received from citizens in many states. The states and territories that signed today’s letter are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. Schneiderman also issued the following tips when making donations via phone solicitation:
- Resist Pressure To Give On The Spot. If you receive a call from a telemarketer, do not feel pressured to give over the phone. You can ask to receive information about the cause and a solicitation by mail.
- Ask The Telemarketer. Ask the caller what programs are conducted by the charity, how much of your donation will be used for charitable programs, how much the telemarketer is being paid and how much of your donation the charity is guaranteed.
- Ask How Your Donation Will Be Used. Ask specifically how the charity plans to use your donation, including the services and organizations your donation will support. Avoid charities that make emotional appeals and are vague in answering your questions. Be wary if an organization will not provide written information about its charitable programs and finances upon request. Any legitimate organization will be glad to send you this information.
- Look Up Charities. Review information about the charity before you give. The Attorney General’s interactive website allows potential donors to easily search the “Pennies for Charity” report by the name of the charity or by region in New York State. (A link to the search tool can be found on the Attorney General’s charities website at www.charitiesnys.com.) Users can also see how much money was raised by a professional fundraiser and how much money actually went to each charitable organization. Also confirm that the charity is eligible to receive tax-deductible donations by searching the IRS website at www.irs.gov.
- Give To Established Charities. Donate to organizations you are familiar with or ones with a verifiable record of success in meeting their charitable missions. Closely examine charities with names similar to more established organizations.
- Never Give Cash. It’s best to give your contribution by check made payable directly to the charity. This is safer than giving by credit or debit card and far safer than sending cash. Be careful about disclosing personal or financial information; never give out such information to an organization or individual you don’t know.
- Report Suspicious Organizations. If you believe an organization is misrepresenting its work, or that a scam is taking place, please contact the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau at email@example.com or (212) 416 8401.
A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN URGES LETTER URGING RETAILERS LIKE WAL-MART, TARGET, AMAZON AND TOYS ‘R’ US TO ENSURE SAFETY OF CHILDREN’S TOYS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON The Attorney General And New York City Department Of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Julie Menin Offer Tips To Avoid Hazardous Toys And About Charitable Donations, Online Shopping, And Gift Cards NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric Schneiderman today issued a letter to retailers across New York State reminding them of their legal obligation to ensure the safety of children’s products ahead of the holiday shopping season. The letter focuses on toys that contain toxic chemicals that present risks to human health. The Attorney General and DCA Commissioner Julie Menin also offered tips for consumers to avoid hazardous toys as well as tips about charitable donations, online shopping, and purchasing gift cards. The Attorney General’s announcement was made today in New York City with New York City Public Advocate Letitia James; City Comptroller Scott Stringer; City Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin; New York State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz; New York City Councilmember Rafael Espinal; and Bobbi Chase Wilding, Deputy Director of Clean & Healthy New York. “Retailers have both a legal and moral obligation to protect children’s safety when selling toys and other products this holiday season,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “In the hopes of having a safe and joyous holiday season for all New Yorkers, we want to remind retailers of their important responsibilities and also provide tips to consumers as they begin shopping and making seasonal charitable donations.” Both state and federal agencies, including the Office of the New York State Attorney General, have taken legal action in the past to protect children from toys and articles that contain toxic chemicals that present health risks. Recent investigations have reported toys and articles intended for use by children containing elevated levels of toxic chemicals offered for sale by retailers. For example, a recent report entitled Toxic Toys in Albany County by Clean & Healthy New York, Inc. and the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, Inc. reported children’s items purchased in Albany County containing toxic chemicals, including arsenic, mercury and lead. State law empowers the attorney general to take appropriate enforcement action when a determination is made that items containing toxic chemicals at unsafe levels are being sold. Specifically, the law prohibits the sale, import, and manufacture of children’s products that pose an unreasonable risk of injury. The law authorizes the attorney general to seek injunctive relief, as well as penalties of up to $1,000 per violation. “As the father of two young boys, it is beyond troubling to me that harmful toxins frequently end up in toys and other products marketed to our children,” said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. “I want to thank Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for his attention to and work on this issue. No parent should ever have to worry that the gifts they give might pose a threat to the health of their children.” “I applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for pushing retailers to ensure safety of children’s toys this holiday season,” said New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. “The use of cheap and dangerous materials in children’s toys is far too common and many local retailers may be unaware that they are carrying these items. I urge parents to to keep an eye out for metal toys in particular, like costume jewelry, which can be made of hazardous chemicals. As City and State Officials, we have a responsibility to protect and alert consumers about the dangers of toxic toys. Working together, we can help remove them from store shelves and protect countless children in New York State.” “Retailers have an important responsibility to ensure that the products they sell are safe for children,” said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. “The letter Attorney General Schneiderman sent to retailers across the state makes it clear that elected leaders at all levels of government are committed to protecting New York children this holiday season. As chairman of the Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection, there is no higher priority than keeping our children safe.” New York City Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr. said “As we kick off the holiday season, it is important that all New Yorkers think about children’s safety when buying gifts. I’m proud to join Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in his effort to ensure that all New Yorkers are able to make informed, safe purchases.” “This week kicks off the busiest shopping season of the year and a time when we gather with our loved ones, which often includes giving gifts, especially to the children in our lives,” said Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin. “Each year, nearly 200,000 children visit the emergency room because of toy-related injuries so I encourage parents to be vigilant in choosing the toys their children play with. I also join Attorney General Schneiderman in calling for the toy industry to ensure that the products on the shelves are safe.” “As our recent report with Clean & Healthy New York shows, there are still too many dangerous toys on the store shelves in our state,” said Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “Retailers must refuse to sell children’s products that contain toxic chemicals. State and local lawmakers should also protect our kids by expanding the list of chemicals that are prohibited in toys and requiring the disclosure of chemicals of concern. We are deeply grateful to Attorney General Schneiderman for raising awareness of this important issue and for leading the charge to protect consumers in New York State.” “We have been finding heavy metals in children’s products for many years with our extensive testing,” said Judy Braiman, president of the Empire State Consumer Project and co-author of Consumer Reports Books Toy Buying Guide. “While there are many other dangers children are being exposed to — such as laundry pods, nicotine flavors used for e-cigarettes, and nursery furniture – the presence of toxic chemicals in toys, costume jewelry, and other items specifically intended for children is very serious and something must be done. We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his important action.” “Our research for the report, Toxic Toys in Albany County, uncovered a dozen toxic toys for sale in Albany County containing heavy metals like lead, cadmium, antimony, and cobalt,” said Bobbi Chase Wilding, Deputy Director of Clean and Healthy New York, which issued Toxic Toys in Albany County with the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund last Monday. “One product was made of nearly 25% cadmium – almost 250,000 parts per million. How is it that in 2014 parents still can’t count on retailers to only sell toxic-free products? We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his action to remind retailers of this duty, and urge lawmakers to act by passing broader and stronger protections to safeguard our children’s health. This holiday season and year-round, they’re counting on us.” The letter from Attorney General Schneiderman’s Office said, “As a retailer, you are in a position to safeguard children from toxic chemicals. We urge you to implement measures to identify unsafe products and keep them off your shelves.” Attorney General Schneiderman’s focus on children’s exposure to toxic chemicals is warranted as studies have shown that the incidence of cancer in children has steadily risen since the 1970s. In 2011, cancer surpassed traumatic injuries to become the leading cause of death of New York’s children between the ages of 5 and 14, and it is the second leading cause of death in children ages 1-19 overall. Environmental factors, including chemical exposures, have been linked to the rise in cancer rates among children. Children are at special risk due to their small body mass and rapid physical development. In addition to state law, federal law requires manufacturers and importers of children’s products to certify that their products comply with all children’s product safety rules enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which includes rules related to toxic chemicals that may be found in children’s products. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires that this certification be based on third-party testing at a laboratory approved by the CPSC. A Children’s Product Certificate must be issued by either the manufacturer or importer indicating compliance with all applicable standards. The manufacturer or importer must provide or make the certificate available to distributors and retailers. Schneiderman’s office urged retailers to not purchase products from manufacturers and importers that have not certified their products’ safety. Retailers were also urged to check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website regularly for information on product recalls. There are a number of resources, including a tip sheet prepared by the OAG, available to consumers to help them protect their children from toxic chemicals in children’s products, but retailers are the first line of defense. Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Menin also sent a letter to the Toy Industry Association urging it to voluntarily create a standard that goes well beyond federal law and ban toxic chemicals in all products made or sold by its members; pull all toys with suspected toxic chemicals off the shelf; cease efforts to oppose legislation that would keep toxic toys off the market. In addition to issuing a letter to retailers about children’s products ahead of the holiday shopping season, Attorney General Schneiderman also addressed issues related to holiday gift cards and charitable donations during a press conference in New York City. During the press conference, Schneiderman offered tips to consumers. Holiday Season Consumer Tips Tips to Avoid Hazardous Children’s Toys Just because a toy or any other consumer product is being sold in a reputable store does not necessarily mean that the product itself is safe or even in compliance with government regulations. All too often, a toy is on the market for months, even years, before problems are identified. Here are some tips to keep your children safe:
- Be On The Lookout For Toys That May Have Toxic Chemicals: Avoid buying toys made of cheap metals and materials, such as jewelry, trinkets, and other similar children’s products. If a piece of jewelry or trinket is inexpensive, yet is heavy for its size and looks like silver, it could contain hazardous metals. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has a Federal Toy Safety Standard that limits the concentration of certain toxic chemicals in children’s products. Covered chemicals are lead, cadmium, mercury, antimony, arsenic, barium, chromium, selenium and phthalates. Click here further information on the CPSC standards.
- Keep An Eye On Your Child: Because toxic chemicals can be on the surface of toys, jewelry, and trinkets, you should never allow your child to chew, suck on, or otherwise mouth these products. Swallowing small parts can be particularly dangerous. Since children commonly exhibit hand-to-mouth activity, practice regular hand washing as a safeguard against exposure to toxic chemicals.
- Think BIG When Buying Toys For Infants And Toddlers: Follow the age recommendations on toy packaging, even if you believe your child is more advanced. Many toys have small pieces that are a choking hazard, especially for children under 3 years of age. To prevent choking, buy toys that are bigger than the child’s fist. Inspect all toys to make sure there are no small parts that could break off and be swallowed or choked on.
- Check For Product Recalls: Check the CPSC website for information on children’s products that have been recalled due to health or safety concerns. You can also call the CPSC toll-free consumer hotline at 800-638-2772. If you own a recalled item, take the item away from your child immediately and either discard it or check the recall notice for information on returning it for a refund or replacement.
If you think your child may have been exposed to lead:
- Talk With Your Child’s Doctor: Because it often occurs with no obvious symptoms, lead poisoning frequently goes unrecognized in children. In general, if you have any concerns about your child and lead – whether through exposure to children’s products, lead paint in your home, or any other source ask your health care provider about having your child tested. The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires health insurance providers to pay for lead testing for children at risk. Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan. In addition, Medicare pays for lead testing for all enrolled children. You can also contact your local health department to see if it has a lead testing clinic or arranges for testing children who lack health insurance coverage.
- Contact Health Officials: For more information about protecting your child from lead poisoning, contact your local county health department or visit the New York State Department of Health’s Lead Poisoning Prevention website here.
For more information, contact the New York State Attorney General’s Office’s consumer hotline at 1-800-771-7755. Charitable Contribution Tips
- Use Your Charitable Dollars Wisely: Only gift to charities that you know are reputable.
- Be Aware Of Similar Charity Names: Some charities use names that are similar to well-known charities in order to confuse donors. Always double check the name of the organization to which you’re donating.
- Be Wary of Emotional Appeals: Appeals that talk about problems but are vague on how donations will be spent. Do not hesitate to ask for information in writing.
- Many Phone Solicitations Come From For-Profit Fundraisers: New Yorkers should know that many phone solicitations for charities actually come from for-profit fundraisers. In some cases, less than half the money you give through a paid telemarketer actually goes to the charity. Donors can learn more about how charities use their donations by visiting the Attorney General’s website here.
Online Shopping Tips:
- Use A Secure Internet Connection: Do not transmit credit card information over public Wi-Fi networks or a home network that is not password protected.
- Look For ‘https’ At The Beginning Of The Web Address: If you’re paying online, look for ‘https’ because the ‘s’ means that your sensitive data will be encrypted for your protection.
- Protect For Checking Account: Using a credit card to make online purchases you can afford to pay off is safer than using a debit card because a debit card can imperil your entire bank account balance if it’s stolen.
- Don’t Click On E-mail Links: Scammers often use fake promotional emails that look like they are from major companies to try to steal your data, so don’t click on e-mail links. Just type the store’s URL into your web browser directly.
Gift Card Tips:
- Be Wary Of Fees: Always read the fine print and understand what you’re really getting for your money.
- Consider Inactivity Fees: Remember that state and federal law prohibit inactivity fees or other service fees for a year after the issuance of a gift card.
THIS WEEK IN THE NEWS
November 17 to November 21, 2014