YONKERS WATCHDOG.

WPCLB/Two Men And A Truck Kick Off A DECADE OF SPEAKING OUT FOR SAFE JOBS TO SAVE LIVES!

The Westchester/Putnam Central Labor Body cordially invites you to our…

10th Annual Workers’ Memorial Day Vigil

 

We hope you will join us to honor working men & women

who were injured or died while working in the past year.

 

Tuesday – April 28, 2015

 

Weather Permitting – Outdoor Location – Renaissance Plaza, White Plains

(Mamaroneck Ave. & Main St. Intersection – in front of the fountain)

Indoor Location – 1199 SEIU, 99 Church St., White Plains

Vigil start time: 5PM

***

Cocktail Reception to follow…

Vintage Bar & Restaurant

171 Main Street

White Plains, NY 10601

Cocktail Reception: 6PM-8PM

RSVP only needed for cocktail reception.

Kindly reply by April 20th to jennifer@wpclb.org

……………………………………..Pricing Information……………………………………

Cocktail Reception Price: $65 per person

SPONSOR OPPORTUNITY: If you would like to be listed as a sponsor, please include an additional $75 and your name/organization’s name will be added to the vigil program.Please submit sponsorship request by April 20th.

Please make checks payable to WPCLB and mail to

Westchester/Putnam Central Labor Body AFL-CIO

595 West Hartsdale Ave., White Plains, NY 10607 / Attention: Jennifer Puja Movers for Moms® Drive to Help Mothers in Shelters

Community-Supported Program Aids Moms in Crisis on Mother’s Day

 

Though Mother’s Day is intended to be a joyous occasion for women across the country, thousands of moms are living in shelters as a result of domestic abuse or homelessness. 

 

The Westchester/Putnam Central Labor Body AFL CIO will be collecting the following items to help those in need:

 

TOILETRIES:

SHAMPOO, TOOTHPASTE, MOISTURIZER, SOAP AND DEODORANT AS WELL AS THINGS THAT WOULD MAKE WOMEN FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSELVES (NAIL POLISH, MAKE-UP, HAIR ACCESSORIES AND PERFUME.) All OF THE TOILETRIES SHOULD BE BE IN NEW, UNOPENED CONDITION.

 

BABY ITEMS:

BECAUSE SO MANY WOMEN ARRIVE AT SHELTERS WITH BABIES AND CHILDREN IN TOW

DIAPERS (PAMPERS SWADDLERS SIZE 1 &2), BABY POWDER, BABY LOTION, SIPPY CUPS, TEETHERS, BIBS, PACIFERS AND BABY/CHILDREN’S CLOTHES ARE DESPERATELY NEEDED AS WELL.

 

 YOU MAY DONATE ITEMS FROM NOW THROUGH APRIL 30TH   BETWEEN 8AM and 4PM @ THE WPCLB – 595 West Hartsdale Ave., White Plains, NY 10607. If we are working offsite, please leave your donations in front of our office door.

 

 

WE THANK YOU IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR SUPPORT OF HOPE’S DOOR AND MY SISTERS’ PLACE!

LET’S TAKE IT TO THE STREETS – SPEAK OUT TO #PROTECTOURSCHOOLS!

TOMORROW!!!!

Rally to #ProtectOurSchools March 28 in New York City

If you are in the vicinity of New York City tomorrow, PLEASE do your best to attend a large rally at noon Saturday, March 28, outside the governor’s Midtown District Office, 633 3rd Ave. at East 41st Street.

If you can participate, please take pictures and use social media, “tweeting” to @AndyPallotta and @nysut, using the following hashtags: #AllKidsNeed, #InviteCuomo, #ProtectOurSchools.

LET’S TAKE IT TO THE STREETS – SPEAK OUT TO #PROTECTOURSCHOOLS!

Rally to #ProtectOurSchools March 28 in New York City

If you are in the vicinity of New York City next weekend, try to attend a large rally at noon Saturday, March 28, outside the governor’s Midtown District Office, 633 3rd Ave. at East 41st Street.


If you can participate, please take pictures and use social media, “tweeting” to @AndyPallotta and @nysut, using the following hashtags: #AllKidsNeed, #InviteCuomo, #ProtectOurSchools.

CALL YOUR STATE SENATORS
ASK THEM TO STAND STRONG WITH 2/3’s OF NEW YORKERS
AND REJECT THE GOVERNOR’S PROPOSALSGood Morning,With the budget being finalized this week we are asking that everyone make a final push to make sure our elected officials stand with us and fight Governor Cuomo’s harmful education policies.We are in the final days of negotiations!

Please forward the information below to your friends and family.

CLICK HERE TO FIND YOUR ELECTED STATE SENATOR

TALKING POINTS:

We are aware there are education conversations occurring today on critical issues facing our students, parents, educators and our public schools.

WE ASK THAT THE LEGISLATURE SUPPORT PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS, EDUCATORS, PRINCIPALS AND SCHOOLS and reject the proposals being currently discussed.

We are STRONGLY opposed to any education policy that reduces local control for schools. This is a clear attack on students, educators, principals, superintendents, school board members and collective bargaining in this state.

We oppose ANY changes in evaluation laws that would reduce local control and we oppose ANY increase in the use of standardized testing.

The Legislature SHOULD NOT agree to increase testing in our evaluation system. Governor Cuomo’s proposal to increase testing to 40% or 50% MUST BE REJECTED. These proposals would double the use of standardized testing for our students.

We oppose ANY educational decisions regarding evaluation or school decisions, made by appointed panels. Educational decisions must be made within a school district.

We oppose reducing due process rights by increasing tenure to four years. Teachers have longer tenure and due process periods than nearly all other state employees. Three years is more than ample time to judge the quality and effectiveness of a teacher.

WE reject the governor’s harmful, anti-educator, anti-labor education proposals, which remove local control and increase standardized testing.

Bills do not need to be printed until 11:59 pm on Saturday, 3/28. We ask you to continue to advocate for our students, educators and principals.

The Legislature should continue to stand strong against the governor’s harmful education proposals.

CLICK HERE TO FIND YOUR ELECTED STATE SENATOR

Please join our IUOE Local 30 Brothers and Sisters, concerned Sarah Lawrence College faculty and students, and other community allies at this very important teach-in in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

**Details below**

Friday, January 16 – At the River I Stand

CSEA Region 3 is hosting the Film “At the River I Stand” on Friday, January 16 at 6:30 pm @ CSEA Region 3 – 568 State Route 52, Beacon, NY

Please RSVP to (845) 831-1000

Pizza and Popcorn will be served

At the River I Stand skillfully reconstructs the two eventful months that transformed a strike by Memphis sanitation worker into a national conflagration, and disentangles the complex historical forces that came together with the inevitability of tragedy at the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Monday, January 19 – Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and Celebration

The Future is Ours – What is your Destiny?

Join the Southern Dutchess Coalition for the 37th Annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and Celebration.

Monday, January 19 at 10:00 am – Parade begins at Springfield Baptist Church, 8 Mattie Cooper Square, Beacon NY

For further information call: Jennifer McClinton, Chairperson: (845) 454-2059

Happy New Year from the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation


Congressman Chris Gibson will not seek reelection in 2016


Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., will announce his retirement Tuesday, according to two GOP sources. The Republican, who was re-elected to a third term in November, will open a competitive seat in 2016 with his departure following this Congress. President Barack Obama carried the district with 52 percent, making it a must-win for House Democrats if they want to put a dent in the GOP’s historic majority this cycle.

Read more here


The HVALF mourns the passing of Former Governor Mario Cuomo


“The Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation mourns the loss of Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. He was a true democrat who worked hard to keep dreams and hopes alive for working Americans and New Yorkers, native and immigrant alike. We extend our condolences to his family, his friends, and to all of those who were influenced by him.” – Paul F. Ellis-Graham, President HVALF

The son said a final farewell to the father on Tuesday. In what was simultaneously a history lesson on a certain political era in New York sprinkled with anecdotes mixed with gentle humor and a tribute to his father’s legacy as governor, Andrew Cuomo honored the late Mario Cuomo, the man he called “pop.” In sum, the eulogy was perhaps the most personal and stirring address Andrew Cuomo has given in his public life, opening up a rarely seen vulnerable side to a tough-as-nails politician.

Read More here

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo aired a six-minute tribute to his father Tuesday morning, recounting his rules for life and challenging those who dubbed him the “Hamlet on the Hudson.” Chris Cuomo, Mario’s youngest son and a co-host of CNN’s “New Day,” remembered his father as someone who stuck to his closely held beliefs, maintained a sense of humor and urged all to do good in the world.

Read More here


Advocates Call for Equal & Higher Wage for Tipped Workers

A coalition of faith and labor groups rallied at the state capitol Monday to call for an increase in the state’s minimum wage for tipped workers. Today’s call was part of this year’s first “Moral Monday.” The event brings groups together to push what they call ‘moral’ issues, while protesting ‘immoral’ ones.

Read More Here


Donaldson urges Kingston school district to use PLA in massive project

Ulster County Legislator David Donaldson, a Democrat who represents the City of Kingston, is urging the Kingston City School district to consider using a project labor agreement on its $140 million school renovation project. He called the decision not to look into the agreement to use local labor “troublesome.”

Statement from the Executive Board of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation

“The Hudson Valley Areas Labor Federation Executive Board strongly urges the Kinston City School district to use a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the $140 million school renovation project. It has been proven in the past that PLA’s save money on municipal projects. The City of Kingston School district will have many advantages if they use a PLA; such as, Increased labor activity, uniform work rules, standardized starting times, avoidance of work stoppage, pickets and strikes, use of apprentice labor, more competitive bidding and cost savings. In order to build our local economies we have to think local first and a PLA will ensure that professional contractors utilize highly skilled and local labor to build our communities.”

The Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation Executive Board:

Paul Ellis-Graham, President

William Riccaldo, Executive Vice President

Adrian Huff, Executive Treasurer

Read More Here


Call Center Bill Signed into Law

A bill further assuring that local call centers remain in the area was signed into law.  Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that sets forth specific procedures for the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to follow when a gas or electric company seeks to close a local call center.

Read More Here


Upcoming Labor Events:

  • January 15, 2015 – Rockland CLC Meeting, 4:00 PM, IBEW 363, 8 Taylor Lane, New City, NY
  • Janaury 19, 2015 – Martin Luther King, Jr Day
  • January 21, 2015 – State of the State Address, Albany, NY
  • Janaury 26, 2015 – Upper-Hudson CLC Meeting, 6:00 PM,  NYSUT, 201 Stockade Drive, Kingston, NY
  • January 27, 2015 – Hudson-Catskill CLC Meeting, 6:30 PM, CSEA, 450 E. Main Street, Middletown, NY
  • Janaury 28, 2015 – Dutchess CLC Meeting, 5:30 PM, CWA 1120, 157 Van Wagner Road, Poughkeepsie, NY
  • February 17, 2015 – HVALF Legislative Breakfast SAVE THE DATE


The Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation mourns the loss of Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.  He was a true democrat who worked hard to keep the dreams and hopes alive for working Americans and New Yorkers, native and immigrant alike.  We extend our condolences to his family, his friends, and to all of those who were influenced by him.
Sincerely,
Paul F. Ellis-Graham,
President

As the year comes to a close, and you finish holiday shopping, we would like to remind you to continue to BOYCOTT STAPLES and AVOID WALMART!

We strongly encourage you to shop at OfficeMax/Office Depot and Costco instead!

To find out more about both issues, please refer to the following links:

http://stopstaples.com/

http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/

Warmest Wishes for a Happy Holiday and a Wonderful New Year!

We extend our best wishes to you and your family for a healthy holiday season!

In Unity,

The Westchester/Putnam Central Labor Body AFL-CIO

 

HOLIDAY BUFFET REMINDER!

Come and join the WPCLB executive board, delegates, community leaders, candidates and electeds at our Annual Holiday Buffet Reception!

Wednesday, December 10th

6:30PM-8PM

at the WPCLB

595 West Hartsdale Ave.,

White Plains, NY 10607

This is the time, the time of the year, when giving not getting will bring you good cheer!WPCLB Annual Holiday Drives 2014Once again we have partnered with the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center to donate toys/items for children in need. With your help last year, we were able to donate thousands of dollars worth of items!We can only accept monetary donations or gifts specifically purchased from the wish list below.With monetary donations, we will purchase gifts on your behalf.We are also accepting Bed Bath and Beyond & Buy Buy Baby coupons (not expired) – this helps us make the most of the purchases off the wish list.Please make checks payable to WPCLB and send to 595 West Hartsdale Ave., White Plains, NY 10607. Please send/drop off coupons to the same address.~Elizabeth Seton Pedatric Center Wish ListAll toys, clothes and donations must be new due to heightened infection control precautions. Additionally, we cannot accept any plush toys

For Babies and Infants:MobilesClothesLamaze company infant toysMozart Music CubeBoppy PillowsBoppy Pillow coversBumboo Chairs For Toddlers +:Sesame Street songs on CD’sSesame Street DVD’sChildren’s Musical CD’sPop up Cause & Effect ToysPhonics RadiosLeap Start See and Say’sLeap Frog Products For School Age and TeensBackpacksBaby dolls (realistic)Children’s Books on CD’sChildren’s BooksGift Cards (All Variety)Scrapbooking SuppliesClothes – All Sizes (comfortable – loose fitting) (No Turtlenecks)Winter Coats – All Size

**Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center

can always use new clothes, new winter coats,

new socks and new sports bras all sizes are welcomed.**

Have items that are gently used??

In addition, the WPCLB is collecting gently used CLOTHES and SHOES – any style, size (no holes please). These will be donated to the Movers for Moms Campaign to be given to victims of domestic violence. Lastly, new toiletries will also be accepted for this drive.

When donating, please mark your bags with

‘Movers for Moms’ or ‘Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center’.

We thank you in advance for making the world a bit brighter for those in need this holiday season!

December 10th is the final day for all collections!

Questions? Contact jennifer@wpclb.org

Tonight at 6:30 P.M.: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/yonkers-insider

Time: 6:30 PM of show on Blog Talk Radio on everyday except for Friday and Sunday.

Show on Friday is at 11:00 PM.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/yonkers-insider/2014/11/20/yonkers-insider-online-radio-show

Barry McGoey was my guest on November 20, 2014.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/yonkers-insider/2014/11/24/yonkers-insider-online-radio-show

Jeffrey Deskovic, Criminal Justice Advocate; Exoneree and also head of the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice was my guest on December 8, 2014.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/yonkers-insider/2014/12/08/yonkers-insider-online-radio-show

 

Hello all:
Please join us on Saturday, April 25, 2015 for our Annual Clean-up Day and barbecue for the crew (10:00am-2:00pm, Volunteers meet 10:00am at The Charter School of Educational Excellence, 260 Warburton Ave) . There is also a Clearwater Concert , “Earth Grooves” at 7:00pm, St. John’s Church, 1 Hudson Street, Yonkers NY.
Please see attached flyers for more information.
We hope to see you there!
Board of Directors
Hudson River Community Association of Northwest Yonkers, Inc.
P.O. Box 866, Yonkers, New York 10702-0866

Dear neighbors and friends:

We support this petition to save the Richard Hass murals located in downtown Yonkers .  We hope that you will go the link below to voice your support of these beautiful works of art.
The Board of Directors
Hudson River Community Association of Northwest Yonkers, Inc.
P.O. Box 866, Yonkers, New York 10702-0866

VOTE, NOV. 2, 2010

 HAPPY FALL!  JOIN US AT OUR CANDIDATES’ NIGHT, WED, OCT. 13, 7:30 PM, Nepperhan Community Center, 342 Warburton Ave., Yonkers
Check out our website for other events in the community
Hudson River Community Association of Northwest Yonkers, Inc.
P.O. Box 866, Yonkers, New York 10702-0866
Press Release Header.png

SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER ANDREA STEWART-COUSINS DELIVERS FINAL 

REMARKS BEFORE SENATE PASSES 2015-16 STATE BUDGET

“What happened in this budget, and the story of this budget, is more of a story of who was included, who was left out, and its also more of a story of what didn’t happen as opposed to what did. We failed to raise the minimum wage that would’ve lifted thousands of New Yorkers out of poverty. We failed to provide desperately needed property tax relief for homeowners and business owners across New York State. Yet, we gave tax breaks to yacht owners and airplane owners. We failed to deliver relief for renters and provide adequate funding for affordable housing. We failed to address the inequality in how we fund our schools, and instead of using comprehensive, bottom-up approaches, we once again rely on SED (State Education Dept) and a quick testing fix (for new teacher evaluation policy). We haven’t gone far enough to ensure that every child has the opportunity to access quality, affordable higher education. We failed to pass the Dream Act. Scandal after scandal has rocked Albany, yet we failed to pass a meaningful ethics package that would’ve gotten to the heart of the problem.We didn’t include paid family leave or raise the age (of criminal responsibility) legislation. And we even failed to provide the transparency and openness that the public deserves when we deal with such a massive undertaking. We simply rushed bills to print and then to floor with little or no real public debate or input. While we pat ourselves on the back for an on-time budget, in this chamber at least – and I know its important – we also need to recognize there is still a lot of work to do.”

Listen and view full remarks here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLmiTwEyhoQ&feature=youtu.be

Senate Republicans Vote To Hold School Aid Hostage.

 

(Albany, NY) The Senate Democratic Conference today brought legislation to the Senate floor that would have prevented the state’s school aid from being held hostage by decoupling it from teacher evaluation policy. The Senate Republican Majority voted down this measure.

 

“State government should never play politics with our students’ education and yet that is exactly what has been happening during state budget negotiations,” Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “Linking education spending with teacher evaluations is a cynical maneuver that jeopardizes struggling school districts throughout New York State. All New York students deserve a high quality education and I am disappointed that the Senate Republicans voted against this initiative.”

 

Legislation advanced by the Senate Democratic Conference would have blocked efforts to link state education aid disbursements with the implementation of a new teacher evaluation policy. This initiative would have ensured that New York public schools received the state funds they need without being required to implement a controversial, untested evaluation system.

 

Bill sponsor, Senator George Latimer, said, “It is simply wrong to use our children’s education and their future as a political bargaining chip. Our education system needs real reforms that are worked out with the inclusion and support of stakeholders, rather than political actions that only serve to demonize teachers and don’t improve the quality of our public schools. We need real cooperation across the aisle, not partisan gamesmanship.”

Statement From Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“As more and more items are being removed from this year’s State Budget, I am especially concerned that efforts to increase the minimum wage seemed to have stalled. Now is the time to help the hard working men and women who are struggling because of our already inadequately low minimum wage. We cannot miss another opportunity to help lift over 1.1 million New Yorkers out of poverty, and finally pass a meaningful minimum wage increase with indexing.”

Statement From Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“As more and more items are being removed from this year’s State Budget, I am especially concerned that efforts to increase the minimum wage seemed to have stalled. Now is the time to help the hard working men and women who are struggling because of our already inadequately low minimum wage. We cannot miss another opportunity to help lift over 1.1 million New Yorkers out of poverty, and finally pass a meaningful minimum wage increase with indexing.

Statement From Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins On Education Funding.

“Funding for New York State schools should not be held hostage due to the ongoing debate over how best to reform our education system. Our state’s students need help and we have a responsibility to ensure their schools are provided necessary funding immediately. Any delays or excuses to avoid adequate funding will simply hurt our students and that is unacceptable.”

Statement From Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins On Education.

“As discussions regarding a commission to reform New York’s education system continue and details begin emerge, it is becoming clear that this potential commission is unworkable. Any commission created to review and amend our education system must be balanced and include representation from all stakeholders, not simply a select few. The priorities of this commission should be to improve the quality of education our students receive, and not simply continue the demonization of teachers.”

SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER ANDREA STEWART-COUSINS RELEASES 2015-16 STATE BUDGET PRIORITIES.

requests $2 Billion Increase in Education Funding.

 

(March 18, 2015) Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and her Senate colleagues have released their 2015-16 State Budget priorities. The priorities include:  adding another $2 billion in funding for education;  increasing the minimum wage; creating more affordable housing and job opportunities through capital projects; increasing aid to local municipalities to help reduce property taxes; increased funding for EPIC, the prescription drug plan for seniors, and for kinship care. The list of priorities, in the form of a budget letter to the republican Senate Majority Leader, also includes provisions for the $5.1 billion in settlement funds available for one-time investments this year, including $75 million in zero interest loans for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.

 

“The budget priorities outlined by the Senate Democrats reflect our view of our state’s most important needs, including adequately funding our education system and not linking policy reforms to critical funding,” said Senator Stewart-Cousins. “We have two weeks to put together a budget that works for all New Yorkers.”

 

Priorities that specifically relate to the 35th District include:

 

  • A $2 BILLION INCREASE IN EDUCATION FUNDING:

The Enacted Budget must address adequate funding from universal pre-k to college, with increases first targeting high-needs districts including Yonkers, which the Senator pointed out in her remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, has requested an additional $89 million to maintain the status quo.  

  • Increase funding by 4.8% for Special Act School Districts that instruct our most vulnerable students, include tuition indexing for Special Act Schools and 853 schools

  • fund Library Aid at the 2010 Census level and increase construction funds by $14 million

 

  • LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE INCLUDING TAX CAP EXEMPTIONS:

The Democratic Conference agrees with the Executive’s proposals to increase AIM funding by 10% for local governments with the greatest needs; and proposes:

  • Exempting capital equipment purchases and capital projects from the tax cap, giving local governments more flexibility to invest in local infrastructure;

  • Restore VLT Impact Aid (Video Lottery Terminals at Empire City at Yonkers Raceway);

  • Provide $50 million for Body Cameras program that would reimburse local and State law enforcement agencies for their purchase

 

  • TAX RELIEF:

  • amend the existing NYS Real Property Tax Law for school districts like Greenburgh Central that are experiencing issues of incongruent property valuations, to establish a special equalization rate for the purpose of determining its State operating and building aid

  • MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE:

    • including $900 million from $5.1 billion settlement funds for Low Wage Worker Stimulus as outlined in Senate Democrats’ Fair New York Plan

    • indexing increase to the Consumer Price Index

 

  • ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:

    • Provide $1.5 billion in new capital funding for infrastructure to promote jobs and economic development statewide without competitive strings attached

 

  • AFFORDABLE HOUSING:

    • Fully fund New York “Mixed Income” Housing Program – $400 million

    • Fully fund State Low Income Housing Tax Credit, Housing Trust Fund, Affordable Home Ownership Development, and Urban Initiatives Program -

$250 million

 

  • SENIORS:

  • Include $126.5 million for the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) Program

  • KINSHIP CARE:

    • Increase Kinship Caregiver/ Navigator program funding by $1 million

 

  • HIGHER EDUCATION:

    • Increase the maximum TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) award to $6,500, raise the income eligibility and reinstate Graduate TAP

    • Approve the DREAM ACT

  

  • TRANSPORTATION:

    • Increase funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program by using $200 million of bank settlement proceeds to make a significant impact on local road and bridge capital needs;

    • Provide funding for the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, as well as for the Tappan Zee Bridge’s Bus Rapid Transit service to provide the Lower Hudson Valley with affordable, environmentally-friendly transit opportunities;

 

  • VETERANS:

    • fund female veterans homelessness prevention, and employment assistance initiatives

    • Increase funding for Veterans’ Regional Advocacy centers by $1 million;

 

*Links to:

Senator Stewart-Cousins’ Budget Remarks: http://www.nysenate.gov/video/2015/mar/12/leader-stewart-cousins-remarks-2015-16-senate-budget-resolution

Senate Democratic Conference Budget Request Letter:

https://www.scribd.com/doc/258250919/Senate-Democratic-Conference-Budget-Request-Letter

 

 

 

SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER ANDREA STEWART-COUSINS RELEASES 2015-16 STATE BUDGET PRIORITIES

requests $2 Billion Increase in Education Funding

(March 18, 2015) Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and her Senate colleagues have released their 2015-16 State Budget priorities. The priorities include:  adding another $2 billion in funding for education;  increasing the minimum wage; creating more affordable housing and job opportunities through capital projects; increasing aid to local municipalities to help reduce property taxes; increased funding for EPIC, the prescription drug plan for seniors, and for kinship care. The list of priorities, in the form of a budget letter to the republican Senate Majority Leader, also includes provisions for the $5.1 billion in settlement funds available for one-time investments this year, including more than $1 billion for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.

“The budget priorities outlined by the Senate Democrats reflect our view of our state’s most important needs, including adequately funding our education system and not linking policy reforms to critical funding,” said Senator Stewart-Cousins. “We have two weeks to put together a budget that works for all New Yorkers.”

Priorities that specifically relate to the 35th District include:

  • A $2 BILLION INCREASE IN EDUCATION FUNDING:

The Enacted Budget must address adequate funding from universal pre-k to college, with increases first targeting high-needs districts including Yonkers, which the Senator pointed out in her remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, has requested an additional $89 million to maintain the status quo.

  • Increase funding by 4.8% for Special Act School Districts that instruct our most vulnerable students, include tuition indexing for Special Act Schools and 853 schools
  • fund Library Aid at the 2010 Census level and increase construction funds by $14 million
  • LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE INCLUDING TAX CAP EXEMPTIONS:

The Democratic Conference agrees with the Executive’s proposals to increase AIM funding by 10% for local governments with the greatest needs; and proposes:

  • Exempting capital equipment purchases and capital projects from the tax cap, giving local governments more flexibility to invest in local infrastructure;
  • Restore VLT Impact Aid (Video Lottery Terminals at Empire City at Yonkers Raceway);
  • Provide $50 million for Body Cameras program that would reimburse local and State law enforcement agencies for their purchase
  • TAX RELIEF:
  • amend the existing NYS Real Property Tax Law for school districts like Greenburgh Central that are experiencing issues of incongruent property valuations, to establish a special equalization rate for the purpose of determining its State operating and building aid
  • MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE:
    • including $900 million from $5.1 billion settlement funds for Low Wage Worker Stimulus as outlined in Senate Democrats’ Fair New York Plan
    • indexing increase to the Consumer Price Index
  • ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:
  • Provide $1.5 billion in new capital funding for infrastructure to promote jobs and economic development statewide without competitive strings attached
  • AFFORDABLE HOUSING:
  • Fully fund New York “Mixed Income” Housing Program – $400 million
    • Fully fund State Low Income Housing Tax Credit, Housing Trust Fund, Affordable Home Ownership Development, and Urban Initiatives Program -

$250 million

  • SENIORS:
  • Include $126.5 million for the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) Program
  • KINSHIP CARE:
  • Increase Kinship Caregiver/ Navigator program funding by $1 million
  • HIGHER EDUCATION:
    • Increase the maximum TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) award to $6,500, raise the income eligibility and reinstate Graduate TAP
    • Approve the DREAM ACT

  

  • TRANSPORTATION:
  • Increase funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program by using $200 million of bank settlement proceeds to make a significant impact on local road and bridge capital needs;
  • Provide funding for the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, as well as for the Tappan Zee Bridge’s Bus Rapid Transit service to provide the Lower Hudson Valley with affordable, environmentally-friendly transit opportunities;
  • VETERANS:
  • fund female veterans homelessness prevention, and employment assistance initiatives
  • Increase funding for Veterans’ Regional Advocacy centers by $1 million;

*Links to:

Senator Stewart-Cousins’ Budget Remarks: http://www.nysenate.gov/video/2015/mar/12/leader-stewart-cousins-remarks-2015-16-senate-budget-resolution

Senate Democratic Conference Budget Request Letter:

https://www.scribd.com/doc/258250919/Senate-Democratic-Conference-Budget-Request-Letter

 

Statement From Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Paid Family Leave

 

“I commend the Assembly for passing the Paid Family Leave Act. The Senate Democratic Conference has long supported this legislation that would provide the most help to New York Families. Those who provide care for a sick loved one or give a newborn baby the care, time and attention prescribed by doctors should never be punished for doing the right thing. The Senate Democratic Conference remains committed to building a stronger economy by helping our hardworking families and will continue to lead the way on paid family leave.”

Senate Democratic Conference Outlines Budget Requests

 

Question Governor’s budget approach while continuing to push for a more fair and economically prosperous New York-Including additional 2 billion in school aid and higher minimum wage indexed to inflation

 

(Albany, NY) The Senate Democratic Conference have outlined their budget requests for the state’s 2015-2016 budget following analysis of the Governor’s Executive Budget and testimonies provided by various stakeholders during the Joint Legislative Budget Hearings. The outline highlights their strong concerns over the Governor’s attempt to force policies through an appropriation bill and reiterates that such policies, many of which are supported including their ethics reform measures, should be passed separately and immediately. The Democratic Conference’s requests focus on many important fiscal issues such as adequately funding public education, indexing the minimum wage to lift thousands of New Yorkers out of poverty, passing the Dream Act and providing localities funding for police body cameras.

 

The Senate Democratic Conference’s budget requests would create greater opportunities for all New Yorkers and move our state’s economy forward by addressing many critical areas that include:

 

Education: The Budget must recognize and adequately address issues regarding education funding, from universal pre-kindergarten through college. Early investment in our youngest New Yorkers pays dividends not just in the education realm, but also in concrete economic, social, and cultural terms. Teachers cannot be made scapegoats for the ills of our education system. The timely creation of an education redesign team comprised of all stakeholders is the best way to discuss and bring about real reforms to better all students. The overall State Aid proposal should provide an increase to Foundation Aid and address the harmful effects created by the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). The increases should first target high-need urban, suburban, and high-need rural school districts. Specific increases for the Big Five city school districts also are necessary this fiscal year. Our Conference recommends the following:

  • Include $2 billion in additional funding for the overall education budget;
    • Increase funding by 4.8% for Special Act School Districts that instruct our most vulnerable students, include tuition indexing for Special Act Schools and 853 schools;
    • Provide additional funds for school districts with an increasing number of unaccompanied minors and require the State Education Department to ensure that those students are receiving appropriate services;
    • Restore $40 million in funding for the Teacher Centers;
    • Increase Adult Literacy funds by $10 million.

 

Labor & Workforce:

It is critical for the Enacted Budget to address properly the needs of public and private sector employees. While the State’s unemployment rate has dropped, the State must pay additional attention to keeping and preserving good paying jobs, supporting critical workforce training, and promoting efficient public services that employ diligent public employees.

 

The Senate Democratic Conference has stood by the right for fair pay and understands the importance of raising the minimum wage for the lowest wage earners. We believe the proposed minimum wage increase is to be applauded but that the Executive Budget should go a step further by providing yearly increases indexed to inflation, as well as local control. Until the Governor’s minimum wage proposals are accepted and implemented, our Fair New York plan can serve as a bridge between the current minimum wage and the anticipated increase. These additional measures will ensure that the minimum wage truly meets the needs of New York’s wage earners. Our Conference rejects the continued efforts to undermine the competitive civil service system using temporary, non-competitive positions to handle critical state services. The Senate Democratic Conference recommends the following:

  • Add to the Governor’s minimum wage proposal a yearly increase, indexed to the Consumer Price Index; and allow for local control;
  • Until the implementation of an increased minimum wage occurs, include $900 million from the settlement monies to fund the Low Wage Worker Stimulus. This measure would provide tax relief to working New Yorkers;
  • Increase the Department of Labor’s budget by $20 million to address wage theft;
  • Restore $12.6 million in labor initiatives and training programs cut in the Executive Budget;
  • Eliminate the authority to hire provisional, non-competitive civil service employees in the Office of Information Technology Services and Department of Health;
  • Ensure that all current Management/Confidential titles are covered by the M/C pay parity proposal.

 

 

Ethics: It has become clear that now, more than ever, the State government must work towards restoring the public’s faith in its government. A system of full public financing of election campaigns would help to level the playing field for those who wish to run for public office, but otherwise could not afford it. The Senate Democratic Conference has always understood the importance of ethics reform, and in the past, has introduced some of the most aggressive policies to date . Enacting reforms appropriately to be considered in the budget process would have a tremendous impact in restoring the public’s trust in our state government.

Economic Development: Micro, small, and medium businesses are major components of the local, state, and national economy. As New York moves forward in its economic recovery, it is vital that we support those innovators and entrepreneurs. To help accomplish that objective, any budget proposal should:

  • Provide $1.5 billion in new capital funding for infrastructure to promote jobs and economic development statewide without competitive strings attached;
  • Support $110 million in capital funding for a new round of NYSUNY 2020 and NYCUNY 2020 grants, including $55 million for each university system;
  • Direct $50 million in new funding for the Small Business Revolving Loan Fund, targeted to businesses that have had difficulty accessing regular credit markets and offers regular and micro-loans pursuant to the need;
  • Increase funds by $5 million for the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Development and Lending Program, which is administered by Empire State Development;
  • Provide increased funding to promote the goal of ensuring that every New Yorker has access to high-speed broadband service, including underserved and unserved communities in both urban and rural areas; and
  • Provide $50 million for Community Development Financial Institutions program, to provide credit, banking services, and investment capital, that are vital to the revitalization of low and moderate income communities and neighborhoods throughout the state, while leveraging federal and other banking investments.

 

Health:

The 2015-16 Executive Budget provides $2.8 billion in capital funding for the Health Care Facility Transformation Program. Within this capital appropriation is $1.9 billion for the transformation of health delivery in Kings County, Oneida County, and essential health care providers in defined and isolated geographic regions of the state. Selection of the projects and distribution of these funds would be at the sole discretion of the Commissioner of Health.

The final budget should amend the Executive Budget language to ensure an allocation of $700 million in capital dollars for Kings County health care transformation. Furthermore the Enacted Budget must ensure the allocation of $1.2 billion in capital funding from the 2014-15 Enacted Budget to improve the financial viability and increased efficiency of healthcare institutions through infrastructure improvements in Brooklyn, and in communities throughout the State. The Senate Democratic Conference recommends the following:

  • The following proposals should be immediately rejected:

o   To consolidate 41 public health programs into 5 appropriation pools. In addition, the budget should restore all 41 programs to the 2014-15 Enacted levels and provide an additional $21.3 million in funding;

o   Article VII language that would eliminate the requirement for the Department of Health to conduct audits of hospital residents working hours;

o   To eliminate the physician profile website;

o   To reduce the Medicare Part B and Part C cost sharing amounts; and

o   Eliminate the spousal refusal Article VII language.

o   To make permanent the Medicaid Global cap, rather it should be extended for two years;

  • The Budget should reappropriate $1.2 billion for the Capital Restructuring Refinance Program;
  • The Budget should provide funding for programs including:

o   Community Health Advocates, $5 million;

o   Managed Care Consumer Assistance Program, $1.96 million;

o   American Red Cross, $3.3 million;

o   End of AIDS taskforce recommendations, $17 million for implementation;

o   Increase $2 million for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity; and

o   Increase $17 million for Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance.

 

Higher Education

 

New York’s public higher education institutions are increasingly dependent upon tuition revenue. The loss of state tax dollar support forces CUNY and SUNY to compete in an unfair environment for faculty, research dollars and other resources. It is unjustifiable to further burden vital state universities by instituting a program that would withhold 10% of base aid to force improvements already taking place. We should be investing in these valuable institutions. The Endowment Fund for Higher Education is an unprecedented investment in the future of the higher education sector, and could be used to address the needs of colleges and their students without harmful ramifications. We should take this opportunity to support our students and colleges to ensure the future of New York State. The Senate Democratic Conference recommends the following:

  • Create the Endowment Fund for Higher Education using $300 million of the settlement funds for student financial assistance, providing academic and financial advising, offering required courses, child care and elder care services, developing programs to address student loan debt, hiring full-time faculty, and various other uses;
  • Reject performance-based funding language from the CUNY and SUNY appropriations;
  • Approve the DREAM Act;
  • Increase College Base Aid by $250 per FTE for both CUNY and SUNY community colleges;
  • Increase the maximum TAP award to $6,500, and reinstate Graduate TAP;
  • Increase critical maintenance by $181 million for CUNY and $400 million for SUNY over the next five years;
  • Restore $18.6 million in legislative addition to SUNY hospital funding; and
  • Increase CUNY rental aid by $2.9 million.

 

Human Services: The human services budget should address the needs of New York’s most vulnerable citizens and reflect that reality. With that principle in mind, the Senate Democratic Conference would recommend the following:

Aging

  • Increase funding by $21 million for the Community Services for the Elderly Program that provides non-medical community-based services to frail, low-income seniors to help them remain in their homes. There are currently over 7,000 seniors awaiting services across the state;
  • Increase the New York State SSI rate by $5 per day and provide a commensurate increase in the Personal Needs Allowance for residents of Adult Care Facilities;
  • Restore $1.1 million for the following senior programs that have been eliminated:
  • Include:
    • $8.2 million for the NY Connects Program; and
    • $126.5 million for the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Program.

 

Social Services

  • Include:
    • $17.3 million for the Advantage Afterschool Program;
    • $794 million for child care subsidies;
    • $30 million for the Summer Youth Employment Program;
      • an additional $19.3 million in funding to allow for an extra 10,000 program slots to meet demand;
    • A 2% cost of living adjustment increase for foster care and adoptive parents, direct care, direct care support workers, and clinical staff.
    • $635 million for Child Welfare Services;
    • $275,000 for employment training for the legally blind;
    • $20 million for the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies;
    • $12.1 million for Community Optional Prevention Services (COPS);
    • $27 million of the JP Morgan settlement funds to cover a portion of the costs for the cap on rent for individuals diagnosed with HIV or AIDS who are receiving housing assistance or emergency shelter aid, up to 30% of household income; and
    • $25 million for the New York State Office for New Americans
  • Increase:
    • $3 million for Settlement Houses;
    • Funding for Runaway and Homeless Youth Assistance (RHYA) by $2.4 million for use in providing additional shelter beds, long-term transitional living beds, and support services;
    • Funding by $3 million for the Nurse Family Partnership Program;
    • Funding by $14 million for the Pay for Success Program specific to the Nurse Family Partnership Initiative; and
    • Kinship Caregiver/ Navigator program funding by $1 million.
  • Restore
    • $28.2 million in funding for TANF Initiatives;
    • Funding of $1.3 million for the Youth Development Program; and
    • Funding for Safe Harbor Programs.
  • Fully reimburse federally funded Emergency Assistance for Families.

 

Mental Hygiene:

The Executive Budget continues to build on the transformation of service delivery that began as part of the 2014-15 Enacted Budget and proposes to reduce the number of beds in State operated facilities and transfer those savings into community based services throughout New York State. The 2015-16 Enacted Budget should ensure that all savings achieved through the reduction of beds at State operated facilities be reinvested into community based services for mental hygiene agencies. The Senate Democratic Conference recommends the following:

  • Include an additional $10 million for public education and awareness, treatment, prevention, and residential programs targeted at heroin or opiate abuse;
  • Include $5 million for comprehensive problem gambling prevention initiatives.; and
  • Extend for one year the Article VII language authorizing facility directors of State operated facilities to use patient funds to pay for treatment and care costs.

 

General Government & Local Assistance:

A strong and enduring partnership between cities, towns and state government is essential to a healthy and expanding economy. It gives local governments the ability to provide world-class education and municipal services, and ensures safe streets and neighborhoods. This type of partnership is extremely necessary to assist local governments in maintaining local roads and vital infrastructure fundamental to our state’s economic success and competitiveness.

The following budgetary considerations would provide cities and towns with much needed funds to deliver vital services that are critical to our overall economic growth, and would ensure that today’s municipal overreliance on the property tax will not deepen:

  • Increase AIM by 10% for local governments with the greatest needs;
  • Provide further AIM assistance to those localities that meet the challenge to consolidate costs and improve local efficiencies in the coming years;
  • Exempt capital equipment purchases and capital projects from the tax cap, giving local governments more flexibility to invest in local infrastructure;
  • Repurpose the $150 million appropriation (Special Infrastructure Account) for municipal restructuring for local government assistance statewide and reimbursing municipalities for prior year consolidation and or shared service agreements;
  • Restore VLT Impact Aid;
  • Restore $ 2 million to Community Dispute Resolution Centers;
  • Provide $50 million for Body Cameras program that would reimburse local and State law enforcement agencies for their purchase.
  • Provide $300 million for the Capital Infrastructure Bank program that would provide funding for major capital investments not otherwise covered by State programs.

 

Public Protection:

The Executive Budget proposes to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18 years of age to provide appropriate treatment to minors charged with crimes.  The Enacted Budget must include language explaining how this provision will be efficiently implemented. The Office of Court Administration needs funding to implement the provisions of the “Raise the Age” campaign. Additionally, this Conference recommends the following:

 

  • Provide additional monies from the OILS Account to cover all counties for indigent counsel at arraignment and possibly fund the Defenders Association;
  • Increase funding by 5.5% for Domestic Violence Centers to cover increased costs;
  • Include funding to restore existing Alternative to Incarceration program cuts and increase funding for culturally sensitive community based and other youth engagement programs; and
  • Include additional monies Prisoners Legal Services.

 

 

Housing:

Access to supportive housing and Affordable Housing is the most successful and cost-effective solution to ending homelessness. At this time, the number of homeless families and single individuals has increased at an alarming rate in the city of New York. As primarily outlined in our surplus/ settlement fund proposal, the Senate Democratic Conference wants to take action on this issue and propose the following:

  • Increase funding for NY/NY IV by $540 million to build an additional 30,000 new housing units for low income New Yorkers, HIV/AIDS rent cap, substance abuse, and mental hygiene programs;
  • Fully fund New York “Mixed Income” Housing Program in the amount of $400 million for affordable housing for households;
  • Provide $100 million in additional funding to provide legal counsel for indigent New Yorkers in housing court;
  • Ensure that the Office of Rent Administration and the Tenant Protection Unit receives additional operating funding; $15 million to ORA with an understanding that $5 Million goes to TPU;
  • Provide additional state support in the amount of $400 million for New York City Housing Authority to make repairs;
  • Include $50 million for the Middle Income Repairs and Revitalization program in New York State; and
  • Fully fund State Low Income Housing Tax Credit, Housing Trust Fund, Affordable Home Ownership Development, and Urban Initiatives Program at $250 million to build, acquire/rehabilitate or improve homes for low and moderate income families and provide grants to construct or renovate low-income housing preservation and community renewal activities in distressed neighborhoods.

 

Agriculture & Environment:

Sewage and wastewater treatment facilities in New York State are deteriorating. Almost all of New York’s residents rely on these facilities to treat sewage and wastewater from their homes and businesses. Treating wastewater adequately is essential for public health and economic development. This issue is of extreme importance to the Senate Democratic Conference. Consistent with our surplus/settlement proposal, we would:

  • Fully support the addition of $800 million in capital funding for clean water and wastewater infrastructure projects;
  • Reject the proposed $36 million transfer of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative proceeds to the General Fund;
  • Utilize increased Real Estate Transfer Tax revenue to fully fund the Environmental Protection Fund;
  • Extend and reform the Brownfield program;
  • Fully restore funding for Centers of Excellence in Children’s Environmental Health;
  • Fully restore and adequately fund Aid to Localities agricultural programs;
  • Increase capital funding for farmland protection by $150 million; and
  • Fully fund Urban Parks and Park Improvements at $125 million to improve the quality of green spaces in densely populated neighborhoods where park access and safe, modern amenities are often sparse.

 

Taxes and Revenue: The US and New York State economies have continued to recover from the “Great Recession.” However, real wage growth still has been relatively weak both in the nation and the state. Furthermore, continuing long-term trends, fundamental components of maintaining an acceptable middle class standard of living such as quality health care and higher education are becoming increasingly unaffordable or unattainable. We strongly believe it is vital that working families across all regions of the state obtain concrete and immediate tax relief in the 2015-16 State Budget. Our recommendations regarding State taxes and revenue include:

  • Support reform of NYC corporate taxes in the Executive Revenue Bill (S.2009, Part QQ) as proposed by Mayor DeBlasio; Support inclusion of the Real Property Tax Relief Credit (“Circuit Breaker”) with the following modifications:
    •  Increase the maximum renter’s credit to $750 upstate and to $1000 for downstate regions;
  • Increase the rent equivalent tax percentage from 13.75% to 20%;
  • Review all existing State tax expenditures in order to determine if they are not economically efficient and directly promote job and wage growth; and
  • Amend the existing NYS Real Property Tax Law for school districts experiencing issues of incongruent property valuations to establish a special equalization rate for the purpose of determining its State operating and building aid.

 

Transportation:

Capital expenditures in transportation have a tremendous economic multiplier effect and the existence of adequate critical infrastructure serves as an economic driver. This year’s budget shows that significant investments are required to finance transportation agencies and infrastructure. In addition to supplementary funding for these Capital Plans, the Democratic Conference puts forth the following budgetary and legislative recommendations:

  • Increase funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program by using $200 million of bank settlement proceeds to make a significant impact on local road and bridge capital needs;
  • Provide $200 million for deficient bridge emergency repair to assist with remedying the many structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges;
  • Renew and increase the Extreme Weather Program, to $100 million for local government assistance;
  • Dedicate $20 million of federal highway funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, providing consistency for the Transportation Alternatives Program that DOT has in place;
  • Provide $175 million of the bank settlement proceeds to invest in non-MTA transit capital, addressing long-term needs. Permit non-MTA downstate operators to use their $17 million in “surplus” aid for a year-to-year increase in operating assistance to reflect inflationary growth;
  • Link upstate transit aid (PTOA) to a more reliable funding stream that adjusts to changing economic conditions;
  • Provide funding for the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, as well as for the Tappan Zee Bridge’s Bus Rapid Transit service to provide the Lower Hudson Valley with affordable, environmentally-friendly transit opportunities;
  • Oppose sweeps of the MMTOA fund, to increase MTA’s self-sufficiency and provide greater financing leverage, and reduce a portion of the state’s burden to assist in completing its five-year capital program;
  • Increase transparency in DOT Capital Plan and MOU process. The entire legislature should at the very least review the five-year capital plan and MOU before voting;
  • Restore the State’s historical contribution of $45 million for student fares; and
  • Fulfill the State’s promise to NYC to fund a 38% share of rehabilitation costs for roads and bridges and to fully reimburse $40 million for the costs of maintenance of State-owned arterial highways.

 

Veterans:

Providing service members and veterans of our armed forces with the services they need to live full and dignified lives is of the utmost importance. Ensuring that all of our veterans are housed, employed, and receiving the legal services they need should be top priorities. Therefore, our Conference recommends the following:

  • Fund female veterans homelessness prevention, and employment assistance initiatives;
  • Increase funding for Veterans’ Regional Advocacy centers by $1 million;
  • Fully fund the Defenders Association request for $3 million which includes $1 million for Defense of Veterans; and
  • Increase funding for the number of FTE Veteran Counselor positions to support returning veterans and ensuring benefit accessibility. The increased number of positions and new centers would ensure qualified veterans are able to receive appropriate documentation and referral services from Veteran Counselors which would include New York City in the program.

 

Senate Democratic Conference Budget Request Letter:

https://www.scribd.com/doc/258250919/Senate-Democratic-Conference-Budget-Request-Letter

SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER ANDREA STEWART-COUSINS ANNOUNCES ARTS GRANTS

 

(Yonkers- March 9, 2015) Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announces that the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) through ArtsWestchester will distribute funding this month to local artists and organizations in the 35th State Senate District. The grant money was approved in the 2014 State Budget that Senator Stewart-Cousins voted for. ArtsWestchester accepted applications and will award 13 grants in the district, totalling $17,125,  for Arts Alive Projects and Individual Artists as well as Arts-in-Education programs.

 

“I remain a strong supporter of the arts, and these state grants are an important means of keeping and enabling vibrant culture at the grassroots level, whether its by displaying the work of local artists, providing cultural opportunities at festivals, or music at our libraries,” said Senator Stewart-Cousins. “ArtsWestchester vets local funding applications and is keeping the arts alive.”

 

Here are the projects in the 35th State Senate District that are receiving grants:

Town of Greenburgh Arts and Culture Committee                                      $1,000

Greenburgh Public Library, Cafe a las Siete/Coffee at Seven                        $1,500

Groundwork Hudson Valley, Yonkers, Street Art Youth Corp                                  $2,000

Hamm & Clov Stage Company, Inc., Yonkers, Hispanic Heritage Month Event      $2,625

Hudson Valley Singers, Ardsley, Outreach $1,000

Ukrainian Youth Center, Yonkers, Seniors Travel the World                         $2,000

New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence, Museum of Arts & Culture            $1,000

New Westchester Symphony Orchestra, Free Library Concert Series                    $1,000

OCA Westchester & Hudson Valley, Asian American Heritage Festival 2015         $1,000

Yonkers Downtown Business Improvement District, Outdoor Artists Showcase $1,000

Westchester Children’s Museum, White Plains, Museum without Walls $1,000

YOHO Artist Collective, Yonkers, 12th Annual YOHO Artists Open Studio             $1,000

Neighborhood House, Tarrytown,

Seniors Painting for Seniors, Strayhorn Centennial Project $1,000


Statement From Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

 

“As we discuss ways to clean up Albany and reform state government, a perfect ​place to start is the much maligned ​three/four men in a room​ budgetary​ ​process. ​In the past we had been led to believe that membership was based on constitutional roles and not simply the whims of the Governor​. Since​ membership​ has now been ​expanded I would hope all Legislative Conference Leaders will be ​included, ​giving all New Yorkers a voice in the budget. The more diversity and light we can shine on this process the better it is for everyone.”

Senate Democratic Conference Announces “Fair New York” Plan With Major Help For Minimum Wage Workers

 

Create Up to 20,000 Affordable Units of Housing, Over 150,000 Thousand Jobs and Rebuilds Crumbling Infrastructure

 

(Albany, NY) — Leading up to budget negotiations, the Senate Democratic Conference today urged the state to act on “Fair New York,” an investment plan for the state’s projected $5.1 billion surplus that focuses on stimulating future economic growth by creating good jobs and making New York State a more affordable place to live and do business.  The plan makes significant one-time investments across New York State in affordable housing, transportation and education infrastructure, environmental protections and improvements and significant tax relief rebates for low-wage individuals and families.

 

“The funds from our state’s current surplus must be directed towards spurring future economic growth across New York State while giving those who work hard a fair shot at improving their standing in life,” Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “Through smart investments in our hardworking families and local communities we can create greater opportunities for all New Yorkers and build a more enduring, thriving and fair economy. These surplus funds must be utilized to help low-wage workers, invest in affordable housing, rebuild our state’s infrastructure and prepare for the challenges of the future as these are all common sense ways to grow the economy and ensure New York State thrives in the years ahead. I encourage my colleagues in the Legislature to join with the Senate Democratic Conference to ensure these funds are utilized to lay the foundation for our state’s future economic prosperity.”

 

The Senate Democratic Conference’s proposal includes:

  • $900 million stimulus program to  provide low-wage workers with a one-time tax relief rebate of up to $2,800 per worker.

o   Stimulus program would provide the equivalent funds as if the state’s minimum wage were $10.10 an hour.

o   This action will be a bridge between the current minimum wage and the anticipated increase to $10.50 an hour announced by Governor Cuomo.

 

  • $50 million to reimburse local and State law enforcement agencies that purchase wearable body cameras to ensure these agencies do not bear the costs of these investments.

 

  • Since  much of these surplus funds  were from the housing market, we will invest a significant amount of money in housing capital. $1.2 billion that will help municipalities throughout New York State create nearly 20,000 affordable housing units and generate 34,000 jobs. Funds from this initiative include:

o   $400 million for a new statewide “mixed-income” housing initiative to invest in buildings inhabited by families with low to moderate  incomes.

o   $400 million for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for dedicated programs addressing the maintenance backlog, including stairwell and hall lighting, roof repair, and addressing crumbling façades

o   $325 million in additional funding to affordable housing programs for the construction, improvement and weatherization of housing  units and surrounding neighborhoods.

o   $75 million in tax credits for the State Low Income Housing Tax Credit to enable New York State Homes & Community Renewal (HCR) to offer an additional credit above the current $56 million cap.

 

  • $1.1 billion in transportation capital that would create over 30,700 jobs includes:

o   $300 million in additional CHIPs and extreme weather funding for local infrastructure improvements.

o   $275 million in 0% interest loans for the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

o   $200 million for deficient bridge repair.

o   $175 million for non-MTA transit and $150 million for rail freight.

  • $500 million in environmental capital that will invest:

o   $150 million in farmland protection to provide relief to upstate farmers and $35 million to assist urban municipalities improve the quality of their green spaces.

o   Additional funding includes assisting communities in upgrading their wastewater infrastructure, Brownfield cleanup and park improvements.

 

  • $1 billion in education infrastructure capital that will provide payments for school district infrastructure needs associated with health and safety, accessibility, physical capacity or school construction projects and energy cost reduction projects.

o   Funds from this program are separate from the Smart Schools Bond Act.

o   This initiative would create 28,600 jobs.

  • $50 million to provide credit, banking services, and investment capital to Community Development Financial Institutions.

o   These institutions are essential for the revitalization of low and moderate income communities and neighborhoods throughout the state

o   This initiative would create over 1,400 jobs.

 

  • $300 million to create a Capital Infrastructure Bank that would see a return on revenue and be used for emergency infrastructure projects.

 

Statement From Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

  

“This was a horrific tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones and those that have been injured. There will be a full investigation into this heartbreaking incident and over the next few days we will find out exactly what happened. Now is the time for all us to support those so deeply affected by this tragedy.”

Senate Democratic Conference Introduce The “Clean Up Albany” Legislative Package

 

Includes Legislation that Restricts Outside Income, Closes LLC Loophole, Ends State Reimbursements for Legal Defense and Strips Pensions from Corrupt Officials

 

(Albany, NY) The Senate Democratic Conference today unveiled a major legislative package to deal with the ongoing ethics crisis in State Government. This package of groundbreaking bills will cap legislators’ outside incomes, end the LLC loophole, bar elected officials from using campaign funds for criminal defense and personal use and end the practice of taxpayer funded reimbursements of legal fees. The Senate Democrats also introduced measures to strip corrupt officials of taxpayer funded pensions and reform how campaigns are funded. Unfortunately, the Senate Republican Majority has consistently blocked all meaningful ethics reforms initiatives.

 

“These scandals have become too common and are something that we must deal with immediately. We are facing a crisis of mistrust in Albany,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “The legislation offered by the Senate Democratic Conference will help rebuild the trust in our state government that has been rocked by repeated scandals. I urge the Senate Republicans to end their opposition to cleaning up Albany and finally join with the Senate Democratic Conference to pass these good government reforms.”

 

The Senate Democratic Conference ethics reforms initiatives are intended to return the public’s trust in state government by restricting outside income, closing loopholes and reforming how campaigns are funded and how campaign funds can be utilized. Bills introduced by the Senate Democratic Conference include legislation that will:

 

  • Restrict Legislators’ Outside Income (Senator Hoylman):

o   This initiative will restrict the type and nature of outside income to mirror U.S. Congress’ cap of 15% of gross legislative salary.

o   The bill will also establish the Commission on Legislative Compensation that will convene every four years to examine, evaluate, and make recommendations on adequate levels of compensation and non-salary benefits for state legislators.

  • Closing the LLC Loophole (Senator Squadron):

o   This initiative will close a loophole in current Election Law which does not adequately address the amount of political contributions that a limited liability company (LLC) may make to candidates, parties and political committees.

  • As a result, the State Board of Elections allows LLCs to be treated as individuals for purposes of a limit and, therefore, they can donate up to $150,000 in any one year.

o   This legislation would close that loophole and reduce the contribution limit for both LLCs and corporations to $1,000.

 

  • Require Additional Financial Disclosure (Senator Comrie):

o   This bill will require state elected officials to disclose the source and nature of all income and report all clients of, or referrals to, a firm or practice the elected officials works at.

o   Under this legislation, all reporting must include a clear and complete explanation of the services rendered in exchange for the income or fees earned by the reporting official, or by the firm or corporation with which the elected official practices.

 

  • Prohibit the Taxpayer Reimbursement of Campaign and Legal Defense Fund Accounts for legal fees in Criminal Cases (Democratic Conference Deputy Leader, Senator Gianaris):

o   This initiative will prohibit any state reimbursement to a campaign account or legal defense account for attorneys fees and litigation expenses to a public official after an acquittal or dismissal.

 

  • Retroactively Strip Pension Benefits from any State or Local Official Convicted of a Felony involving Breach of Public Trust (Senator Breslin):

o   The current law only regulates officials that joined the pension system after 2011 when the last ethics package passed. This legislation will affect all members of the pension system.

o   This resolution has been introduced as a constitutional amendment since it affects an official’s pension.

 

  • Strengthen Regulations regarding use of Campaign Funds (Senator Krueger):

o   This bill addresses a number of concerns with how campaign funds are raised and expended. Currently, New York’s election law, allowing candidates to spend campaign funds for “any lawful purpose,” is among the most lax in the nation

 

  • Bar the Use of Campaign Money for Criminal Defense (Senator Hoylman):

o   This bill will outlaw campaign funds from being used for attorneys fees or any costs for defending against criminal or civil prosecution for alleged violations of any state or federal law.

 

  • Lower Contribution Limits (Democratic Conference Deputy Leader, Senator Gianaris):

o   Current state campaign regulations allow donors to provide far greater amounts of contributions than are allowed in other states, or for federal candidates.

o   These high limits threaten the integrity of elections in New York State by allowing small numbers of wealthy contributors to disproportionately affect their outcomes. This initiative will drastically reduce the limits on contributions to safeguard the integrity of New York’s elections.

 

  • Cap Contributions to ‘Soft Money’ Accounts (Senator Krueger):

o   Currently, donors are able to provide unlimited contributions to soft money accounts. This legislation would reform the campaign finance system by capping donations to soft money accounts at $25,000.

 

  • Require the Disclosure of Bundles (Senator Rivera):

o   Under the current law, state campaigns are not required to disclose to the State Board of Election when “bundling” contributions are received. This bill would enhance state campaign finance disclosure reporting requirements by making it necessary for said reports to contain information about those who bundle contributions.

 

  • End Undisclosed Self-Dealing (Senator Hoylman):

o   This legislation will create a Class-C and Class-D felony for public servants who knowingly steer public contracts or grants to certain institutions or organizations in order to benefit themselves, their families or a person with whom a public servant has a business or other financial relationship with.

o   Self-dealing in the first degree triggers when public contracts have a value in excess of ten thousand dollars.

o   Self-dealing in the second degree triggers when public contracts have a value in excess of three thousand dollars.

 

  • Establish a Public Financing System for State Campaigns and Require Greater Disclosure of Campaign Donations (Senate Minority Leader, Senator Stewart-Cousins):

o   Under this legislation, eligible contributions to candidates for statewide office up to $250 would be matched at the rate of $6 for every $1.

o   Participating candidates could only receive donations of $2,000

o   Candidates who are unopposed in a general or special election may not receive public funds

o   All unspent public funds must be returned 30 days after the election.

MINORITY LEADER, SENATOR ANDREA STEWART-COUSINS STATEMENT ON FATAL TRAIN COLLISION IN VALHALLA.

“This was a horrific tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones and those that have been injured. There will be a full investigation into this heartbreaking incident and over the next few days we will find out exactly what happened. Now is the time for all us to support those so deeply affected by this tragedy.”

NEW FRAUD PROTECTIONS FOR IMMIGRANTS IN NEW YORK STATE
(Yonkers) State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Minority Leader, announced today that
enhanced fraud protections for immigrants seeking assistance in New York State became law
February 2, 2015.
“New York has a proud history of welcoming immigrants and embracing the contributions they make to
our communities,” Senator Stewart-Cousins said. “However, there are also some unscrupulous people
offering services to help them adjust to life in New York who take their money and provide little to no
assistance. My office has worked with constituents who have had this happen to them. This new law
ensures there are protections in place for the often vulnerable newcomers to our country and our
state.”
The law creates the crimes of felony and misdemeanor immigration assistance fraud in order to deter
service providers from taking advantage of immigrants that seek their help. It also includes provisions
to enhance translation requirements, increase civil penalties for violations, and prohibit the use of job
titles used to mislead immigrants to believe that a provider is a specialized professional or attorney,
when the provider is not certified.
The law also establishes the New York State Office for New Americans (NYSONA) as a permanent
executive office of State government. The Office for New Americans is the first state-level immigrant
office created by statute in the country according to the Governor’s Office. Additionally, the measure
includes an outreach campaign to raise fraud awareness and awards NYSONA permanent status.
NYSONA provides immigration assistance at community outreach centers, teaches new New Yorkers
English, aids in the naturalization process, and provides immigrants with free legal advice.
“When immigrants come to New York they need assurance that service providers are there to help
them on their path to citizenship and success, not take advantage of them,” Senator Stewart-Cousins
concluded. “I commend Governor Cuomo and the Legislature for taking action to ensure that
immigrants are welcomed with respect and get the valuable services they deserve as new New
Yorkers.”
Constituents are welcome to contact the Senator’s District Office at 914-423-4031 for assistance or to
call a toll-free multilingual hotline at 800-566-7636.

Statement From Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

 

“The Senate Democrats have been advocates for cleaning up Albany and restoring the public’s trust in our state government. I am pleased that Governor Cuomo is taking the ethics reforms initiatives we have championed for and will now ensure that the Senate Republicans finally have to address these common sense measures.”

 

 

BACKGROUND:

 

 

Minority Leader, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins Statement 

on the Election of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie

“Speaker Heastie is someone who will lead the Assembly with a steady hand and I congratulate him on his election. This is a historic moment for both the Assembly and State Government as a whole. As we begin Black History Month, it is uplifting that another barrier has finally been 

broken. I look forward to working with Speaker Heastie to ensure all our state’s residents receive the progressive representation they desire, and offer my full support to him as we all work together to restore the people’s trust in government. ”

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 8, 2015

SENATOR STEWART-COUSINS, THE DEMOCRATIC CONFERENCE LEADER AND SENATE MINORITY LEADER, OUTLINES LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES IN HER 2015 LEGISLATIVE SESSION OPENING REMARKS

(Albany, NY) State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins took the oath of office Wednesday with her children by her side, continuing her historic leadership role in New York, as the first female legislative conference leader (elected 2012, re-elected 2014), and the first female State Senate Minority Leader.

In her opening remarks delivered on the Senate floor, Senator Stewart-Cousins thanked her constituents for re-electing her and her Democratic colleagues for their continued support. She pledged to make Albany an example of good government. “We will not allow partisan bickering to obstruct our efforts to serve our constituents and together we will give all New Yorkers the responsible and productive government they deserve.”

Senator Stewart-Cousins outlined her legislative priorities in 2015, including: criminal justice reforms and police protections, increasing the minimum wage, and passing the Women’s Equality Act to provide women with equal pay and personal protections including reproductive health care.

“And finally let’s make sure we use the surplus settlement funds in a responsible manner that will help set New York on an even brighter path,” she added. “Since so much of this money was from housing settlements, it is crucial we use it to create affordable housing across the state. We also need to protect and expand our  infrastructure, including the Tappan Zee Bridge and others roads and bridges, and fix our crumbling schools. We can do all this while at the same time providing relief to local communities and creating jobs across the state.”

During her remarks, she also acknowledged the loss of former Governor Mario Cuomo, whose funeral she attended. “Sadly, for too many fellow New Yorkers, the two cities that Governor Cuomo so eloquently spoke of in 1984 still exist today, but we have an opportunity to finally unite them. We can work towards making a more just and fair society. A society that provides jobs and opportunities to all New Yorkers. A society that deals with crushing income inequality. Where everyone has a quality education. Where it doesn’t matter if you are from Elmira, or  New York City or even Yonkers because you are given a shot at the American dream.”

Link to full remarks:

https://www.scribd.com/doc/251964138/01-07-15-Leader-Stewart-Cousins-Opening-Remarks

Link to video of remarks:

http://www.nysenate.gov/video/2015/jan/07/leader-stewart-cousins-opening-remarks-2015-2016-senate-session

State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-I-WF) of Yonkers was elected by her colleagues to serve as Leader of the Senate Democratic Conference in December 2012, becoming the first female leader of a legislative conference in New York State history. Her colleagues re-elected her in 2014 and she serves as the first female Senate Minority Leader. First elected to the State Senate in 2006, she is serving her fifth term in office, representing Greenburgh and Scarsdale, and part of Yonkers, White Plains, and New Rochelle.


Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins Made The Following Remarks At The Opening Of The 2015-2016 Senate Session (Albany, NY) — Thank you Mr. President and Thank you to all my colleagues.Thank you to the constituents of  my district for re-electing me.  And thank you  to my Conference for once again choosing me as your Leader. I am truly honored and humbled by your support.I want to welcome some new members to the Democratic Conference.

  • Senator Leroy Comrie from Queens. A former Deputy Borough President and  Councilmember and a real leader in his community.

 

  • Senator Jesse Hamilton an Attorney and MBA from Brooklyn.  He has been a community advocate for so long and has always made sure that those in his community have a voice.

 

And finally

 

  • Senator Marc Panepinto from the Buffalo area an attorney and a long time fighter and tireless advocate for Western New York.

 

I would also like to congratulate Senator Klein who has been re-elected as his conferences leader.

 

And of course I want to take a moment and congratulate Senator Skelos who has the awesome task of being the leader of this great house.  Senator Skelos and Senator Klein, the Democratic Conference  stands ready to work with you.   Now is the time for us to come together.

Elections are at times a restart button and allow us to refresh.

 

There are times we are going to agree and there are times we are going to vociferously disagree but let us remember that we are here to serve all the people of New York.

 

I would also like to congratulate the Governor on his re-election and let him know that we are looking forward to continuing to work with him as we move the state forward.

 

So many of us in this room were there yesterday in Manhattan when he gave such a moving tribute to his father. His words were truly inspiring and heartfelt.

 

On behalf of the  Senate Democratic Conference  I would like to once again pass condolences  to the Governor and his entire family for their loss. Mario Cuomo was a great man and a great Governor. His leadership, vision and ideals are what we all strive toward.  As we take a moment to embrace the memory of this iconic Governor let us do more than remember him but let us look towards his example as we move forward this legislative session.  Sadly, for too many fellow New Yorkers, the two cities that Governor Cuomo so eloquently spoke of in 1984 still exists today but we have an opportunity to finally unite them.  We can work towards making a more just and fair society. A society that provides jobs and opportunities to all New Yorkers.  A society that deals with  crushing income inequality. Where everyone  has a quality education.  Where it doesn’t matter if you are from Elmira, or New York City or even Yonkers but you are given a shot at the American Dream.

 

I hope that this session will be about making that American Dream a reality for all New Yorkers.

We have a lot of work to do:

o    We must honor the memories of Officer Liu and Officer Ramos and ensure that we provide those protecting us the protections they deserve while at the same time making real reforms to our criminal justice system so everyone  feels they have equal access to that system.

o    We must combat income inequality and one way to do that is enact a real raise to the minimum wage and help lift  over 1 million New Yorkers out of bone crushing poverty.

o    Now is a time for a major re-haul of our outdated ethics laws including public financing of campaigns. Let’s finally make Albany an example of Good Government.

o    We must stand up for the health and equality of the women of New York.  Let’s pass the full Women’s Equality Act. To my Republican Colleagues remember that our reproductive rights were first addressed by this chamber, while it was under Republican leadership, in 1970 with 12 of your party members joining with Democrats to pass it.

o    We have to help those struggling with addiction including the horrible heroin scourge that is devastating communities across this state.

o    We must make sure all New York children have access to the quality education they deserve and that all our children have access to  affordable quality higher education.

o    We must make sure that everyone has a roof over their head and place to call home. We have to extend and strengthen our rent control laws.

o    And finally let’s make sure we use the surplus settlement funds in a responsible manner that will help set New York on an even brighter path. Since so much of this money was from housing settlements  it is crucial we use it to create more affordable housing across the state. We also need to protect and expand our infrastructure including the Tappan Zee Bridge and others roads and bridges  and  fix our crumbling schools. We can do all this while at the same time providing relief to local communities  and creating jobs across the state.

 

Senator Skelos, the Democratic Conference stands ready to help you. As I said before we will support you when we agree, and we will challenge you when we disagree. We will not allow partisan bickering to obstruct our efforts to serve our constituents and  together we will give all New Yorkers the responsible and productive government they deserve.  The Democratic Conference stands ready to work with all Senators, regardless of party affiliation, so let’s get to work.

 

Thank you.

 

 

 

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New York State Senate | DemocraticConferenceNews@nysenate.gov518-455-2415

 

 

Happy Holidays!Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins would like to extend an invitation to you to her New Year’s Open House at her District Office in Yonkers. The details of the event are below.

Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ New Year’s Open House
Saturday, January 10, 2015
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Senator Stewart-Cousins’ District Office
28 Wells Avenue, Building #3
Yonkers, NY 10701

A flier for the event is attached.

Please call Senator Stewart-Cousins’ office to RSVP. The number is 914- 423-4031

Open House Flier

 

 

Paid for by Friends of Andrea Stewart-Cousins

A Newsletter Update from Andrea Stewart-Cousins – December 2014

2014 Regional Economic Development Council Awards Announced(Yonkers – December 12th) State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate Democratic Conference Leader, is pleased to announce that major funding for several key projects in her district were awarded December 12th by the Regional Economic Development Councils. The Saw Mill River Daylighting, Phase III in downtown Yonkers, a major art exhibition in White Plains, and a pedestrian/cycle bridge over Andre Brook in Tarrytown are among the numerous projects receiving state economic development dollars in the Mid-Hudson Region. This seven county region that includes Westchester is considered a “Top Performer,” and will receive $82.8 million this year.
“I’m thrilled that key projects I supported in my district will be getting the state economic development assistance they requested in this highly-competitive grant process,” said Senator Stewart-Cousins. “The Regional Economic Development Council’s are making important, locally-targeted investments worth millions of dollars. As a result, we are creating jobs, supporting businesses, expanding housing opportunities and laying the groundwork for sustained economic growth throughout our region and our state.” More..Senate Democratic Conference Announces Reforms To Criminal Justice System(Albany, NY – December 10th) The Senate Democratic Conference announced the introduction of legislation to reform the state’s criminal justice system and address incidents of police-caused fatalities. This initiative was introduced following a grand jury’s decision not to bring charges against a police officer who caused the death of an unarmed civilian and will create a permanent Office of Special Investigation to review similar cases in the future. The Senate Democratic Conference also issued a call for funds to be provided in the 2015-2016 State Budget for law enforcement institutions to invest in wearable video cameras.
“The sad reality is many New Yorkers currently do not believe that all state residents are treated equally within our criminal justice system,” said Senator Stewart-Cousins said. “I urge my colleagues in state government to join with the Senate Democratic Conference is supporting this legislation.
The proposed legislation would create the Office of Special Investigation to automatically investigate the death of an unarmed civilian at the hands of a police officer. Additionally, New Yorkers will be able to petition this office to take over investigations in special circumstances.
The Senate Democratic Conference also announced that it will ask Governor Cuomo to provide approximately $75 million in the 2015-2016 Executive Budget for law enforcement agencies to purchase and utilize wearable video cameras, known as ‘body cams’. These state funds would be utilized to reimburse local and state law enforcement organizations who purchase and utilize these body cameras. More..Senator Stewart-Cousins Announces Scarsdale Reserve Fund Bill Now Law(Scarsdale – November 24th) State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic Conference Leader, announced that Governor Cuomo has signed into law bill (S7322-2013) that allows the Scarsdale Union Free School District to maintain a health insurance reserve fund, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
Since 1989, the school district has had a separate reserve fund as part of a self-funded health insurance program for employees in the district, saving $5.6 million dollars by doing so. Several years ago, an external auditor told the district, and the New York State Comptroller confirmed, that they would have to dismantle the fund unless this legislation passed. The school district requested the Senator’s assistance when she became their representative after several prior attempts failed to win support for passage in the State Senate. This year, the legislation passed successfully and is now law.
“I’m pleased to finally be able to deliver the Scarsdale School District’s special request for legislation allowing them to continue self-insuring district employees. The taxpayers of Scarsdale should thank their district administrators for their diligence in continuing to pursue this request over the years, and now, its the law,” said Senator Stewart-Cousins. More..
(Yonkers – December 17th) Senator Stewart-Cousins joined her colleagues in government and members of the Jewish Community at Yonkers City Hall to light the menorah in celebration of Hanukkah. Rabbi Rigoberto Vinas of the Lincoln Jewish Park Center led the ceremony with Cantor Michael Kasper and cantorial students from the Academy for Jewish Religion as well as members of the Yonkers High School Woodwind Band who also performed. View..
(New Rochelle – December 13th) Senator Stewart-Cousins celebrating the holiday season with the seniors at the Hugh Doyle Center in New Rochelle and the high school volunteers who were the servers. View..
(Greenburgh – December 10th) State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins recognized the heroic efforts of Jenna Fanelli with a Senate Proclamation at the Greenburgh Town Board meeting. This summer, Jenna was in Yonkers at a riverfront park when she learned a six year old autistic boy had gone into the river. Another man, Boyce Coleman of Yonkers, had jumped in after the child and so did Jenna. The 23-year-old Elmsford resident was able to bring the child back to shore safely. View..
(Yonkers – December 2nd) Community Voices Heard honored Senator Stewart-Cousins with a Shirley Chisholm Lights of Freedom Award, named for the first African-American woman elected to Congress. CVH has a Westchester chapter in Yonkers that empowers low-income people, predominantly women with experience on welfare, to improve their lives, their family’s life and their communities. View..Come stop by Senator Stewart-Cousins District office on Saturday, January 10th in the new year from 1:00PM-3:00PM for an Open House Celebration. To RSVP, please call (914) 423-4031.Need assistance with keeping your home warm this winter? Click here to find out more about the Home Energy Assistance Program, if you are eligible and how you can apply.
Live in the 35th Senate District and need assistance? The Office of Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins is here to help you with the following:
*The Department of Motor Vehicles *Housing *Health Insurance *Medicare and Medicaid *EPIC *The Department of Social Services *Unemployment benefits *Workers Compensation *Mortgage foreclosure/ modifications *Consumer protection *Business licensing *Youth programs *And many others! Please stop by our District Office or call us during our office hours Monday thru Friday, from 9:00AM to 5:00PM. We may not have all the answers, but we will direct you to the appropriate people or agencies who will. If you’d like to send us an email, click here. District Office: 28 Wells Avenue, Building #3 Yonkers, NY 10701 Phone: (914) 423-4031 Fax: (914) 423-0979
Albany Office: 188 State Street, 907 LOB Albany, NY 12247 Phone: (518) 455-2585 Fax: (518) 426-6811 Email: scousins@nysenate.gov
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Statement From Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins On The Hydraulic Fracturing Decision.I applaud Governor Cuomo for allowing the science regarding hydraulic fracturing to determine if drilling should be allowed in New York and I commend the experts at the State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health for their diligent work on this matter. The Senate Democratic Conference has been a leader in the fight to protect our state’s natural resources and New Yorkers’ health and we are glad that Governor Cuomo’s administration stands united with us in this effort.

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New York State Senate | DemocraticConferenceNews@nysenate.gov

Statement From Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins On Need For Ethics Reforms In Special Session.The Senate Democratic Conference has consistently called for common sense ethics and campaign reforms and we agree with Governor Cuomo in his call for passing these initiatives immediately. As with all progressive legislation, including the NY-SAFE Act, the Compassionate Care Act, and Marriage Equality, the Senate Democratic Conference stands ready to provide the necessary support to ensure passage.  Ethics and campaign finance reforms should not be a partisan issue. We will continue our fight to clean up Albany and pass strong ethics reforms and we look forwarding to working with any state leader who will join us in these efforts.

Background Information:

05.06.14 Senate Democratic Conference Ethics Reform Bill Package Press Release: http://www.scribd.com/doc/222382517/05-06-14-Ethics-Reform-Bill-Package-Release

04.15.13 Senate Democratic Conference Ethics Reform Bill Package Press Release: http://www.scribd.com/doc/136063151/04-15-13-Ethics-Reform-Bill-Package-Release

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New York State Senate | DemocraticConferenceNews@nysenate.gov

As the celebration of Hanukkah begins this evening, I want to wish a very happy holiday to all those who will celebrate this Festival of Lights here in New York and throughout the world. Commemorating the victory of a small group of resilient and determined individuals over a seemingly unbeatable foe, the lessons of Hanukkah remain relevant to this day. Though we as a state have been tested over the past few weeks and years, we must stay dedicated to our core values and beliefs and together we will emerge stronger and more united.I wish all those celebrating Hanukkah, and all New Yorkers, a very joyous and safe holiday.Andrea Stewart-CousinsNew York State Senator, 35th DistrictDemocratic Conference Leader

STATE SENATOR ANDREA STEWART-COUSINS ANNOUNCES 2014 REGIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL AWARDS IN THE 35th STATE SENATE DISTRICT

(Yonkers, NY)  – State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate Democratic Conference Leader, is pleased to announce that major funding for several key projects in the 35th District are part of the grant awards announced Thursday through the Regional Economic Development Councils. The Saw Mill River Daylighting, Phase III in downtown Yonkers, a major art exhibition in White Plains, and a pedestrian/cycle bridge over Andre Brook in Tarrytown are among the numerous projects receiving state economic development dollars in the Mid-Hudson Region. This seven county region that includes Westchester is considered a “Top Performer,” and will receive $82.8 million this year.

“I’m thrilled that key projects I supported in my district will be getting the state economic development assistance they requested in this highly-competitive grant process,” said Senator Stewart-Cousins, the Senate Democratic Conference Leader. “The Regional Economic Development Council’s are making important, locally-targeted investments worth millions of dollars. As a result, we are creating jobs, supporting businesses, expanding housing opportunities and laying the groundwork for sustained economic growth throughout our region and our state.”

2014 REDC Grants:

  • Saw Mill River Daylighting Phase 3 in Yonkers

    • $2.5 million to continue this project downtown, focusing on a river-themed park along New Main Street, from Ann St. to Nepperhan

Avenue

  • Ashburton Avenue Rehabilitation in Yonkers

    • $1.5 million to revitalize this area and roadway to improve travel flow into and out of downtown Yonkers

  • Hudson River Museum in Yonkers
  • $630,000 total, to expand exhibit space in the West Wing and to attract more visitors to the museum and the city
  • SoYo Exalta, LLC in Yonkers

    • $1 million to construct approximately 400 rental units, parking and retail near the newly daylighted Saw Mill River in downtown Yonkers

  • The City of Yonkers and the Yonkers Board of Education

    • $400,000 to consolidate the five business and non-academic functions of the city and the school district

  • The Village of Tarrytown

    • $47,300 to install a wider pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Andre Brook, to allow greater access to Pierson Park and the Riverwalk

  • The Westchester Arts Council Inc. Festival of New Work in White Plains

    • $76,000 for a major new exhibition in 2015 to highlight work by Westchester artists with roots in China, Nigeria, Iran and other countries

  • Shop-Rite Supermarkets

    • $100,000 to train 120 workers for food safety, customer service and management

  • Jawanio Inc. (which serves Westchester, Rockland and Putnam)

    • $2.5 million to expand Jawanio’s New City campus for an integrated health, wellness and work project

    • $86,400 for health and wellness training to train 240 workers in understanding the spectrum of disabilities and the services required by these individuals

  • Excelsior Jobs Credits

    • $3 million available in tax credits for the Mid-Hudson Region, reserved for future projects

  • Low-Cost Economic Development Financing

    • $35 million to be made available to state and local government issuers to sell tax-exempt bonds for economic development, infrastructure and community revitalization efforts

This year, Senator Stewart-Cousins voted for a $150 million increase in the 2014 State Budget for Regional Economic Development Council grants. The total funding allocation approved was $750 million.

The Regional Economic Development Councils were created in 2011 by Governor Cuomo. This was the fourth annual Regional Economic Development Council Awards. In the past three years, the Mid-Hudson Region received $219.4 million for 232 projects across the seven county region which includes Westchester. This year’s grant award announcement brings the total to just over $300 million.

          ###

State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-I-WF) of Yonkers was elected by her colleagues to serve as Leader of the Senate Democratic Conference in December 2012, becoming the first female leader of a legislative conference in New York State history and was re-elected as Leader in 2014. Stewart-Cousins was first elected to the State Senate in 2006 and represents Greenburgh and Scarsdale, and part of Yonkers, White Plains, and New Rochelle in the 35th State Senate District.


For Immediate Release: June 20th 2014

 

 

Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins 2014 Session Closing Remarks

Thank you Mr. President. 

 

Thank You Senator Skelos and Senator Klein.

 

Thank you to Governor Cuomo for his vision and leadership in helping move this state forward. 

 

And thank you to our partners in the other Legislative House, especially Speaker Silver who has been a true friend and a real progressive leader.

 

I would also like to take a moment to thank staff on both sides of the aisle. The work you have put in over the last 2 years has been invaluable.  Thank you for all your hard work.

 

As we wrap up our 2 year term, I think about all we have experienced.

 

I think about the great history that was made when my wonderful colleagues in the Senate Democrats empowered me and allowed me become the first female legislative leader in state history.

 

But I also think about the unfortunate history that was created last year in this Chamber when two groups came together to disenfranchise the majority of elected Democrats, to seize power,  and  thwart the will of the electorate.  While we were not given our rightful place in the Majority, we understood that this is about serving the people of New York and providing leadership  so we put our disappointment aside, rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We  used the power of our votes and the power of our voices to help pass some wonderful achievements.

 

Right out of the gate we stood with our Governor to enact the  Safe Act. We provided the crucial number of votes for this important legislation.   We passed our 3rdand 4th consecutive on-time budgets.  We passed legislation  to grow our economy  and create jobs. We increased funding for our schools and funded statewide universal pre-k.  We created tools to combat the heroin scourge facing our state.  We provided  some tax relief,  although not enough in my opinion, to thousands of New Yorkers,  we revised our common core implementation and teacher evaluation system and we helped change the conversation away from a certain veto of the medical marijuana legislation to a compromise, allowing us to provide much needed pain relief to the people who need it the most.

 

These are some of the bipartisan victories that all of us accomplished together and we can all celebrate today.

 

But we also must talk about the failures that were a result of the unfortunate agreement  I mentioned earlier.

 

We failed  to help over 1 million hard working New Yorkers  rise out of bone crushing poverty by not raising the minimum wage  enough, and not giving our local governments the option to raise it on their own. 

 

We failed to stand up for women’s health and equality by not passing the entire women’s equality act.

 

We failed to provide enough real mandate relief to our local governments.

 

We failed to provide even stronger ethics and campaign finance reforms including public financing.

 

And we failed to  provide equal access to educational opportunities to all children by not passing the Dream Act

 

While of course these failure are disappointing that does not mean we stop fighting.  Sometimes, we learn our greatest lessons when we fail. 

 

So tonight as we leave here to enter the political season I want to wish everyone on both sides-Good Luck.

 

We may disagree on issues but I  know we all agree that our most important job is respecting and serving the people of New York.

 

Thank you!

###

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Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Democratic Conference Leader,  Announces Senate Approval for

New York State Medical Marijuana Program

(Yonkers, NY) Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic Conference Leader, today announced passage of legislation to establish a medical marijuana program in New York State.

 

Prior to voting for the bill, Senator Stewart-Cousins said, “I hope that everyone who has taken the time, pushed this rock up the hill, understands that we could never have done it without you. Our hats off, much gratitude. Let’s get this done.”

 

The legislation includes provisions to ensure medical marijuana is reserved only for patients with serious conditions and is dispensed and administered by the appropriate state agencies to ensure that the program cannot be abused.

 

Stewart-Cousins mentioned a Yonkers neighbor whose husband with cancer traveled to California for relief before he died.

 

“People suffering from serious diseases and illnesses should have access to the medically necessary treatments they need here in New York,” she added. “This legislation will help New Yorkers who currently experience debilitating illnesses and endure great pain and suffering by providing them with the ability to utilize medical marijuana as prescribed by authorized medical professionals. This bill also contains safeguards that will ensure that medical marijuana cannot be abused.”

 

The bill passed by the State Legislature and supported by Governor Cuomo will:

 

• Establish a certification and registry process for physicians to administer medical marijuana;

• Put in place a process for patients to obtain, and manufacturers to dispense, medical marijuana;

• Specify that the serious conditions for which medical marijuana can be prescribed are: cancer, HIV/AIDS, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication on intractable spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies and Huntington’s Disease;

• Establish a Class-E felony for a practitioner that certifies an individual as eligible

if he or she knows or reasonably should know the person who is asking for it has no need for the medication;

• Establish a misdemeanor offense for recipients of medical marijuana that sell or trade the medication; and

• Create a 7% excise tax on every sale of medical marijuana by a registered organization to a certified patient or designated caregiver.

 

“I am proud to join my colleagues in the State Senate, as well as the State Assembly and Governor Cuomo, in taking steps to ensure that New Yorkers who require medical marijuana have access to the medication they need to address their conditions. This initiative will help New Yorkers in need and protect against abuse or unauthorized use of medical marijuana,” Senator Stewart-Cousins concluded.

 

Listen to remarks here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hevYtTA5zZQ#t=14 …

STATEMENT ON HEROIN BILLS PACKAGE

Within the last decade opioid use, particularly among young adults, has risen at an alarming and unacceptable rate,” Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “We have a responsibility to combat this addictive and deadly substance and educate the public against its use. Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction and these laws will be an effective tool in fighting the heroin and opioid scourge that our state is facing. ”

Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins Supports Legislation to Combat

the Rising Heroin and Opioid Abuse Crisis

Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic Conference Leader, supports an agreement by Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders on a package of reforms to combat the growing heroin epidemic facing communities throughout New York State.​​

 

“Within the last decade opioid use, particularly among young adults, has risen at an alarming and unacceptable rate,” Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “We have a responsibility to combat this addictive and deadly substance and educate the public against its use. This package of bills is a step in the right direction. These laws will be an effective tool in fighting the heroin and opioid scourge that our state is facing. “

Heroin abuse has been increasing at dangerously high rates in recent years. In 2013, there were 89,269 cases of heroin and prescription opiate abuse treatment admissions in New York State, a substantial increase from 63,793 in 2004. During this same time period, opioid abuse rates among young New Yorkers, aged 18 to 24, disproportionately rose which clearly illustrates that this crisis is impacting children and young adults. Nationally, as many as 467,000 people were reportedly abusing heroin or suffering from heroin dependence in 2012.

 

Senator Stewart-Cousins noted that members of the Senate Democratic Conference have led the way on addressing this heroin crisis and have held forums, produced reports and introduced multiple pieces of legislation regarding the rising heroin and opioid crisis, many of which were included in the agreed upon heroin bill package.

The pieces of legislation agreed upon will:

 

·         Improve Measures to Support Addiction Treatment;

·         Create New Penalties to Help Crack Down on Illegal Drug Distribution;

·         Provide Informational Cards in Naloxone Anti-Overdose Kits to Help Save Lives;

·         Create a teen heroin abuse PSA campaign; and

·         Expand Public Education Campaigns to Prevent Opioid and Heroin Use.

Senator Stewart-Cousins concluded. “I commend our partners in government, the Governor and legislative leaders, for coming together to address this devastating heroin and opioid abuse crisis. I am proud of my efforts, and those of my Democratic Senate colleagues, and I look forward to passing these common sense bills immediately.”

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State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-I-WF) of Yonkers was elected by her colleagues to serve as Leader of the Senate Democratic Conference in December 2012, becoming the first female leader of a legislative conference in New York State history. She was first elected to the State Senate in 2006 and currently represents Greenburgh and Scarsdale, and part of Yonkers, White Plains, and New Rochelle.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to be Guest on MSNBC.

For Immediate Release:      January 18th 2013.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to be Guest on MSNBC.

(Albany, NY) Following the successful passage and signing into law of the comprehensive NY SAFE bill, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will be joining Craig Melvin of MSNBC this weekend to discuss this groundbreaking legislation and what it means for the State of New York.

WHAT:                      Craig Melvin of MSNBC

WHO:                         Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

WHEN:                      Saturday at 4:00 PM

Follow on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/NYSenDems

New York State Senate | DemocraticConferenceNews@nysenate.gov518-455-2415

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the NY Budget

Statement on 2015-16 Budget from Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor (R,C,I – East Fishkill)

“In five years, Governor Cuomo has increased an already bloated budget by 10%. That’s $14 billion more this year than just five years ago. Florida has a larger population and half the state budget. How can we compete with that if we don’t get spending under control? This budget doesn’t do anything to make New York more job-friendly or stop the exodus of New Yorkers to other states. There are a few good things in this budget, many bad things and some downright ugly aspects. Consequently, I voted against the budget bills.”

“Those who vote “yes” on a budget are saying this is the best we can do. Voting against a budget is not voting against the positive aspects of the budget. Rather a “no” vote on a budget is a statement that we can do better. I have no doubt that we can do better.”

THE GOOD

Fixing Albany’s STAR Program Mistake
“In 2013, a number of people who bought homes between about July and November made an understandable and innocent mistake with their STAR applications and ended up without STAR for the next year. The mistake was caused by New York State not properly explaining to new homeowners new requirements. Earlier this year, I introduced a bill that would offer a rebate to these homeowners who lost their STAR exemption because of the State’s mistake. The budget includes that rebate.”

Pension Forfeiture for Crooked Politicians
“Finally, Albany is introducing a constitutional amendment that would forfeit state pensions for politicians convicted of corruption. But, we will need to pass the amendment again in 2017 and only then will it go to voters for their approval in 2018. In the meantime, I have introduced legislation that would require pension forfeiture as part of any plea deal offered to a politician charged with corruption. We don’t need a constitutional amendment to make that happen. We should move forward with this bill now.”

No “Green” Giveaway to Billionaire Donor
“We had a glimmer of hope on the crony capitalism front from the budget. The Senate dropped its attempted giveaway to billionaire donor John Catsimatidis. This would have cost New Yorkers tens of millions of dollars. Catsimatidis was lobbying for a regulation that would mandate a biofeul his company makes. He stood to reap a windfall through his new biofuel production plant. The plan would have added $150 million to the cost of heating oil across New York.”

THE BAD

Corporate Welfare and Pork
“Once again, the budget is laden with corporate welfare and pork barrel projects.   Cuomo’s own tax commission acknowledged that the Hollywood tax subsidies don’t work. Still we are giving millions to film production and have expanded it to the music and video game industries to the tune of $470 mil. per year. The Assembly sponsor admitted in debate that no cost-benefit analysis was done before we handed out another $50 million in tax credits to the music and video game industry.We already spend five times more on corporate welfare than any other state, still our unemployment rate is above the national average and our growth rate lags behind the rest of the country.  More corporate welfare isn’t going to get New York’s economy moving. Small businesses need relief, but Cuomo’s budget has them subsidizing his corporate cronies and glamorous industries.”

No Tax Relief
“There’s no sign of tax relief for ordinary New Yorkers. Yacht owners will get a hefty sales tax cut for their luxury purchases, but the rest of New York is still left with the huge tax bill. New Yorkers pay the highest taxes in the nation. Families are drowning in all of the taxes and fees. This budget doesn’t offer desperately needed tax relief.”

No Mandate Relief
“Four and a half months ago, just before Election Day, every politician in Albany was talking about mandate relief. Now, there’s no mandate relief in the budget. Once the election was over, it was back to business as usual for Albany. Unfunded mandates are the driving force behind high property taxes. We need to prove that mandate relief isn’t just election year talk.”

No Veterans Equality Act
“Governor Cuomo waited until after Election Day last year to veto the Veterans Equality Act. It had been passed with nearly unanimous support, but Cuomo claimed he vetoed the bill because it should have been in the budget. He wasn’t being straight with us. The governor didn’t include the Veterans Equality Act in his own budget proposal and it isn’t in the final budget. We should have honored our veterans with this bill.”

Weak Ethics Reform
“We heard a lot of big talk from Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders on ethics reform, but, once again, they didn’t deliver. We don’t have term limits, though a supermajority of New Yorkers want them. We didn’t even get term limits for legislative leaders. The LLC fundraising loophole remains in place. The per diem reform is tepid at best, with no requirement for receipts. Legislators can still exploit the system to pay their mortgages or pocket the balance of the $172 per day they don’t spend. In the wake of the indictment of former speaker Sheldon Silver, we missed an historic opportunity to fundamentally change Albany.”

No Fixes to Crushing Medicaid Spending
“Medicaid eats up a quarter of the budget. New York is one of the few states that gives Medicaid to non-citizens, which costs twice as much as providing Medicaid for citizens because the federal government doesn’t provide a dollar-for-dollar match for non-citizens. New York’s Medicaid program costs more than Florida and Texas combined. Meanwhile, when middle-class New Yorkers who have paid into the system their whole lives have major health issues, New York tells them to take a walk because they own a home or managed to save a few bucks over the years. A budget that doesn’t address Medicaid is, by definition, inadequate.”

Education
“The education budget bill is called the Education Transformation Act of 2015, but it transforms nothing. It is an abdication of responsibility by the Legislature. The budget empowers the unelected Board of Regents and the interim Education Commissioner to determine the controversial teacher’s evaluation system. The decision over whether so much emphasis should be put on standardized tests was also outsourced to the Board of Regents, rather than by elected representatives who, like me, overwhelmingly oppose the hyper-focus on standardized tests. While every institution in all fields should strive to improve, most schools in our state are performing. The teachers and public schools in my district are quite good. Still this budget’s one-size-fits-all approach holds up education funding increases for good schools until the districts jump through hoops because schools in other parts of the state have problems. This doesn’t make sense. This budget also misses the opportunity to incentivize, through a tax credit, charitable contributions of $50 million per year to public schools and $50 million per year to parochial schools and other non-public schools.”

“Finally, a quarter of the budget is dedicated to education. Education is possibly the most important aspect of the state budget. Yet the material education portions of the budget were released yesterday, debated and voted on last night with almost no opportunity for lawmakers to speak with education officials in our districts or consult with other experts. This is no way to make decisions and it is an affront to democracy.”

SAFE Act
“Again Albany is throwing good money at bad policies with funding for the SAFE Act, which punishes the law-abiding gun owner and does nothing to get guns out of the hands of criminals. I continue to support full repeal of the SAFE Act and oppose funding the instrumentalities of SAFE Act enforcement and registration.”

THE UGLY

Legislative Pay Raise Commission
“The budget authorizes a panel to give legislative pay raises so legislators won’t have to risk an ugly vote to give themselves more money. It takes away accountability and transparency and it’s constitutionally dubious.”

Deeply-Flawed Process
“A budget that is decided by four men behind closed doors is a disservice to the public. There is not one voice in the budget room from north of White Plains. How can this process possibly represent New York? At a minimum, the Senate and Assembly minority leaders should be included in the budget process to increase transparency.”

“Worse, Governor Cuomo used a message of necessity, overriding the state constitutional provision that requires three days for legislators to review bills. The budget rams through billions of dollars in spending without adequate time to review it, speak with constituents or get input from experts.”

 

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Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, a former teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie, is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel. Lalor is of counsel to the law firm Gaines, Novick, Ponzini, Cossu & Venditti. He is a graduate of John Jay High School, Providence College and Pace Law School and lives in Fishkill with his wife Mary Jo and their four young children Katie, Riley, Mikey and Kieran Jr..


www.KMLNY.com

 

Dear Friends,

Elections are won during the off year. That’s why we are already executing our plan for victory in 2016.

 

Some well-known local liberals are considering challenging me in 2016. They correctly believe that 2016, a presidential year, will be a good one for Democrats. In short, they think a Democrat wave might allow them to achieve victory here in the Fighting 105th Assembly District. We are already building a war chest to ensure we have the resources to get our message out and fight off the inevitable attacks.

 

Our goal is to raise $2016 by the midnight tomorrow, the end of the First Quarter of the year.

 

Your immediate contribution will help us achieve that goal.

 

We will keep fighting the good fight in Albany but we are starting early and we will be relentless. Whether it is $10, $25, $50, $100 or some other amount, every dollar will help us keep up with the latest campaign tactics and technologies so we can keep our edge. Contribute now and help us reach our goal of raising $2016 by midnight tomorrow.

 

Best,

Kieran

 

ICYMI:
The New York Post highlights one of my reform bills here.

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My Op-Ed in the Albany Times Union and Capital Tonight interview supporting the Veterans Equality Act here and here.

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Discussing political correctness run amok including the Cornell administrator who would welcome ISIS to campus, the public school in Orange County that said the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic and the school in Lexington, MA that initially cancelled an “American Pride” themed dance because it might be offensive.

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My New York Post op-ed laying out game-changing ethics reforms to clean up Albany.

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Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, a former teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie, is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel. Lalor is of counsel to the law firm Gaines, Novick, Ponzini, Cossu & Venditti. He is a graduate of John Jay High School, Providence College and Pace Law School and lives in Hopewell Jct. with his wife Mary Jo and their four young children Katie, Riley, Mikey and Kieran Jr..


www.KMLNY.com

 

Riverfront Art Gallery

Yonkers Riverfront Library (4th Floor)

1 Larkin Center

Yonkers, NY 10701

 

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

“In and Out of the Can” by artist Howard Better

Opening Reception and Artist Talk: April 9th 2015 at 5:30pm to 8pm

 

The Riverfront Art Gallery (located at the Yonkers Riverfront Library) presents for the month of April, Howard Better and his exhibit “In and Out of the Can” featuring thousands of 3-D can collage sculptures. Influenced by Better’s many years as a filmmaker and sourced from the artist’s collection of vintage comics, magazines, and newspapers; the exhibit evokes a contrast and conversation between mass-production and individuality. The series is hung from the ceiling with an accompanying pathway, creating an ethereal and film-like sequence of stories to view.

Second Saturday Arts

April 11th 2015 at 10:30am to 12:30am

 

Participants inspired by the exhibit will create their own 3-D can collage art based on personal stories and their place in the community using recycled cans and papers. To register, contact us at RiverfrontArtGallery@gmail.com with your name and number of participants.  There will be a $5 SUGGESTED donation for each participant.

 

STATEMENT FROM A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON SALE OF PRIVATE CUSTOMER DATA BY RADIO SHACK.

Reports Suggest Company May Auction Private Customer Data As Part Of Bankruptcy Sale.

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today released the following statement in response to reports that Radio Shack may sell private customer data as part of its bankruptcy sale. The company’s privacy policy says that the company will not sell or rent personal information.

“When a company collects private customer data on the condition that it will not be resold, it is the company’s responsibility to uphold their end of the bargain,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “My office will continue to monitor Radio Shack’s bankruptcy sale and whether it includes auctioning off private customer data. We are committed to taking appropriate action to protect New York consumers.”

As Radio Shack faces a bankruptcy sale, reports suggest the company may attempt to sell customer data. The company’s privacy policy currently states that:

•    “We will not sell or rent your personally identifiable information to anyone at any time.

•    We will not use any personal information beyond what is necessary to assist us in delivering to you the services you have requested.

•    We may send personally identifiable information about you to other organizations when: We have your consent to share the information (you will be provided the opportunity to opt-out if you desire).”  – RadioShack Privacy Policy, 3/25/2015

CHIAROSCURO GROUP TO STATE ASSEMBLY: PROVE YOU CARE ABOUT WOMEN’S HEALTH; PASS CLINIC INSPECTION BILL.

 

New York–March 26…New York State Assembly Members supporting a late term abortion expansion bill in the name of “women’s health,” should prove that they’re genuinely concerned about the health of women by passing legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island) that would require regular Health Department inspections of New York State abortion clinics.

 

The New York Post reported last year that many New York clinics haven’t been inspected in more than a dozen years. Those that were inspected had serious sanitary violations.

 

“The health of women is being put at unnecessary risk every day and we ask that State Assembly Members — pro-choice and pro-life — act to address the issue,” said Chiaroscuro Group spokesman Greg Pfundstein.  “Nail salons and restaurants are regularly inspected, but not women’s medical facilities?  How is that possible?”

 

Chiaroscuro unveiled user reviews from some of New York’s clinics in a radio campaign last month.  The spots can be heard here, here, and here.

 

“We have raised a red flag over New York State,” Mr. Pfundstein continued. “We are alerting state legislators that a serious health oversight is occurring.  But will the Assembly act on it?”

Lalor: Viacom Lays Off NY Employees While Taking Tax Dollars

East Fishkill, NY – (3/24/15) – Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor (R,C,I – East Fishkill) is again calling on the legislature and Governor Cuomo to end the $420 million in yearly tax subsidies for Hollywood after Viacom announced it is cutting 264 employees in New York. Viacom received about $340,000 in tax credits for TV production in the fourth quarter of 2014 alone. The state has yet to release full details on all of the tax credits issued. The limited information made available by the Cuomo administration does not include films produced by Viacom subsidiary Paramount Pictures that likely run the tax subsidy total well into the millions.

“Subsidizing Hollywood with tax dollars is bad policy,” said Lalor. “Sony cut 264 permanent well-paying jobs. The jobs ‘created’ with the Hollywood tax credit are often part-time jobs. Sometimes Governor Cuomo even touts the extras hired by films as jobs ‘created’. Even worse, Viacom buys influence and these subsidies through large campaign contributions. Viacom’s CEO is one of Governor Cuomo’s top donors. Cuomo’s corporate welfare for his friends isn’t creating jobs. We need across-the-board tax cuts for all New Yorkers, including the ones who aren’t at the top of Cuomo’s donor list.”

In 2013, Governor Cuomo’s own tax reform commission acknowledged that the Hollywood tax credits are not working. Cuomo’s commission reported, “The film production credit, now generally 30 percent of qualifying costs, is large relative to industry profits and tax liability. Because the credit exceeds tax liability many times over and is refundable, in effect it is a program of cash payments by the state to credit recipients… It is not clear from our analysis that there is sufficient justification for the size of the film credits. The state should consider scaling back the credits and monitoring the film industry closely to determine the impact on its activities of such a cutback.”

Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, a former teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie, is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel. Lalor is of counsel to the law firm Gaines, Novick, Ponzini, Cossu & Venditti. He is a graduate of John Jay High School, Providence College and Pace Law School and lives in Hopewell Jct. with his wife Mary Jo and their four young children Katie, Riley, Mikey and Kieran Jr..


www.KMLNY.com

Statement by Chiaroscuro Group Spokesman Greg Pfundstein

March 16, 2015

“Today’s Assembly vote is a major victory for moderation and common sense in New York, and I commend Speaker Heastie’s leadership in recognizing that an abortion expansion bill is the last thing New York needs. I also congratulate Senator Dean Skelos for his steadfast courage in opposing the late term abortion expansion provision of the Women’s Equality Act.  That bill would have set up two types of abortion services in New York: One with doctors for women of means and one with non-doctors for poor, mostly minority women.  It was a bad and dangerous bill, and we are relieved to learn that reason can prevail in Albany.”

Lalor Renews Call For Assembly to Pass Consecutive Sentencing Bill After Bard College Killer Sentencing

East Fishkill, NY – (2/25/15) – Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor (R,C,I – East Fishkill) is renewing his call for the Assembly to pass legislation that would toughen sentencing for multiple homicides after the driver who killed two Bard College students received a concurrent sentence for the two deaths Currently, the law does not allow judges the discretion to deliver consecutive sentencing for multiple homicides caused by one act. Lalor’s legislation passed the Senate last year, but died in the Assembly. It has been reintroduced in the new session.

“We need to give judges the flexibility to issue a punishment that fits the crime,” said Lalor. “This bill will help to ensure that the extent of a defendant’s sentence will directly and appropriately relate to the amount of suffering caused to victims, their families and society. When a killer takes two lives, the sentence should be greater. The law ties judges’ hands now. We need to give judges discretion to mete out the appropriate punishments.”

Lalor originally introduced the legislation in 2014 after being contacted by the families of Shawn and Patricia Wonderly. The Wonderly family, along with other members of the community, presented the idea for this legislation after a personal tragedy. On August 1, 2012, Ryan Floryan ran a red light at the Eastbound Arterial and Worrall Avenue in the City of Poughkeepsie and slammed into a car carrying Shawn and Patricia Wonderly of the City of Poughkeepsie, killing the couple.

In 2013, Floryan pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree manslaughter. He is serving six-and-a-half to thirteen years in prison.  Under current law, Dutchess County Court Judge Stephen Greller could not impose a stricter sentence, though he believed a much stricter sentence was appropriate, as the sentencing for the two separate manslaughter charges must run concurrently since they were caused by one act. During court proceedings, Floryan admitted that he was driving at an excessive speed to avoid City of Poughkeepsie police because he was on parole violation.

Yesterday, Carol Boeck pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide in the deaths of two Bard College students, Sarah McCausland and Evelina Brown. Boeck was drunk and three times over the legal limit when she struck and killed the students on Route 9 last year. The same law that gave Floryan a light sentence also prevented the Boeck judge from delivering consecutive sentences.

Lalor added, “Both killers acted with a shocking disregard for the lives around them. They each took two lives and tore holes into their victims’ families. Right now, the law isn’t delivering justice for those families. It needs to change and the Assembly needs to move to pass this bill.”

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Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, a former teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie, is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel. Lalor is of counsel to the law firm Gaines, Novick, Ponzini, Cossu & Venditti. He is a graduate of John Jay High School, Providence College and Pace Law School and lives in Hopewell Jct. with his wife Mary Jo and their four young children Katie, Riley, Mikey and Kieran Jr..


www.KMLNY.com

Lalor Asks Attorney General to Investigate Road Salt Deliverers Defrauding Towns

East Fishkill, NY – (2/23/15) – Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor (R,C,I – East Fishkill) is asking New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate reports that municipalities are being defrauded on road salt deliveries by delivery trucks. Several constituents have expressed concern to Lalor that delivery trucks are shorting towns on road salt deliveries and selling the surplus to private users on the side. Morton Salt has the contract with the New York State Office of General Services to provide road salt to municipalities in parts of New York, including Dutchess County. Towns across New York have experienced significant road salt shortages this winter.

“Given the ongoing problems with municipal road salt deliveries and the public safety issues caused by unsafe roads without enough salt, this potential fraud needs to be addressed,” said Lalor. “I’m asking the attorney general for a public and well-publicized investigation to put potential fraudulent delivery drivers on notice that this cannot continue.”

Lalor’s letter to Attorney General Schneiderman is available here.

“There is no excuse for the long delays in delivering road salt to towns across Dutchess County and the rest of New York,” Lalor continued. “If Morton Salt wanted the contract with New York State, it should have been prepared to deliver, whatever the weather circumstances might be. It’s winter and they should have been prepared to make the deliveries. It’s a serious safety issue when these deliveries aren’t coming in. We need a plan from Morton Salt on how they’re going to catch up on deliveries. If they can’t deliver on this contract to keep our roads safe, New York needs to review the status of this contract for next year. I plan to work with local and state officials to review what happened this year and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Lalor added, “The Office of General Services needs to explore every possible solution to deliver the salt on time for the rest of the winter, whether that means bringing in the National Guard to make the deliveries or finding trucks across the country to do the job.”

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Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, a former teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie, is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel. Lalor is of counsel to the law firm Gaines, Novick, Ponzini, Cossu & Venditti. He is a graduate of John Jay High School, Providence College and Pace Law School and lives in Hopewell Jct. with his wife Mary Jo and their four young children Katie, Riley, Mikey and Kieran Jr..


www.KMLNY.com

Democrat Assemblyman Demands Silver Step Down. Call Assembly Democrats Still Supporting Silver, Find Out Why.

Dear Friends,

Finally, some Assembly Democrats are starting to call on Sheldon Silver to resign. Assemblyman Keith Wright, the former co-chair of the New York State Democratic Party, is demanding that Silver step down. But, the vast majority, including many of our Hudson Valley representatives, are sticking with Silver. Why are Assembly Democrats Didi Barrett, Kevin Cahill and James Skoufis standing by Silver?

It’s a good question. Give their offices a call and ask how they can still stand by their crooked leader.

Didi Barrett: 845-454-1703 or BarrettD@assembly.state.ny.us
Kevin Cahill: 845-338-9610 or CahillK@assembly.state.ny.us
James Skoufis: 845-469-6929 or SkoufisJ@assembly.state.ny.us

Call our Hudson Valley representatives and find out why they’re tolerating Silver’s corruption.

Kieran

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Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, a former teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie, is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel. Lalor is of counsel to the law firm Gaines, Novick, Ponzini, Cossu & Venditti. He is a graduate of John Jay High School, Providence College and Pace Law School and lives in Hopewell Jct. with his wife Mary Jo and their four young children Katie, Riley, Mikey and Kieran Jr..

Hello my friend, I hope the new year is treating you well.

Now that Congressman Charlie Rangel has begun his last term, it’s time to begin the journey to replace him.  The 13th Congressional District covers most of Northern Manhattan and parts of the Northwest Bronx.  It has been represented by two legendary figures:  my father, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (who created the seat and became the first African American Congressman from NY 1944-1970) and Charles B. Rangel (1970-Present).  We need a progressive voice to preserve the rich history of these last 70 years.  I intend to run for that seat.
This is not an exploratory committee;  I’ve been exploring this district for over 20 years.  It’s time to run.  I know this congressional district as well as anyone.  From El Barrio to Harlem to Washington Heights & Inwood to the Bronx, I’ve represented various parts of this district in the City Council and in the State Assembly.  Most of the leaders in these various neighborhoods are people I know and have worked with throughout the years.  I hope you pray for me and join me in this exciting journey.
All the best,
ADAM

Statement from Greg Pfundstein, President, Chiaroscuro Foundation. 

January 16, 2015
Manilla, Philippines
“I commend Senator Diane Savino for calling on the New York State Assembly to move past the stalemate on critical legislation protecting the rights of women in New York.
“I’ve just spent a week in the Philippines with the Blas Ople Policy Center, with which the Chiaroscuro Foundation has partnered to combat human trafficking in the Philippines. We met with Filipino victims of trafficking who were subject to human rights abuses throughout the Middle East and Africa.
“Where we all agree, let us act: human trafficking victims deserve protection and support in New York State and around the world. I couldn’t agree with Senator Savino more: they can wait no longer.”

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A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH FISHKILL NONPROFIT SERVING NEW YORKERS WITH DISABILITIES TO REPAY MEDICAID $363,000 FOR USING UNQUALIFIED STAFF

Keli House Community Services Employed Individuals That Lacked Experience And Education Required By New York State

Schneiderman: People Suffering From Disabilities Deserve The Best Help Available

PEARL RIVER – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with Keli House Community Services, Inc., a Fishkill-based nonprofit serving New Yorkers with disabilities and their families, that used unqualified individuals to provide services to Medicaid recipients who participated in the Home and Community Based Services Program offered by the New York State Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). The settlement calls for Keli House to reimburse Medicaid $363,643.

“People suffering from disabilities deserve the best assistance available when exploring the option to stay in their homes,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Service providers that employ inexperienced staff deprive New Yorkers of the expertise needed to navigate and maximize all opportunities. We will crack down on anyone who shortchanges not only the most vulnerable members of our community but also our Medicaid program.”

Keli House Community Services provides a variety of services intended to decrease the risk of institutionalization for Medicaid recipients with developmental disabilities. These services include service coordination, which assesses the needs of the individual and connects them to programs designed to prevent their institutionalization.

OPWDD rules require individuals providing service coordination for organizations to meet certain minimum educational and experience requirements to ensure the quality of services provided to persons with special needs. Each coordinator must have at least an associate’s degree in a health or human services field and, either one year experience working with people with developmental disabilities or one year of service coordination experience. They must also complete a training program approved by OPWDD. During a three and a half year period ending in November 2009, Keli House employed ten persons to provide service coordination in the program, but only one was fully qualified to provide this service. Some of the coordinators had no experience while others held degrees in unrelated fields.

Keli House will reimburse the Medicaid program $363,643, which was the amount paid to the nonprofit for services provided by unqualified employees.

The Attorney General would like to thank the former Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, now part of the Justice Center for the Protection of Persons with Special Needs, for its assistance in conducting the investigation.

The case was investigated by Special Assistant Attorney General William McClarnon of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Principal Special Auditor Investigator Jean Moss, Associate Auditor Investigator Sandra Alvarez, Investigator Timothy Connolly, with the assistance of Regional Director Anne Jardine, Supervising Investigator Peter Markiewicz and Assistant Chief Auditor Investigator John Regan. The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is led by Acting Director Amy Held and is within the Division of Criminal Justice, which is led by Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan.

A copy of the settlement is available here.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH FISHKILL NONPROFIT SERVING NEW YORKERS WITH DISABILITIES TO REPAY MEDICAID $363,000 FOR USING UNQUALIFIED STAFF

Keli House Community Services Employed Individuals That Lacked Experience And Education Required By New York State

Schneiderman: People Suffering From Disabilities Deserve The Best Help Available

PEARL RIVER – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with Keli House Community Services, Inc., a Fishkill-based nonprofit serving New Yorkers with disabilities and their families, that used unqualified individuals to provide services to Medicaid recipients who participated in the Home and Community Based Services Program offered by the New York State Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). The settlement calls for Keli House to reimburse Medicaid $363,643.

“People suffering from disabilities deserve the best assistance available when exploring the option to stay in their homes,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Service providers that employ inexperienced staff deprive New Yorkers of the expertise needed to navigate and maximize all opportunities. We will crack down on anyone who shortchanges not only the most vulnerable members of our community but also our Medicaid program.”

Keli House Community Services provides a variety of services intended to decrease the risk of institutionalization for Medicaid recipients with developmental disabilities. These services include service coordination, which assesses the needs of the individual and connects them to programs designed to prevent their institutionalization.

OPWDD rules require individuals providing service coordination for organizations to meet certain minimum educational and experience requirements to ensure the quality of services provided to persons with special needs. Each coordinator must have at least an associate’s degree in a health or human services field and, either one year experience working with people with developmental disabilities or one year of service coordination experience. They must also complete a training program approved by OPWDD. During a three and a half year period ending in November 2009, Keli House employed ten persons to provide service coordination in the program, but only one was fully qualified to provide this service. Some of the coordinators had no experience while others held degrees in unrelated fields.

Keli House will reimburse the Medicaid program $363,643, which was the amount paid to the nonprofit for services provided by unqualified employees.

The Attorney General would like to thank the former Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, now part of the Justice Center for the Protection of Persons with Special Needs, for its assistance in conducting the investigation.

The case was investigated by Special Assistant Attorney General William McClarnon of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Principal Special Auditor Investigator Jean Moss, Associate Auditor Investigator Sandra Alvarez, Investigator Timothy Connolly, with the assistance of Regional Director Anne Jardine, Supervising Investigator Peter Markiewicz and Assistant Chief Auditor Investigator John Regan. The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is led by Acting Director Amy Held and is within the Division of Criminal Justice, which is led by Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan.

A copy of the settlement is available here.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST COMPANIES OVER ALLEGEDLY FRAUDULENT SUBSCRIPTION SOLICITATIONS SENT NATIONWIDE

New York Joined By Oregon, Minnesota, Missouri, And Texas In Filing Simultaneous Lawsuits To Stop Unlawful And Deceptive Business Practices And Seek Restitution For Consumers

Schneiderman: It Is Illegal To Trade On Name Of Reputable Publications And Trick Consumers Into Overpaying For Subscriptions

NEW YORK — As part of a coordinated law enforcement action, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office and the Attorneys General of Oregon, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas filed lawsuits against Orbital Publishing Group, Inc. and a ring of interrelated New York and Oregon companies for mailing millions of unauthorized and allegedly misleading magazine and newspaper subscription notices to consumers nationwide. The solicitations were sent without the permission of the publishers and stated that consumers were receiving “one of the lowest available rates,” when, in fact, they were being charged, in some cases, more than double the publication price. The companies then pocketed the difference.

“It is illegal under New York law to trade on the name of reputable publications and use deceptive advertising to trick consumers into overpaying for goods and services,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “New York is home to the largest media market in the country and serves as headquarters to many of our nation’s most important newspapers and magazines. My office will work hard to protect New Yorkers from swindlers and to protect the business of reputable companies who play by the rules.”

“This sophisticated mail scam ripped off thousands of Oregonians and others across the country,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. “Consumers thought they were dealing with legitimate companies, and that they were paying the lowest available price. Instead, they sent payments to a dishonest third-party, who pocketed the money. As Attorney General, I will not tolerate dishonest or fraudulent business practices in Oregon.”

“They used deceptive ‘renewal’ notices to get people to unwittingly pay significantly more for their newspaper or magazine subscriptions,” said Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Attorney General Schneiderman’s lawsuit, which charges violations of New York State law, alleges that, from at least 2010 to the present, the interrelated companies sent consumers unlawful solicitation notices designed to look like they came directly from at least 44 publications. The victimized publications include some of the nation’s leading periodicals, including Consumer Reports, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

The New York suit, filed today in Manhattan Supreme Court, seeks to stop the alleged illegal business practices, return money to consumers, disgorge any profits related to these alleged illegal activities, and penalties.

Attorney General Schneiderman’s lawsuit charges the companies violated Sections 349 and 350 of New York’s General Business Law, which prohibits deceptive business practices and false advertising, and Section 335-a of the General Business Law, which requires magazine renewal solicitations to disclose the month and year that the consumer’s subscription expires. The companies’ solicitations failed to provide this information. As a result, some consumers sent money to the companies to renew their subscriptions, not realizing that their current subscription had not yet expired. Other consumers complain that they sent payments to the companies but never received their subscriptions. Many of the consumers affected by the scam appear to be elderly.

The New York Attorney General’s office has received dozens of complaints from consumers across New York, including on Long Island, in New York City, the Hudson Valley, the Capital Region and Erie, Niagara and St. Lawrence counties, about misleading subscription solicitations from the companies named in the lawsuit. Thousands of complaints have been received by the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau and the offices of the Attorneys General in the four other states filing suit today.

In an effort to stop the alleged abuse, many of the publishers – who complained to law enforcement and filed lawsuits in an effort to stop the alleged abuse – have issued cease and desist letters to the solicitation companies demanding that they stop sending unauthorized solicitations. Some of these publishers ran alerts on their websites and full page advertisements in their publications in an effort to warn their readers about scam solicitations. Dow Jones, in an affidavit filed as part of New York lawsuit, stated that it has spent $3.5 million in responding to the unauthorized notices, including by offering free subscriptions. American City Business Journals estimates that its subscribers, who were charged double the publication’s real subscription price, have lost as much as $120,000 as a result of the companies’ allegedly deceptive practices.

According to the New York lawsuit, the solicitation scams were operated by a labyrinth of corporate entities, which were allegedly created to disguise the scheme. The solicitation companies have used dozens of different names to solicit consumers, including Magazine Payment Services, Associated Publishers Network, Publishers Periodical Service, United Publishers Service, Publishers Billing Exchange, Publishers Billing Association, Publishers Billing Center, Magazine Billing Network, Publishers Distribution Services, Magazine Distribution Service and Subscription Billing Service. The solicitations generally contained a return address in White City, Oregon, Henderson, Nevada, or Reno, Nevada.

According to the court papers, once the companies received orders from consumers, typically at exorbitant prices, the companies sent a check to the publishers for the actual subscription price, so that the consumer’s subscriptions were started or renewed, and then pocketed the difference. For example, the companies charged consumers as much as $59.95 for annual subscriptions to Consumer Reports that cost $29.95. They charged Wall Street Journal consumers $599.95 for a one-year subscription that cost $413 at retail. The New York Times estimated that the companies charged consumers a price that is 30 to 40 percent higher than the actual subscription cost of The Times. Many publishers are no longer accepting orders from the companies.

In addition to Orbital, the Attorney General sued the following entities and individuals: Liberty Publishers Service, Inc., Express Publishers Service, Inc., Associated Publishers Network, Inc., Publishers Payment Processing, Inc., Adept Management, Inc., Customer Access Services, Inc., Consolidated Publishers Exchange, Inc., Magazine Clearing Exchange, Inc., Henry Cricket Group, LLC, Laura Lovrien, and Lydia Pugsley. Laura Lovrien is the alleged Chief Operating Officer of Orbital and president and secretary of Liberty Publisher. Lydia Pugsley is the alleged owner of Adept Management, Inc. Both Lovrien and Pugsley are alleged to have participated in the operations of the companies, including sending solicitations, receiving consumers’ payment and handling consumer complaints. Orbital Publishing Group, Inc., Liberty Publishers Service, Inc., Publishers Payment Processing, Inc. and Henry Cricket Group, LLC are incorporated in New York, but appear to be operating out of Oregon.

If you believe you were a victim of a magazine or newspaper subscription scam, please file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. Complaint forms are available here. You may also call the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-771-7755.

This case is being handled by Special Counsel Mary Alestra, Volunteer Assistant Attorney General Daniel Park, Deputy Bureau Chief Laura J. Levine, and Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia, all of the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT TO ENSURE EQUAL ACCESS TO ATHLETIC PROGRAMS AT JUNIOR COLLEGES NATIONALLY

Agreement Offers Equal Opportunity For Student Participation In Athletic Programs Regardless Of National Origin

Schneiderman: Equal Educational Opportunity Requires Access To All Programs Schools Offer To Students In New York And Across Our Country

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement with the National Junior College Athletic Association (“NJCAA”), to eliminate an eligibility rule that limited participation in member colleges’ athletic programs to students who attended at least three years of high school in the United States. As part of the settlement, the NJCAA has agreed to eliminate the rule nationally, engage in outreach to junior colleges and students about the change, and submit any future eligibility rules concerning students’ national origin to the Attorney General for review.

“My office is committed to ensuring equal educational access to all students in New York State, regardless of national origin,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Our state remains one of the most thriving in the nation because of the millions of immigrants that, for centuries, have come here seeking opportunity through their own hard work. New York is committed to the principle that such opportunity is best realized through an educational system open to all students, regardless of where they were born or attended high school. Our agreement with the NJCAA will help ensure that the valuable, character-building athletic programs they organize for junior colleges in New York and across the country are open to all students.”

The NJCAA is the second-largest national intercollegiate sports association, after the NCAA, with a membership of 525 public and private junior and two-year colleges across the country, including 41 member colleges in New York State. Its stated mission is to “foster a national program of athletic participation in an environment that supports equitable opportunities consistent with the educational objectives of member colleges.”

In 2012, the NJCAA adopted a national eligibility rule that had the effect of limiting participation in the athletic programs of its member colleges to students who had attended at least three years of high school in the U.S. In the fall of 2014, several public junior colleges in New York State brought the rule to the Attorney General’s attention, citing the importance of athletic programs to the academic and general success of their students. The rule had a particularly negative impact upon urban junior college systems that serve a large number of immigrant students. For example, in fall 2013, 39% of students enrolled at junior colleges within the City University of New York system were born outside the mainland United States. And among CUNY’s first-time junior college freshmen, 7.2% attended high school for some period outside the United States.

In response to these concerns, and the possibility that the NJCAA’s eligibility rule violated state and local non-discrimination laws concerning national origin, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau opened an inquiry into the NJCAA eligibility rules in February 2015. As a result of the Attorney General’s inquiry, the Association immediately suspended the eligibility rule and ultimately agreed to eliminate it on a permanent basis.

Under the terms of the agreement, the NJCAA will:

  • Permanently eliminate the eligibility rule for member colleges nationwide;
  • Develop an outreach campaign to member colleges and their students concerning elimination of the rule and the opportunities available for all student-athletes. The campaign will include notices on the NJCAA website; fact sheets for distribution by athletic directors at member colleges; and quarterly posts to the Association’s various social media accounts, through January 2016;
  • Submit for the Attorney General’s approval any proposed eligibility rule concerning a student’s citizenship status, national origin, or residency in the U.S., through 2017; and
  • Report to the Attorney General complaints made by any member college, student, or prospective student in New York State, alleging discrimination on the basis of citizenship status or national origin.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Anjana Samant and Justin Deabler, and Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. The Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT TO ENSURE EQUAL ACCESS TO ATHLETIC PROGRAMS AT JUNIOR COLLEGES NATIONALLY

Agreement Offers Equal Opportunity For Student Participation In Athletic Programs Regardless Of National Origin

Schneiderman: Equal Educational Opportunity Requires Access To All Programs Schools Offer To Students In New York And Across Our Country

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement with the National Junior College Athletic Association (“NJCAA”), to eliminate an eligibility rule that limited participation in member colleges’ athletic programs to students who attended at least three years of high school in the United States. As part of the settlement, the NJCAA has agreed to eliminate the rule nationally, engage in outreach to junior colleges and students about the change, and submit any future eligibility rules concerning students’ national origin to the Attorney General for review.

“My office is committed to ensuring equal educational access to all students in New York State, regardless of national origin,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Our state remains one of the most thriving in the nation because of the millions of immigrants that, for centuries, have come here seeking opportunity through their own hard work. New York is committed to the principle that such opportunity is best realized through an educational system open to all students, regardless of where they were born or attended high school. Our agreement with the NJCAA will help ensure that the valuable, character-building athletic programs they organize for junior colleges in New York and across the country are open to all students.”

The NJCAA is the second-largest national intercollegiate sports association, after the NCAA, with a membership of 525 public and private junior and two-year colleges across the country, including 41 member colleges in New York State. Its stated mission is to “foster a national program of athletic participation in an environment that supports equitable opportunities consistent with the educational objectives of member colleges.”

In 2012, the NJCAA adopted a national eligibility rule that had the effect of limiting participation in the athletic programs of its member colleges to students who had attended at least three years of high school in the U.S. In the fall of 2014, several public junior colleges in New York State brought the rule to the Attorney General’s attention, citing the importance of athletic programs to the academic and general success of their students. The rule had a particularly negative impact upon urban junior college systems that serve a large number of immigrant students. For example, in fall 2013, 39% of students enrolled at junior colleges within the City University of New York system were born outside the mainland United States. And among CUNY’s first-time junior college freshmen, 7.2% attended high school for some period outside the United States.

In response to these concerns, and the possibility that the NJCAA’s eligibility rule violated state and local non-discrimination laws concerning national origin, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau opened an inquiry into the NJCAA eligibility rules in February 2015. As a result of the Attorney General’s inquiry, the Association immediately suspended the eligibility rule and ultimately agreed to eliminate it on a permanent basis.

Under the terms of the agreement, the NJCAA will:

  • Permanently eliminate the eligibility rule for member colleges nationwide;
  • Develop an outreach campaign to member colleges and their students concerning elimination of the rule and the opportunities available for all student-athletes. The campaign will include notices on the NJCAA website; fact sheets for distribution by athletic directors at member colleges; and quarterly posts to the Association’s various social media accounts, through January 2016;
  • Submit for the Attorney General’s approval any proposed eligibility rule concerning a student’s citizenship status, national origin, or residency in the U.S., through 2017; and
  • Report to the Attorney General complaints made by any member college, student, or prospective student in New York State, alleging discrimination on the basis of citizenship status or national origin.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Anjana Samant and Justin Deabler, and Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. The Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH GNC TO IMPLEMENT LANDMARK REFORMS FOR HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS

GNC To Use DNA Barcoding To Authenticate Plants Used In Supplements; Adopt New Testing Standards To Prevent Contamination; Improve Transparency For Consumers

Reforms – Which Exceed FDA Standards — Follows A.G. Investigation That Found Majority Of Tested Supplements Didn’t Contain DNA From Listed Plant

Schneiderman: I Urge All Herbal Supplements Manufacturers And Retailers To Join GNC In Working With Us To Ensure Consumer Safety

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a landmark agreement with Pennsylvania-based retail giant GNC to implement new standards in authenticating herbal supplements, ensuring their purity, and educating consumers about their chemical content. Under today’s agreement, GNC will perform DNA barcoding on the “active” plant ingredients used in its products; implement testing for contamination with allergens, both before and after production; and post prominent signage advising consumers of the processed, chemical nature of extracts. GNC will be required to implement these new procedures in all of its more than 6,000 stores nationwide, making this agreement the first in the nation to require testing standards for herbal supplements that exceed current FDA requirements.

“When consumers take an herbal supplement, they should be able to do so with full knowledge of what is in that product and confidence that every precaution was taken to ensure its authenticity and purity,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “When it comes to consumer health, we expect companies to reach a high safety bar. Without tests and safeguards, including those that rule out dangerous allergens, these supplements pose unacceptable risks to New York families. I urge all herbal supplements manufacturers and retailers to join GNC in working with my office to increase transparency and put the safety of their customers first.”

Last month, Attorney General Schneiderman sent cease-and-desist letters to GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart, after a study commissioned by his office failed to detect identifiable genetic material for the plants depicted on the labels in most of the four retailers’ herbal supplement products. The study further detected DNA associated with plants not listed on the labels, as well as the presence of potential allergens. In launching his investigation, the Attorney General raised concerns about the measures put in place by manufacturers and retailers to ensure the authenticity and purity of herbal supplements – which are taken by more than half of all American adults – and the sufficiency of federal standards regulating this $60 billion worldwide industry. Earlier this month, joined by the Connecticut and Indiana state attorneys general and the Puerto Rico Secretary of Consumer Affairs, Attorney General Schneiderman formed a coalition to further investigate the business practices of the herbal supplement industry.

“This agreement provides stronger consumer protections for these GNC supplements and highlights the relative weak federal standards,” said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, whose office is not party to today’s agreement but is part of the multistate coalition. “Hopefully this will lead others in the supplement industry to follow suit and encourage the FDA to review the existing national standards that are currently in place that has resulted in attorneys general making efforts to ensure better consumer protections for dietary and herbal supplements.”

“Consumers should be able to expect that the product they are purchasing actually contains the ingredients that are listed on the label,” said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. “GNC has taken a laudable step toward ensuring the highest level of transparency in the products it offers to consumers. The testing and disclosures included in this agreement are truly landmark and will provide important information about these products to consumers in New York, Connecticut and across the country so that they can make educated decisions when choosing to use a supplement. I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for his continued leadership on this issue.”

“GNC and the NY Attorney General’s office are to be congratulated for so promptly reaching agreement on the means of providing monitoring of herbal supplements so as to more effectively ensure safety of consumers who purchase these products,” said Arthur P. Grollman, M.D., Professor of Pharmacological Sciences at Stony Brook University. “This agreement should serve as a model for other companies and, hopefully, for the federal government to enact similar regulations. Adoption of DNA barcoding to confirm the authenticity of all plants prior to processing is a major step forward in the regulation of herbs.”

New York State Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz said, “The health & safety of New Yorkers is always important. This agreement insures that consumers know what they are buying and that the product quality is guaranteed. I applaud the Attorney General for his initiative.”

David Schardt, Senior Nutritionist, Center for Science in the Public Interest said, “The agreement GNC reached with New York State represents important progress in ensuring that supplements contain what they claim to. But Congress should pass reform that would allow the FDA to police this marketplace and remove products that are dishonestly marketed or potentially dangerous.

Jane L. Delgado, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health said, “All consumers deserve to know that what is on the label is actually in the supplements they are using. It is time for all manufacturers to adopt higher standards of DNA technologies to ensure authenticity of components and strict testing for contaminants.”

David S. Seres, M.D., Director of Medical Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center said, “When federal law prohibits the kind of regulation that we demand on all other products used for health benefits, the Attorney General’s actions represent an important step in reining in the supplement industry and assuring that the consumer can trust what is in the bottle.”

Tod Cooperman, M.D., President of ConsumerLab.com said, “FDA’s rules focus on making sure a supplement is produced the same way each time, but not necessarily with high-quality, authentic ingredients. Companies are allowed to choose their own tests and set their own standards. The additional tests outlined by this agreement are a positive step toward making sure that herbal supplements are actually made from the plants on their labels.”

Josh Bloom, Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, American Council on Science and Health said, “Although this agreement is certainly an improvement from the standards that have been in place, and Attorney General Schneiderman should be applauded for his work in this area, this is only the first step. Congress has stripped the FDA of the ability to approve or reject these products, which are essentially unregulated drugs.”

While the Attorney General’s Office found that GNC’s herbal supplements were produced in compliance with FDA regulations requiring the use of current good manufacturing practices, the investigation raised questions regarding the sufficiency of those requirements in relation to state consumer protection laws.

For instance, the FDA does not mandate the use of DNA-based technologies, like barcoding, to authenticate herbal supplements. Instead, the FDA allows companies to support their claims through other methodologies. Given the existence of chemically-similar natural or synthetic substitutes, the Attorney General’s Office remains concerned that these alternate methodologies do not provide adequate assurances of the authenticity of herbal supplements. Current FDA regulations allow for low levels of inadvertent contamination, including from allergens, and there is no federal testing required to confirm that contamination falls below relevant safety thresholds.

Contamination in herbal supplements could pose a significant danger to those who have food allergies or take medication – and there have been a number of examples of supplements endangering consumer safety. A 2013 outbreak of hepatitis that struck at least 72 people in 16 states was traced to a tainted supplement. Last October, an infant at a Connecticut hospital died when doctors gave the child a popular probiotic supplement that was later found to be contaminated with yeast.

DNA barcoding is a technique used to authenticate organic materials using unique reference sequences of DNA, which holds great promise as a scientific technique for the verification of plant species. GNC will commit to implementing this procedure during herbal supplement production, enhancing other aspects of its operations, and leading the industry to adopt the same standards, as follows:

Authentication: Within 18 months, GNC will begin utilizing DNA barcoding to confirm the authenticity of all plants used as sources for its herbal supplements products prior to processing. This will ensure the presence of a biological connection between the source plant and the extract that is eventually included in GNC’s supplements. In cases where no DNA barcode is yet available for the relevant species, GNC has committed to perform its own sample collection – DNA isolation and sequencing – to create a DNA barcode for that plant ingredient. GNC will contribute any new barcodes, and the scientific methods used to identify them, to a publicly accessible database within 24 months.
GNC will also require that all herbal ingredients used in its products are manufactured in facilities that are certified as good manufacturing compliant by a third-party accreditation body, such as ISO, USP, or NSF.

Broad Testing For Contaminants: GNC will implement a sweeping, randomized testing protocol for the eight most common allergens – defined by the FDA as milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. This will include testing certain raw ingredients for contamination and, after production, ensuring that those allergens are not present in its products. In order to do this, GNC will not only require its suppliers to implement this testing protocol, but will also perform testing themselves on finished products, using a scientifically-validated technique. In addition, GNC will also conduct testing to confirm any affirmative representations on its labels that particular ingredients are absent from certain products (e.g. “No sugar.”)

Consumer Transparency: GNC will prominently display signs in stores across the country and include language on its website indicating whether a supplement product is derived from whole herbs or extracts and explaining the difference between those two processes. In particular, these signs will highlight that extracts are chemicals derived from plants after applying solvents, like liquid carbon dioxide. GNC will list all ingredients used in its products on its labels, per existing FDA rules.

Reporting: GNC will provide semiannual reports to the Attorney General’s Office, detailing all plant species sourced after authentication using DNA barcoding; the name and address of all facilities in which DNA barcode authentication was performed; a list of materials rejected as a consequence of the results of the barcoding and the results of the randomized testing for common allergens. GNC will provide additional documentation and information necessary for the Attorney General’s Office to verify compliance with this agreement without the necessity for a subpoena.

In response to the Attorney General’s cease-and-desist letter, GNC removed from its shelves all products that the office’s testing found to contain contaminants not identified on their labels. As described in the agreement, those products remain off of store shelves.

The case is being handled by Executive Deputy Attorney General Marty Mack, Senior Adviser and Special Counsel Simon Brandler and Assistant Attorney General Deanna Nelson, Assistant Attorney General Alicia Lendon, Assistant Attorney General Richard Yorke and Environmental Scientist John Davis.

The broader investigation into the herbal supplements industry is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Dorothea Caldwell-Brown, Research Analyst John Ferrara, Research Director Lacey Keller, Chief of the Environmental Protection Bureau Lemuel Srolovic and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Karla Sanchez.

To see the copy of the agreement, click here.

THIS WEEK IN THE NEWS

March 23 to March 27, 2015

TOP HEADLINES

Continuing The Fight Against Heroin and Illegal Drugs

For the third time in as many weeks, the Attorney General’s office dismantled a large heroin ring. This most recent drug bust intercepted a drug operation that stretched all the way from Pittsburgh to Long Island, and involved covert physical surveillance and hundreds of hours of wiretaps that identified this alleged multicounty and multistate heroin distribution network. The alleged kingpin, Brian Bacon, sold up to a kilogram of heroin per month with assistance from his son, Tamar Dillard, and his girlfriend, Donna Marie Haggans, who were integral to the packaging and delivery of the heroin to customers and resellers, as well as the handling of money. Bacon was also allegedly assisted by Wallace Walker – the self-styled “quality control officer” – who distributed heroin to third parties, who would test and then rate the quality, thereby permitting Bacon to gauge how much he could “cut” the heroin and the price he should charge. This is just the latest in a series of drug busts from the Attorney General’s office.

New Leadership for the Dominican Day Parade

The Attorney General, along with numerous other New York official and community leaders, announced that the Dominican Day Parade will have new leadership after longtime head Nelson Pena was ousted.  For years, the organizations Peña purported to run had no functioning boards of directors, failed to maintain proper books and records, and failed to file the annual reports nonprofits are required to file under State law. Dominican Day Parade, Inc., with a new board of distinguished individuals drawn from diverse sectors of the Dominican-American community, has applied for the City’s permit for the Dominican Day Parade. Under the leadership of the new organization, the Parade this year is scheduled to be held on Manhattan’s Avenue of the Americas on August 9, 2015.

Protecting New York Radio Shack Customers

Any company that collects customer data on the condition it will not be resold must uphold their end of the bargain. Upon hearing that Radio Shack may be selling some of its private consumer data as part of a bankruptcy sale, the Attorney General issued a statement saying he would continue to monitor the situation, and that he was committed to taking action to protect New York consumers. This potential move by Radio Shack would be in violation of their private policy guidelines. Our office has joined with many other Attorneys General across the nation to warn Radio Shack that we will take the necessary measures to protect personal and private data.

First Khat Dealers To Be Sent to New York State Prison

The Attorney General and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced three guilty pleas in a worldwide khat trafficking ring, marking the first time in New York that khat dealers will serve time in state prison. The khat trafficking ring flooded New York City, as well as other parts of New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio, with several tons of khat, a plant containing controlled substances similar to amphetamines. The indictment alleges that England-based defendant Yadeta Bekri, known to his co-conspirators as “Murad,” systematically shipped large quantities of khat to his U.S.-based partners, Bayan Yusuf and Ahmed Adem, through multiple U.P.S. stores located in Manhattan. Yusuf and Adem, both of Rochester, NY, would then allegedly deliver the khat to their distributors and direct customers based in Brooklyn, Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo, as well as Everett, Massachusetts. Last summer, Attorney General Schneiderman and Commissioner Bratton announced the indictment of 17 members of a khat trafficking ring.

Battling Back Against Public Corruption

The Attorney General continues to work to rid New York politics of fraud and corruption. The Attorney General announced, along with State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, that former Highway Superintendent for the Town of Erin has entered a guilty plea involving the theft of more than $65,000 in goods and services from the town. The guilty plea follows charges brought against Roger Burlew, appointed Highway Superintendent in 1998, detailing a systematic course of conduct wherein he stole property valued at over $65,000 from the Town of Erin. The thefts of products and equipment were for Burlew’s personal use or the use of a third person.

Punishing Those Who Steal Public Resources

In a separate case this week, the Attorney General and State Comptroller DiNapoli also announced the guilty plea of Thomas Capuano, the former Commissioner of the Department of Public Works of the City of Rensselaer Department of Public Works, for teaming with two DPW employees to divert $46,000 from the city by pocketing the cash from scrap metals acquired as part of their jobs with the city. According to documents filed in court, Thomas Capuano was the Commissioner of the Rensselaer Department of Public Works, and the supervisor of his two co-defendants, Ronald Foust and Jeffrey Clark. Surveillance videos from a local scrap yard showed Foust and Clark cashing in items discarded by city residents. Foust and Clark later implicated Capuano, their supervisor, in the scheme. Both Foust and Clark have pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme and are awaiting sentencing.

Protecting Rehabilitation Home Resident Safety

Those who are in rehabilitation homes need to be certain that they are being provided safe, high-quality care. That is why the Attorney General announced the arrest of Terri Stephens-Traverse for allegedly stealing several pills containing oxycodone from an Orange County nursing facility’s emergency pain medication supply. Stephens-Traverse was formerly employed at Campbell Hall Rehabilitation Center located in Campbell Hall, a hamlet in the Town of Hamptonburgh in Orange County. On six separate occasions between January 23, 2013 and February 2, 2013, Stephens-Traverse, while working as a supervising nurse, allegedly stole powerful pain medication containing the narcotic oxycodone from an emergency supply kept on hand by the Center to fill new pain medication prescriptions for its residents. To conceal her theft, Stephens-Traverse allegedly falsified Center records and forged the signatures of assigned medication nurses, to indicate that the medications were administered to residents in her care when, in fact, she kept the pills for personal use.

*Please do not send a reply directly to this e-mail. If you have any questions, comments or concerns please contact the Attorney General’s Office by following this link here.

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 19, 2014

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ENLISTS NEW YORK’S COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES TO COMBAT GRANDPARENT SCAM

Scam Targeting Seniors Increases In Frequency During School Vacations Like Next Month’s Winter Recess

Schneiderman: These Scammers Abuse The Love That Grandparents Have For Their Grandchildren To Dupe Them Into Thinking They Are Helping A Family Member

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric Schneiderman today asked New York’s colleges and universities to help combat the so-called “grandparent scam,” where perpetrators impersonate relatives in need and then dupe unsuspecting seniors into sending them money. The scam involves a call to a senior citizen in which the caller impersonates a grandchild claiming to be in serious trouble and asks the unsuspecting grandparent to wire money immediately. The Federal Trade Commission recorded more than 40,000 incidents of grandparent scams from 2010 to 2013 and the scam is widely considered to be underreported.

In the letter sent Wednesday to the presidents and deans of 86 SUNY and CUNY schools and an open letter to the administration of New York’s private institutions, the Attorney General warns that the grandparent scam tends to increase in frequency during school breaks, like the upcoming December/January vacation, when it is especially believable that a grandchild would be traveling. Often, the scammer will pose as a grandchild in college, claiming to be in legal trouble or even physical danger.

“It is despicable that these scammers abuse the love that grandparents have for their grandchildren to dupe them into thinking they are helping a family member,” Attorney General Schneiderman notes in the letter. He continues: “with the holidays approaching and winter vacation around the corner … my hope is that you can help us make your students and their families aware of the scam.”

Last month, the Attorney General launched an intergenerational initiative, “Grandkids Against The Grandparent Scam,” to get older adults the information they need to avoid becoming victims. Given the tendency of scammers to impersonate college students as part of this scam, the Attorney General has asked all of New York’s higher-education institutions to make their students aware of the initiative. The program provides students with specifics about how the scam works and an informational brochure to share with their parents and grandparents. The brochure offers students a script and other tips to warn their grandparents about this dangerous scam. Some of the tips include:

  • Be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly asking you to wire money.
  • Verify any supposed emergency, by calling friends and family, before wiring money.
  • Develop a secret code or “password” with family members that can be used to verify a true emergency.
  • Limit personal information, such as vacation plans, shared on social media sites.

The Attorney General is asking the schools to distribute the brochures to as many students as possible and offering to have his statewide elder abuse coordinator speak directly to students about how they can best protect their families.

A copy of the “Grandkids Against The Grandparent Scam” brochure is available here.

A copy of the letter is available below:

November 18, 2014

With the holidays approaching and winter vacation around the corner, I am writing to make you aware of an increasingly prevalent phone scam and to ask for your help with a new initiative my office has undertaken to combat it. My regional offices across the state have reported a rise in the so-called “grandparent scam.”  The scam involves a call to a senior citizen in which the caller impersonates a grandchild claiming to be in serious trouble.  The caller then asks the unsuspecting grandparent to send money. Victims of these phone scams have lost almost $450,000 over the last several months.

The grandparent scam tends to increase in frequency during school breaks, like the upcoming December/January vacation, when it is especially believable that a grandchild would be traveling. Often, the scammer will pose as a grandchild in college and tell the grandparent that they are in legal trouble or even physical danger. They will ask the unsuspecting grandparent to wire money immediately and, as a means of avoiding detection, ask the victim not to tell other family members about the situation. For example, a caller might say: “I’m in Canada and I’m trying to get home but my car broke down and I need money right away to get it fixed.” Or s/he may claim to have been mugged, to have been in a car accident or to need money for bail or customs fees to get back into the United States from another country. It is despicable that these scammers abuse the love that grandparents have for their grandchildren to  dupe them into thinking they are helping a family member.

Last month, to help prevent unsuspecting seniors from being victimized by this all-too-common scam, my office launched a program titled “Grandkids Against the Grandparent Scam.”  This intergenerational program represents an innovative approach to getting our older adults the information they need to avoid becoming victims. The initiative provides students with specifics about how the scam works and an informational brochure that they are then encouraged to share with their parents and grandparents.

My hope is that you can help us make your students and their families aware of the scam. Please access the brochure here and distribute it to as many students as possible. For anyone interested, our statewide elder abuse coordinator, Gary Brown, would also be happy to speak directly to your students about the scam and how they can best protect their families.

For more information or if you have questions about the program and how you can help, please contact Gary Brown at 914-422-8755 or gary.brown@ag.ny.gov.

Sincerely,

Eric T. Schneiderman

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 19, 2014

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES AGREEMENTS WITH NYC BUILDING OWNERS THAT RETURN MORE THAN $460,000 IN BACK WAGES TO WORKERS AND ENFORCE RENT REGULATIONS FOR THOSE TAKING PROPERTY TAX INCENTIVES 

Agreements Secure Unpaid Wages For More Than A Dozen Building Service Employees; Tenants To Get Legally-Required Rent-Stabilized Leases; $150,000 In Restitution Will Go To NYC Affordable Housing Fund  

Schneiderman: Developers And Landlords Will Be Held To Account For Tax Breaks They Apply For And Receive

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced four settlements with a landlord and three developers who received lucrative tax incentives from New York City under the state’s “421-a” program, which is aimed at encouraging development, but who failed to comply with the program’s prevailing wage and rent-stabilization requirements. The settlements return more than $460,ooo in unpaid wages to about a dozen building workers at two buildings. They require that nearly two dozen apartments in four buildings be added to the state’s rent regulation registry. They also provide more than $150,000 in restitution to New York City.

“Tax breaks offered to developers and landlords are not freebies. They come with legal obligations to New York taxpayers – ones that developers and landlords agree to abide by when they accept the tax incentives,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “My office is dedicated to ensuring that everyone plays by the rules. In this case that means holding accountable those who accept lucrative tax exemptions and then ignore their responsibilities, including paying required wages to building service employees and providing rent-stabilized leases to New York families.”

These agreements are the first to come out of an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s Office into property developers and landlords who accept the incentives but fail to live up to legal requirements mandated by the program. Tax dollars recovered from the investigation will go to New York City’s newly established “Affordable Housing – AG Settlement Fund,” and be used by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation & Development to fund housing developments for low income families. New York State enacted Section 421-a of the Real Property Tax Law to spur housing development and affordable housing.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We need to get the most out of every dollar we spend, and it is vital that the people with whom we do business treat their workers fairly and deliver the affordable housing they promise. We won’t stand for anything less. We are deeply grateful to Attorney General Schneiderman for recouping back wages and protecting the affordability of dozens of apartments. We look forward to working together to build and preserve more affordable housing in every community.”

New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been said, “I thank the Attorney General for his work and partnership on this issue. These property owners are receiving a public benefit and should be held accountable for complying with the program’s legal requirements. This settlement will ensure that building staff are properly paid and tenants receive the rent stabilization rights to which they are entitled. In addition, the money recovered will help fund affordable housing for low-income New Yorkers.”

The four settlements announced today include:

  • A $500,000 settlement with 150 Fourth Ave, LLC, which owns a 95-unit luxury condominium, The Arias, located at 150-158 Fourth Avenue, in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Of the total settlement, $454,082 will go to about a dozen workers, including doormen and porters, to cover wage underpayments. The service workers are owed wages for work in which they were paid $8.50 to $11 an hour, far below the applicable prevailing wage rate, which started at over $16 per hour for a new employee. In addition during the time period in question, the workers did not receive benefits or paid vacation or sick time as required under the prevailing wage law.

The owners paid an additional $45,918 in restitution to the city fund for the tax benefits they received while they were out of compliance, between November 2010 and February 2014. In order to take a tax exemption under the 421-a program, buildings with more than fifty units are required to pay the prevailing wage rate to building service employees, or rent at least half of the building’s units at affordable rates. The Arias failed to offer affordable housing units and failed to pay prevailing wages. The prevailing wage is a rate higher than the minimum wage. It is set annually and required to be paid on certain government-related projects.

  • A second settlement, with Tuhsur Development, LLC, in Queens, returns nearly $10,000 to three building service workers for prevailing wages they were not paid by the 63-36 99th Street building beginning in June 2011. The developer also paid $90,000 in restitution to the fund. The developer will further provide leases to three families living in the Rego Park building, who were renting without being offered the required leases from April of 2012 to July 2014.

Two additional agreements were reached with developers who took 421-a incentives and rented apartments in three buildings, but failed to provide tenants with rent stabilized leases, which offer affordability and security to tenants, as required under the 421-a program:

  • On Staten Island: Montgomery Development Associates, LLC, will now provide rent regulated leases to families living in the 30-38 Montgomery Avenue building’s 11 units, and has paid $5,500 to the city fund. The developer of “Montgomery Gardens” began renting units in July 2011 but failed to register them as rent regulated units;
  • In Queens: B & S Management, LLC, will provide rent regulated leases to eight families in two buildings located at 138-06 35th Avenue, in Flushing. The company began renting apartments in the 8-unit complex in July 2010 but failed to register those apartments under the program. The company has paid $10,000 in restitution to the city fund.

Rent regulated units must be registered with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

32BJ SEIU President Héctor Figueroa said, “These settlements should send a message to other 421-a buildings that there are consequences if you don’t follow the law and pay the prevailing wage. We urge developers that are not in compliance to start paying the prevailing wage immediately. This will improve the lives of hundreds of New York residential workers and their families.”

Jose Casillas, a  46-year-old Queens father of three and concierge at The Arias who is among the workers who will be receiving back wages, said, “Getting this back pay will make a big difference for me and my family, especially paying for my daughter’s college tuition. The situation in our building has gotten much better in the last few months since we got our union contract and saw our pay go up to prevailing wage.”

A copy of the settlement agreements are available [here, here, here and here].

The Attorney General thanks the city’s Department of Housing Preservation & Development, the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal and the Service Employees International Union 32BJ for their assistance in the investigation.

The investigation is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Kevin Lynch, Section Chief Seth Kupferberg, Bureau Chief Terri Gerstein, all of the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice, Alvin Bragg.  The investigation is also being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Elissa Rossi and Nicholas J. Minella, Special Counsel Jeffrey R. Rendin, Deputy Bureau Chief Andrew Meier, Bureau Chief Erica F. Buckley, of the Attorney General’s Real Estate Finance Bureau, and Executive Deputy Attorney for Economic Justice General Karla G. Sanchez.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN AND FTC OBTAIN ORDER HALTING DEBT COLLECTORS’ DECEPTIVE, ABUSIVE PRACTICES

Order Also Freezes Collectors’ Assets And Appoints Receiver To Run Companies

Schneiderman: My Office Will Keep Fighting To Protect Consumers And End Financial Bullying

BUFFALO – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that at the request of his office and the Federal Trade Commission, Federal District Court Judge Richard J. Arcara issued a preliminary injunction halting a debt collection operation charged with violating New York State and Federal law, including New York’s consumer protection and debt collection statutes. The debt collectors falsely accused consumers of committing check fraud, then threatened consumers with arrest, imprisonment, wage garnishments, and civil suits. The court order stops the illegal conduct, freezes the operation’s assets, and appoints a temporary receiver to take over the defendants’ businesses.

“All too often, innocent New Yorkers are relentlessly harassed by predatory, abusive debt collectors,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “My office, along with partners like the Federal Trade Commission, will keep fighting to protect hardworking consumers and put a stop to unfair financial bullying once and for all.”

As part of Attorney General Schneiderman’s continuing crackdown on rogue debt collectors that target consumers in financial distress, the lawsuit charged three individuals – Joseph C. Bella III and Luis Shaw, both of Buffalo, New York, and Diane Bella, who resides in Florida, and 9 interrelated companies. The defendants allegedly bought debts and collected them, most often debts that had originated from payday loans.  Going by various names including National Check Registry, according to the complaint, the operation began using another name – eCapital Services, LLC – to evade detection and continue its illegal behavior after Joseph Bella signed an agreement with New York State authorities in October 2013 that prohibited him and his debt collection companies from violating Federal and State debt collection laws.

Operating the scheme since at least February 2010, the defendants misrepresent that consumers had committed check fraud or some other unlawful act related to the purported debt. Defendants then threatened consumers with dire consequences – such as lawsuits, arrest and imprisonment, or seizure of assets – unless they paid the debt immediately. The defendants repeated these deceptive claims to consumers’ family members, friends, coworkers, and employers, and revealed the consumers’ debts to these third parties as well, the complaint stated.

Also, according to the complaint, the defendants:

  • told one consumer in Washington State that they would have the “Washington County Police” issue a warrant for her arrest, and another serving in the military that they would bring an action against him under the Uniform Code of Military Justice;
  • said the only way to avoid arrest, imprisonment, lawsuits, wage garnishments, and seized assets would be to make an immediate payment over the phone;
  • continued to accuse consumers of check fraud and other crimes even after they produced evidence showing they didn’t owe the debts in question;
  • contacted friends, family members, and co-workers of consumers whom they claimed owed a debt, and in some cases, not only revealed the supposed debt but also said the consumers had committed check fraud and would be arrested or imprisoned if the debt was not paid;
  • added an illegal $8 “processing fee” when consumers made payments on supposed debts over the phone;
  • failed to provide consumers with debt collection notices and disclosures that are required under State and Federal law, making it difficult for consumers to determine whether they owed the debt and how they could dispute its validity; and
  • continued trying to collect a debt from a consumer who had discharged the debt in bankruptcy.

“These debt collectors continued to harass consumers and violate the law after the validity of the debt was called into question, and after the New York Attorney General’s office ordered them to stop,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “By working together with our state partners, we can leverage our resources to stop these illegal tactics.”

According to consumers interviewed by Attorney General Schneiderman and the FTC, the defendants routinely refused to provide information about the debts, as required by federal law, or to investigate the debts’ legitimacy – even after some consumers explained that they did not owe the debts, the debts had been paid in full, or the defendants did not have the authority to collect on the debts. The defendants allegedly collected millions of dollars from consumers using these unlawful tactics.

In addition to Joseph Bella, Diane Bella, and Luis Shaw, the complaint names as defendants National Check Registry, LLC; Check Systems, LLC; American Mutual Holdings, Inc.; Goldberg Maxwell, LLC; Morgan Jackson, LLC; Mullins & Kane, LLC; Buffalo Staffing, Inc., and eCapital, LLC.

Attorney General Schneiderman has been tough on abusive debt collectors, sending a clear message that harassing hardworking consumers will not be tolerated. Since January 1, 2011, his office has led the charge on investigations that have yielded $722,345.20 in penalties and $281,867.34 in restitution. As a result of his no-nonsense approach, at least 11 individuals and their companies have been permanently barred from the debt collection business, two companies have been shut down, three have been barred from attempting to collect on payday loans from New Yorkers, and 12 companies have agreed to refuse requests to repossess the vehicles of New Yorkers when the underlying loan is a payday loan.

The Attorney General thanks Colin Hector, Nikhil Singhvi, and Thomas Widor of the Federal Trade Commission for their assistance with this case.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General James Morrissey and Karen Davis, Senior Consumer Fraud Representative in the Buffalo Regional Office, which is led by Michael Russo, Assistant Attorney General In Charge. The Buffalo Regional Office is part of the Division of Regional Offices, led by Marty Mack, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Offices.

UPDATED: A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES $2.2 MILLION RESTITUTION FUND FOR VICTIMS OF IMMIGRATION SCAM

A.G. Opens Claims Process To Compensate Victims Defrauded By International Immigrants Foundation And International Professional Association

Schneiderman: Victims Of Immigrations Services Scams Deserve Compensation

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that thousands of victims who were defrauded by two immigration services organizations, the International Immigrants Foundation, Inc. (IIF) and the International Professional Association, Inc. (IPA), could begin applying for compensation from a $2.2 million restitution fund. The fund was created by the Attorney General as part of a settlement of claims that the two organizations held out fraudulent promises of citizenship while engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. The process for distributing compensation, which will be administered by the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), will allow former IIF and IPA clients to submit claims for restitution for fees they paid to the organizations for immigration services that were never lawfully rendered. IIF and IPA have also been prohibited from providing immigration-related legal services in the future.

“Thousands of immigrants who had their trust abused and their money stolen by these organizations deserve to receive compensation, and now they can,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “By making more than two million dollars in restitution available for the victims of these unscrupulous organizations, we are taking an important step toward justice in this case. I urge all eligible individuals to participate in the claims process, without fear of reprisal. Today’s announcement should send the message that my office enforces one set of rules for everyone, and we will continue to fight immigration services fraud whenever and wherever it occurs.”

Victims of IIF’s and IPA’s misconduct suffered both financial and legal consequences. In one instance, an individual was eligible to obtain a Green Card, but lost his opportunity due to the organizations’ delay and negligence, despite paying more than $18,000 in fees and costs to them. Other clients were subject to deportation. Still others overpaid for services by thousands of dollars.

The claims process is the final phase of a settlement agreement that resolved a lawsuit by the Attorney General against IIF and IPA for misleading clients about their legal credentials and ability to obtain guaranteed immigration results, and for charging excessive fees inconsistent with the charitable purpose for which they were formed.

To be considered for restitution, former clients who paid for and received legal services from IIF and/or IPA must submit a claim form by October 23, 2014. Copies of the claim form, instructions for completion, and submission information are available at the claims administrator’s website, www.nylag.org/IPA. Questions relating to the completion and submission of a claim form should be directed to the claims administrator via email to restitution@nylag.org or the fund hotline at 212-514-4265. The amount of each individual restitution payment shall be determined after receipt and review of all eligible claims forms.

“As an organization who routinely sees the devastating impact that fraudulent immigration services providers inflict upon immigrants, we applaud Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman for ensuring that those who were victimized by the International Immigrants Foundation and the International Professional Association will be able to seek restitution.  The creation of the restitution fund sends the message loud and clear that those who engage in the unauthorized practice of law will not be tolerated and will be compelled to indemnify those they defrauded,” said Angela Fernandez, Esq. Executive Director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

“Immigration fraud is a stain on the inclusive values that have made New York home to more immigrants than any other city in the nation – individuals and families who have contributed so much to our culture and our prosperity,” said Yisroel Schulman, of the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), Administrator of the Restitution Fund. “NYLAG is proud to be able to continue to play a role in bringing at least a small measure of justice to those who have been harmed – and shining the light on the continuing travesty of immigration fraud.”

This matter is being handled by Steven Shiffman and Anjana Samant, Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke, Charities Bureau Chief James Sheehan and Senior Enforcement Counsel Chief David Nachman. The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.

The Attorney General’s Office is committed to protecting the civil rights of all New Yorkers and combatting fraud faced by immigrant communities. To file a complaint, contact the Civil Rights Bureau at 212-416-8250 or civil.rights@ag.ny.gov.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN SECURES LANDMARK AGREEMENT PERMANENTLY SHUTTERING TWO OF THE NATION’S LARGEST IMMIGRATION SERVICES ORGANIZATIONS FOR DEFRAUDING IMMIGRANTS 

Fraudulent Immigrant Services Organizations Will Be Dissolved, Provide Restitution For Victimized Immigrants 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement agreement shuttering two of the nation’s largest immigration services organizations, and their principal. The organizations and their principal defrauded immigrants with false promises of citizenship and residency, engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, illegally charged exorbitant fees for services, and violated laws governing not-for-profit corporations. The agreement brings to a close a lawsuit that had been filed against the two New York City organizations , the International Immigrants Foundation, Inc. (“IIF”) and the International Professional Association, Inc. (“IPA”), both 501(c)(3) entities, and their President Edward Juarez. 

In addition to shutting down both organizations, the settlement requires that all remaining assets of the entities, approximately $2 to $3 million, be used to provide restitution to immigrants who were defrauded or overcharged by the organizations, with any amount remaining going to organizations providing immigration legal services. IPA will shut down immediately. IIF will shut down over the next two years, and is prohibited from providing immigration legal services during that period. In addition, the agreement prohibits the organizations’ former President, Edward Juarez, from engaging in immigration legal services or serving as a fiduciary for any not-for-profit corporation in New York or any entity that solicits charitable contributions. The agreement is subject to final approval by the court.

“In shutting down organizations that defrauded thousands and obtaining restitution for the victims, justice has been done for many immigrant communities of the State of New York,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Organizations like IIF and IPA prey upon vulnerable individuals who seek a better life in this country, siphoning their hard earned money and sometimes destroying chances to regularize their legal status. My office is committed to eradicating fraudulent immigration services scams that prey on the hopes and dreams of immigrants in our State.” 

The Attorney General’s Office will soon issue a statement providing information on the restitution process, and outline the process for submitting claims and supporting documentation for restitution.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleged that IIF and IPA misrepresented their ability and qualifications to provide immigration-related legal services, made false promises guaranteeing specific legal results, and illegally charged excessive fees for their services. In addition, the lawsuit alleged that the entities and Mr. Juarez violated various laws governing the operations of not-for-profit corporations by wasting the entities’ assets and engaging in self-dealing transactions. The Attorney General’s Office found that IIF lured immigrants to purchase “memberships” with the organization by promising members they would receive special privileges such as free or low cost legal fees. Individuals were required to pay a $100 registration fee plus $30 per month. Once members requested legal representation, however, they were directed to IPA, where they were generally required to pay at least several thousand dollars more to have immigration papers prepared and filed – often by non-attorneys who were unqualified to do such work. 

The illegal actions of IIF and IPA caused disastrous – and sometimes irreversible – problems for New York’s immigrant families. In addition to paying substantial fees, clients were put at risk of permanent damage to their and their families’ status as a result of receiving incorrect immigration-related legal advice. IIF and IPA solicited victims through newspaper advertisements, articles, conferences, and television and radio shows, amassing thousands of clients for this scheme.

In one instance, an individual was eligible to obtain a Green Card, but lost his opportunity due to the organizations’ delay and negligence, despite paying more than $18,000 in fees and costs to them. Other clients were subject to deportation. Others paid thousands of dollars more than necessary for services.

New York State law prohibits a non-lawyer from practicing law, appearing as or purporting to be an attorney-at-law, or providing legal advice of any kind. Non-lawyers can only provide clerical services, such as translating or mailing documents, unless they have been accredited and their organization has been recognized by the federal Board of Immigration Appeals. IIF and IPA engaged in all such prohibited conduct. Further, by charging excessive fees for the services purportedly provided, IIF and IPA acted inconsistently with the charitable purpose for which they were formed, in violation of the New York State Not-For-Profit Corporation Law. 

Angela Fernandez, Esq., Executive Director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said, “This settlement agreement sends the message loud and clear to fraudulent immigration services providers that the unauthorized practice of law will not be tolerated. The Attorney General’s ongoing effort to combat immigration fraud continues to protect immigrant communities throughout this State, and warns other would-be predators that the costs of such illegality will be high.”

To date, the Office of the Attorney General has conducted numerous investigations and filed several lawsuits against organizations that have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and defrauded immigrant communities, helping to shutter fraudulent businesses across the state.

The case against IIF, IPA, and Mr. Juarez is handled by Assistant Attorney General Anjana Samant and Chief Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Bureau, as well as Assistant Attorney General Steven Shiffman, Enforcement Section Chief David Nachman and Chief James Sheehan of the Charities Bureau. The Executive Deputy Attorney General of Social Justice is Alvin Bragg and the First Deputy of Affirmative Litigation Janet Sabel. 

The Attorney General’s Office is committed to combating unlawful immigration service’s fraud carried out by organizations and individuals. If you have been a victim of immigration fraud, please contact the Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (212) 416-6149 or email civil.rights@ag.ny.gov.

If you are in need of an attorney or BIA-accredited representative in an immigration matter, please contact either the New York State Bar Association at 1-800-342-3661 (www.nysba.org) or the American Immigration Lawyers Association at 202-507-7600 (www.aila.org) for a referral. Depending on your income, you may be eligible for low-cost or free immigration legal services.

WEEK IN THE NEWS

July 14 to July 18, 2014

TOP HEADLINES

Schneiderman Proposes Bill To Blunt Effects Of Hobby Lobby Decision

Joined by State Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and a broad coalition of pro-choice advocates and legislators, Attorney General Schneiderman announced the Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act, which would help shield New York women from the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. This proposed legislation would require employers to give 90 days’ notice before changing contraceptive coverage as well as inform prospective employees of the contraceptive care coverage they offer. The Attorney General’s message: “Women should be empowered with information to make their personal healthcare choices.”

Schneiderman Releases Historical Report Showing Rise And Impact Of Data Breaches

Attorney General Schneiderman released a report providing a historical analysis of eight years of security breach data. The report illustrated that there is a growing number, complexity and cost of data breaches impacting New Yorkers. It also revealed that the number of reported data security breaches in New York more than tripled between 2006 and 2013: In 2013, 900 security breaches exposed 7.3 million personal records, costing New Yorkers $1.37 billion. Attorney General Schneiderman’s report also suggests tips that both businesses and consumers can take to protect themselves from data loss, another fact of the Attorney General’s campaign to make New Yorkers smart consumers.

Schneiderman Announces Second Largest Settlement Ever Levied Against A Financial Institution In United States With Citigroup

Attorney General Schneiderman joined members of a state and federal working group to announce that a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup – $182 million will be allocated to New York State. As part of the settlement, Citigroup acknowledged it made serious misrepresentations to the public, including the investing public, arising out of the packaging, marketing, sale and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities. The settlement was negotiated through the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, a joint state and federal working group formed in 2012 to share resources and continue investigating wrongdoing in the mortgage-backed securities market prior to the financial crisis – for which Attorney General Schneiderman is a co-chair.

Schneiderman Announces Agreement With Apple In E-book Pricing Fixing Case

Attorney General Schneiderman announced a settlement with Apple Inc. after the company allegedly participated in a price-fixing conspiracy in which the prices of E-books were artificially raised for customers in New York and throughout the country. The settlement has the potential to result in payments of $400 million to consumers, resolving claims for consumer damages and civil penalties brought by New York and 32 other states and territories. E-book purchasers nationwide have already received compensation from $166 million in settlement funds paid by the five publishers involved in the conspiracy. This settlement proves that “even the biggest, most powerful companies in the world must play by the same rules as everyone else.”

A.G. Schneiderman & Illinois A.G. Madigan Urge Federal Communications Commission To Strengthen Protections For Net Neutrality

In a letter and comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Attorney General Schneiderman and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan urged the Commission to strengthen rules to safeguard democracy on the Internet and preserve net neutrality. Attorneys General Schneiderman and Madigan argue that the FCC must ensure the continued “dynamism of the Internet” by protecting its low barriers to entry and equal treatment for all content providers. This can be upheld only through the principles of an Open Internet, or net neutrality, which further vigorous competition and innovation on the web.

Schneiderman Praises State Supreme Court’s Decision To Dismiss Challenges To State Review Of Hydrofracking

Attorney General Schneiderman commended New York State Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough for dismissing two lawsuits that sought to force the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to terminate its ongoing review of the environmental impacts related to high-volume hydrofracking. Attorney General Schneiderman applauded the decision as “an important victory in our effort to ensure all New Yorkers have safe water to drink and a clean, healthy environment.”

Schneiderman Announces Settlement With Casella Waste Systems Inc., Protecting Competition For Waste Hauling Services In Upstate New York

Attorney General Schneiderman announced a settlement with a waste hauling firm Casella Waste Systems to end their practices of unlawfully restraining competition in the North Country and Southern Tier. The Attorney General’s Office found that Casella’s contracts with its customers required that Casella serve as the exclusive provider of all customers’ waste hauling services for as long as five years. Customers faced severe consequences for early cancellation of their contracts, due to provisions requiring that they pay Casella an amount equal to six times their monthly bill upon early termination.

Schneiderman Announces Agreement with National Staffing Company Labor Ready to Protect Workers’ Rights

The Attorney General reached an agreement with Labor Ready, a staffing company that provides temporary staffing services to a wide range of employers across New York and nationwide. The agreement requires Labor Ready to implement a program to educate its job placement employees about laws that require the payment of at least the “prevailing wage,” to ensure that workers are only sent to jobs that will pay a fair wage. In addition, Labor Ready will be required to pay $10,000 in restitution to two workers who were sent to a school construction site on Long Island by the company and were unfairly paid $8 an hour instead of the required prevailing wage rate. Schneiderman’s agreement with Labor Ready furthers his commitment to workers’ rights and guaranteeing fair pay for a full day’s work for all New Yorkers.

Schneiderman Announces Jail Sentence For Fraudulent Western New York Home Contractor

Attorney General Schneiderman secured a jail sentence of 90 days for a fraudulent Western New York home improvement contractor, who has repeatedly taken money from consumers and failed to provide the home improvement services for which he had been paid. The contractor was shown to have violated a 2012 court order – also secured by the Attorney General’s Office – barring the contractor: A recent investigation by the Attorney General showed that the man was again taking money for home improvements without providing the services, in addition to never having posted the bond.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN OP-ED: FIGHTING BACK AGAINST “HOBBY LOBBY”

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today published an op-ed on The Huffington Post on his proposed Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act and his office’s efforts to advance women’s equality after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling. The following are excerpts from the op-ed:

ON THE LANDSCAPE 166 YEARS AFTER SENECA FALLS: New York State has long been a leader in advancing women’s equality, stretching back to the Seneca Falls Convention 166 years ago this weekend. Sadly, as we mark this important anniversary, hard-won victories by the women’s rights movement are being threatened by a radical right wing that seeks to roll back the progress we’ve made. Last month, the Supreme Court issued an outrageous decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that empowered the owners of corporations to use their religious beliefs to deny female employees access to key reproductive health coverage.

ON THE REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS DISCLOSURE ACT: Because the legal landscape under the Hobby Lobby decision and the Women’s Health and Wellness Act may confuse both employers and employees, my proposed legislation would create one notice standard for all employers, regardless of the type of company they run or the type of insurance plan they offer. The Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act would require employers to give 90 days’ written notice to employees, as well as to the state, if they are changing their contraception coverage. It would also require employers to inform prospective employees of the scope of any contraceptive coverage they offer, so workers can make an informed choice before accepting an offer of employment.

ON THE HOBBY LOBBY DECISION: The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision was both factually and legally flawed. It accepted false assertions about the science of how contraception works, and it expanded the absurd legal principle that corporations are people by essentially finding that corporations can hold religious beliefs.  

ON THE ROLE OF THE STATES AFTER HOBBY LOBBY: While state law cannot undo all the damage of that misguided decision, we can go a long way to empower women in New York State with the information they need to make their own health care choices. And that is what the Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act will do.

The full op-ed by Attorney General Schneiderman can be read here.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN PROPOSES BILL TO BLUNT THE EFFECT OF SUPREME COURT’S HOBBY LOBBY DECISION IN NEW YORK

A.G. Joined By Senate Democratic Conference Leader Stewart-Cousins And A Broad Coalition Of Pro-Choice Advocates And Legislators

Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act Would Require Employers to Give 90 Days’ Notice Before Changing Contraceptive Coverage, Inform Prospective Employees Of Contraceptive Coverage Offered

Schneiderman: Women Should Be Empowered With Information To Make Their Personal Healthcare Choices

WHITE PLAINS – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and State Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins today announced that they would propose legislation in Albany that would help to shield New York women from the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. That decision limited the scope of the contraceptive mandate under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), with the result that some women in New York State may lose insurance coverage for prescription contraception. The Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act would require employers both to give current employees 90 days’ notice before changing contraceptive coverage and to notify prospective employees of any contraceptive coverage they offer their employees. A broad coalition of advocates and legislators, including Assembly Member Shelley Mayer, attended the announcement to express their support for the legislation, as well as representatives from WCLA – Choice Matters, NARAL Pro-Choice New York, Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women of New York City, the National Organization for Women of New York State, and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“No woman should have her personal healthcare decisions dictated by the religious beliefs of her boss,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “As a senator, I fought for a strong law to protect women from discrimination in healthcare coverage because we must have one set of rules for everyone. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s deeply misguided Hobby Lobby decision, we need to go further to empower the women of New York State with the information they need to make their own healthcare choices. That is what the Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act would accomplish.”

Because Hobby Lobby allows a limited category of companies to drop contraceptive coverage from their employee insurance plans, Attorney General Schneiderman’s Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act would create one notice standard for all employers, regardless of the type of company. The Act would require employers to give 90 days’ written notice to employees, as well as the New York State Department of Labor, the Department of Financial Services, and the State Attorney General’s Office. It would also require employers to inform prospective employees of the scope of contraceptive coverage, including by posting on the company website limitations on contraception coverage. The Act also provides for a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for each violation of the new notice provisions.

The Affordable Care Act requires most employer-provided insurance plans to cover preventive care and screenings for women without any cost sharing. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued regulations specifying that most employers must cover 20 contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

In the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the nationwide retailer Hobby Lobby and its owners challenged the ACA’s mandate to provide health insurance coverage for certain contraception on the grounds that it violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). The RFRA prohibits the federal government from taking an action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless it constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest. The Court found that RFRA’s protections applied to closely held corporations, and not just individuals espousing sincerely held religious beliefs. It further found the mandate and penalties for noncompliance were substantial burdens on the exercise of religion. The decision assumed that protecting women’s health was a compelling government interest, but found the ACA’s provisions were not the least restrictive means of fulfilling that interest.

Notably, the Hobby Lobby decision was not reached under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, but solely under RFRA. That means that the effect of the decision is limited to actions taken by federal agencies like HHS. Hobby Lobby does not interfere with state laws. New York’s Women’s Health and Wellness Act (WHWA) still provides strong protections for contraceptive coverage, but the law does not reach all women in New York. For these women, the Hobby Lobby decision threatens their ability to make their own healthcare choices.

“We are united in our call to allow women to make decisions about their own reproductive health, without corporate interference,” said Democratic Conference Leader and State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “Due to the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, New York State must take decisive action to protect women’s rights and health. I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership on addressing this issue, and look forward to working with him, and my colleagues in State government, to ensure all New Yorkers have access to the quality healthcare coverage they deserve.”

Assembly Member Shelley Mayer said, “In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, with which I strongly disagree, I believe New York State must make efforts to inform employees about their health care coverage – and what may no longer be covered by some insurance policies. I am committed to working with Attorney General Schneiderman and my colleagues to enact legislation in New York State that informs both current and prospective employees about the details of their insurance coverage, so they can make informed health care choices for themselves.”

Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) said, “The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision marked a shocking step backwards for women’s health. For-profit employers should not be legally allowed to prevent a female employee from making her own health decisions. We need to correct this injustice for the millions of American women who will now be at risk of having to pay out of pocket for basic contraception that helps prevent unwanted pregnancy, disease, and various types of cancer. That’s why I co-sponsored the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014 to provide free contraception in compliance with the ruling, and I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman’s measure that would, given the ruling, provide women advance notice so they can plan ahead. I will continue to do all I can to ensure women’s health choices are where they belong — between a woman and her doctor.”

State Senator Liz Krueger said, “Hobby Lobby was and is a wrong decision by the Supreme Court, and I believe that it won’t last — sooner or later, it won’t be the law of the land. But in the meantime, if businesses are going to claim a special belief-based exemption to deny their employees access to basic care and services that other law-abiding employers must and do offer, then at a bare minimum every employer must be required to honestly explain to employees how their healthcare plan falls short of the national standard set by the Affordable Care Act. This is a commonsense bill and we must pass it.”

Assembly Member Amy Paulin said, “Women have a right to know if their employer intends to change coverage of a significant aspect of their health insurance – with enough notice to make important decisions about their reproductive  health care.  A prospective employee should be armed with the same information.  This is an issue affecting a woman’s pocket book and the ability to make important decisions about her own health.”  

Assembly Member Ellen Jaffee said, “I am deeply disappointed with the ill-advised majority decision of the Supreme Court regarding Hobby Lobby. The majority opinion has entered dangerous territory allowing corporations to force their religious beliefs on their employees. It was because of cases like Hobby Lobby that Senator Krueger and I introduced the Boss Bill. Employers should not have the right to make healthcare decisions for their employees. Denying millions of women access to affordable birth control is denying them fair and equal access to basic preventive health care. Giving employees a 90 day notification if and when their contraceptive coverage changes is the least we can do to protect the millions of New York women. I want to thank Attorney General Schneiderman, Assemblymember Mayer and Senator Stewart-Cousins for introducing this legislation and I will do everything I can to ensure its passage.”

Assembly Member David Buchwald said, “All employees should have the right to know in advance what reproductive health care decisions are being made for them by their employer. Attorney General Schneiderman is demonstrating leadership on this crucial issue, and I stand ready to work with my colleagues in the State Legislature so that the consequences of the Hobby Lobby decision are less harmful here in New York.”

Catherine Lederer-Plaskett, President of WCLA – Choice Matters said, “The Supreme Court’s outrageous Hobby Lobby decision made it clear to me that New York women need to know whether or not their employer or potential employer will provide contraceptive coverage. I’m glad WCLA – Choice Matters was able to work with Attorney General Schneiderman to propose legislation that would incorporate transparency into our employment law. We are incredibly proud that this idea is now the Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act.”

Andrea Miller, President of NARAL Pro-Choice New York said, “As evidenced by the recent Hobby Lobby ruling, this nation’s highest court believes that an employer’s beliefs supersede a woman’s ability to make her own reproductive health care decisions. NARAL Pro-Choice New York is tremendously appreciative of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s swift action in the wake of that shocking and disturbing decision to ensure transparency in employers’ health insurance practices. Thanks to the Attorney General’s proposed legislation, employers who impose their narrow beliefs on employees’ health care will not be able to hide in the shadows. This bill is a testament to the importance of taking proactive measures to improve the health, safety and equality of New York women at all levels of government.”

Zenaida Mendez, President of NOW New York State said, “The Supreme Court’s atrocious Hobby Lobby decision is an attack on women, and our right to make our own healthcare choices. NOW New York State is grateful to Attorney General Schneiderman to taking action to protect women from losing their contraceptive coverage without notice, and to ensure that women know when they apply for a job whether the prospective employer provides contraceptive cover.”  

“In the wake of the Supreme Court decision that gives employers the right to refuse birth control coverage to employees, this measure is an important step in holding companies accountable to their workforce by making it impossible to hide their stance and access to contraceptive care,” said Sonia Ossorio, President of the National Organization for Women, New York City. “ It’s leaders like Eric Schneiderman who are leading the response to roll backs in women’s fundamental right to full access to reproductive healthcare.”

“Women have a right to know if they’re going to have access to basic health care when they take a job or not,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “That’s why it’s important for New York to stand for women and pass this important legislation. We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for taking steps to prevent employers like Hobby Lobby from denying women access to basic health care without warning.”

M. Tracey Brooks, President and CEO of Family Planning Advocates of New York State said, “Women hit with unexpected, budget-busting costs for contraception could be forced to make decisions that are bad for their reproductive health. The Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act ensures workers and potential employees will not be surprised by sudden changes to their health care coverage. The New York Senate leadership failed to take the first step with the Boss Bill which would have prevented workplace discrimination based on women’s reproductive health care choices.  A healthy, productive New York State work force depends on accessible, affordable reproductive health care.”

Reina Schiffrin, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic said, “The Hobby Lobby decision clearly prioritized the desires of bosses over the health care needs of women. Contraception is basic, essential health care, and the most effective forms of contraception can be prohibitively expensive without full insurance coverage. Birth control decisions should be made based on a woman’s needs not her paycheck. I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman’s Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act because it recognizes that contraception is essential health care and  women have the right to know if an employer isn’t providing the insurance coverage they want and need.”

Anne Davis, MD, MPH, Consulting Medical Director for Physicians for Reproductive Health said, “I support all forms of contraception being covered as preventive care and the decision about which method of contraception to use should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss. If companies are going to deny that essential health care for their employees, a notification period will allow a woman and her doctor to come up with an alternate plan for contraceptive care.”

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN SETTLES WITH APPLE IN E-BOOK PRICE-FIXING CASE

Settlement With Apple Could Result In Payments To Consumers Of Up To $400 Million

Schneiderman: This Settlement Proves That Even The Biggest, Most Powerful Companies In The World Must Play By The Same Rules 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement with Apple Inc. arising out of Apple’s participation in a price-fixing conspiracy that a federal court in New York found raised the prices of E-books sold to consumers in New York and throughout the country. The settlement agreement, which must be approved by the court, has the potential to result in payments to consumers of $400 million, and would resolve claims for consumer damages and civil penalties brought by New York and 32 other states and territories. 

“This settlement proves that even the biggest, most powerful companies in the world must play by the same rules as everyone else,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “In a major victory, our settlement has the potential to result in Apple paying hundreds of millions of dollars to consumers to compensate them for paying unlawfully inflated E-book prices. We will continue to work with our colleagues in other states to ensure that all companies compete fairly with the knowledge that no one is above the law.”

Under the settlement, the amount that Apple must pay E-book consumers is contingent on what happens in Apple’s appeal of the court’s July 2013 finding that Apple violated antitrust laws by orchestrating a conspiracy with five publishers to artificially raise E-book prices. Consumers nationwide (including those represented by private counsel in a related class action) will receive $400 million if the Court’s ruling that Apple violated antitrust laws is ultimately affirmed. If the Court’s ruling is not affirmed, the settlement provides for a smaller recovery of $50 million if liability must be retried, or no recovery if Apple is determined not to have violated antitrust laws. New York consumers are expected to receive approximately 7 percent, or as much as $28 million, from any amount that Apple is ultimately required to pay. In the event that the Court’s decision is upheld on appeal, Apple will also make payments to the 33 states of $20 million to resolve the states’ claims for costs, fees, and civil penalties. 

Any amount received by consumers pursuant to the settlement with Apple will be in addition to those amounts already recovered from several E-book publishers.  E-book purchasers nationwide have already received compensation from $166 million in settlement funds paid by the five publishers involved in the conspiracy – Penguin Group (USA), Inc. (now part of Penguin Random House); Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC d/b/a Macmillan; Hachette Book Group Inc.; HarperCollins Publishers LLC, and Simon & Schuster Inc.  Many E-Book consumers received these funds through automatic credits sent by Amazon and other E-book retailers.

The E-book antitrust cases involved lawsuits brought by the state attorneys general, a related action by the U.S. Department of Justice, and a related class action brought by private counsel representing consumers in 18 additional states. New York, together with Texas and Connecticut, played a leading role in the state AG cases during the damages phase of the litigation.  Apple has also agreed to make a payment of attorneys’ fees to counsel in the class action in the event that there is a consumer recovery under the settlement.

For New York, this matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Bob Hubbard and Linda Gargiulo; Acting Antitrust Deputy Bureau Chief Geralyn Trujillo; Antitrust Bureau Chief Eric Stock, and Executive Deputy Attorney General Karla G. Sanchez.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN & ILLINOIS A.G. MADIGAN URGE FCC TO STRENGTHEN PROTECTIONS FOR NET NEUTRALITY

Net Neutrality Is Essential To Preserving The Benefits Of Competition And Innovation On The Web For All Americans

Schneiderman: We Are Standing Up For The New Makers, Thinkers And Entrepreneurs Who Seek To Better The Online Marketplace

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan today urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to strengthen rules to safeguard democracy on the Internet and preserve net neutrality. In comments submitted to the Commission and a letter to Chairman Tom Wheeler, Attorney General Schneiderman and Attorney General Madigan argue that the FCC must ensure the continued “dynamism of the Internet” by protecting its low barriers to entry and equal treatment for all content providers, which can be upheld only through the principles of an Open Internet, or net neutrality.

“Preserving one set of rules for everyone includes protecting the right of every business or organization seeking to access customers through the web to do so on a level playing field. It also includes ensuring that everyone has free and open access to the Internet and the essential services it provides,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “With our letter and comments to the FCC, we are standing up for the new makers, thinkers and entrepreneurs who seek to better the online marketplace, who must be allowed to continue to innovate on the same terms as established businesses.”

“The Internet was built upon a simple but powerful concept that ensured equal access to everyone,” Attorney General Madigan said. “That standard must be maintained to ensure that the Internet continues to be a driver of innovation and economic opportunity for businesses and an open marketplace for consumers.” 

In their letter and comments, the attorneys general emphasized the role that net neutrality and non-discrimination principles play in furthering vigorous competition and innovation on the web. Currently, startups are able to provide new content to consumers at the same speed as established providers, a system that empowers consumers to access, on demand, any online application or service that they would like to use. However, the attorneys general noted that, without net neutrality, commercial interests would be permitted to outpace the best interests of the marketplace, with the broadband industry charging content providers for priority treatment, or access to an Internet “fast lane.”

“The Internet is the public square of the 21st Century, and the voices of the digital haves, who can afford to pay for preferential treatment, will drown out the digital have-nots,” the attorneys general wrote. “In effect, the Information Superhighway will become a toll road. Those who pay will rapidly reach their audiences, while newcomers, startups, and others with limited resources will be left behind.”

In the comments submitted to the FCC, the attorneys general encouraged the Commission to change its classification of broadband Internet access from an “information service” to a “telecommunications service.” This would enable the Commission to apply common carrier obligations to broadband providers. The attorneys general argued that such a move would protect net neutrality principles by obligating broadband providers to deliver traffic of all users “indifferently,” without depriving them of the ability to efficiently manage their network operations to accommodate “the different costs, functions, and burdens imposed by various users.”  

The full text of today’s letter is below.

July 15, 2014

Tom Wheeler
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street NW
Washington, D.C.  20554

Dear Chairman Wheeler:

We have filed a Comment on Proceeding Number 14-28, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet, to strongly urge the Federal Communications Commission to strengthen rules to safeguard democracy on the Internet and preserve “net neutrality.” An Open Internet has been the foundation for unprecedented innovation and growth over the past two decades and the FCC must ensure this foundation is maintained.

Principles of openness and freedom have propelled the Internet from a tiny government research project into the world’s most important platform for innovation, commerce, and social change. It is the launching pad for new ideas, new industries, and new movements. But the dynamism of the Internet depends on its low barriers to entry. Unlike television and other broadcast media, reaching an Internet audience requires little more than a computer and a broadband connection. This is thanks in no small part to the non-discrimination principle that can only be upheld through net neutrality. The Internet we know today was built upon the notion that all content is created equal—whether provided by an independent blogger or by YouTube—and this content must receive equal treatment from broadband providers. 

On today’s Internet, a startup business has the opportunity to reach its customers at the same speeds as Amazon. A new thinker can compete in the marketplace of ideas on the same terms as an established one. Consumers are ultimately in the driver’s seat, with individual users, not broadband providers, choosing the content they receive on demand.  Under the existing rules, Internet service providers have advanced alongside content providers, with the dial-up service of yesterday yielding to the broadband access of today.

Any move away from net neutrality and from the non-discrimination principle would represent a serious blow to fair competition and innovation on the web. It would hand the keys to this vital platform over to narrow commercial interests, allowing the broadband industry to charge content providers for preferential treatment or “prioritization.” Content providers who agree to pay will receive access to a more reliable Internet “fast lane.” Meanwhile, broadband providers will have no incentive to upgrade or even maintain non-premium service. As they seek to convert more content providers into paying customers, the “slow lane” will only get slower. 

In a world without net neutrality, new Internet ventures will not be able to compete with established companies who can shoulder the added costs to deliver content on demand—regardless of whether they offer a better product. Startups that depend on reliable access to their user base might never be funded, with investors deterred by the extra expense. The Internet is the public square of the 21st Century, and the voices of the digital haves, who can afford to pay for preferential treatment, will drown out the digital have-nots. 

In effect, the Information Superhighway will become a toll road. Those who pay will rapidly reach their audiences, while newcomers, startups, and others with limited resources will be left behind. 

Fortunately, this result is entirely avoidable. In your rulemaking, we urge you to strengthen provisions that protect net neutrality and to preserve the Internet as an open and vibrant platform for innovators, thinkers, and entrepreneurs.

Sincerely,

Eric T. Schneiderman

Lisa Madigan

STATEMENT BY A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON NY SUPREME COURT DECISION DISMISSING CHALLENGES TO STATE REVIEW OF HYDROFRACKING RISKS

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued the following statement on two decisions by New York State Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough dismissing two lawsuits seeking to force the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to terminate its ongoing review of the environmental impacts related to high-volume hydrofracking:

“The court’s decision to allow the state review of hydrofracking risks to continue is an important victory in our effort to ensure all New Yorkers have safe water to drink and a clean, healthy environment. New Yorkers are rightly concerned about studies showing the environmental risks associated with hydrofracking. We should not allow hydrofracking to begin in New York until the Department of Health completes its analysis of its impact on public health. Given the risks of contamination to wells and the aquifer that supplies drinking water to many New Yorkers, we need to make sure we can safeguard our water before we move forward.”   

Last year, the trustee of the bankrupt gas development company Norse Energy and the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York brought suit in New York State Supreme Court in Albany County against the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the New York State Department of Health (DOH), and Governor Cuomo.  Both suits asked the Court to compel the DEC to terminate its environmental review of hydrofracking.  

Attorney General Schneiderman’s office represented the State defendants in the cases, asking the Court to dismiss the lawsuits.  In his ruling, Supreme Court Justice McDonough dismissed the two suits in their entirety.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Morgan Costello and Stephen Nagle of the Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau. The Environmental Protection Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Lemuel Srolovic and Deputy Bureau Chief Lisa Burianek.   

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH NATIONAL STAFFING COMPANY TO PROTECT WORKERS’ RIGHTS 

Labor Ready Agrees To Implement A Nationwide Public Work Training Program For Its Job Placement Staff To Ensure That Eligible Workers Receive Prevailing Wages 

Schneiderman: It Is Unacceptable That Labor Ready’s Job Placement Employees Are Unaware Of Basic Prevailing Wage Laws That Exist To Protect Workers  

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with Labor Ready, which operates offices, across New York and other states, that provide temporary-staffing services to a wide range of employers. The agreement requires Labor Ready to implement a nationwide program to train its job placement employees about laws that require payment of at least the “prevailing wage” rates to workers on public work projects, including construction or maintenance of public buildings. In addition, the agreement requires Labor Ready to pay $10,000 in restitution to two workers, and to pay $10,000 in penalties.  

“Labor Ready is a large corporation that dispatches thousands of workers to a wide range of worksites across the country every year,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “It’s unacceptable that Labor Ready’s job placement employees would be  unaware of basic prevailing wage laws that exist to protect workers on our most important public work projects, such as building schools, hospitals, and other public buildings.” 

In summer 2012, Labor Ready’s Hempstead branch office dispatched two workers to a school construction site in Bellmore, Long Island without identifying the job as a public work project. Instead of paying the required prevailing wage rates, Labor Ready paid the workers $8 per hour. Federal and state prevailing wage laws seek to ensure that contractors on government projects pay wages and benefits that are comparable to the local norms for a given trade, typically well above the minimum wage. 

In addition to the violations related to these two employees, the investigation by the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau revealed that not only were Labor Ready job placement employees at the Hempstead branch office inadequately trained about prevailing wage requirements, but also that Labor Ready overall lacked an effective system to ensure that its job placement staff could appropriately identify prevailing wage jobs. Labor Ready has previously been cited and/or investigated for violations of state and federal prevailing wage laws in, among other locations, Oregon, Missouri, and Illinois. 

Under the Attorney General’s agreement, Labor Ready will implement a nationwide training program that will educate its job placement employees about public work legal requirements on at least an annual basis, and will send regular reports to the Attorney General regarding employee trainings. Labor Ready will also require employers seeking workers in New York State to certify that they will comply with the law, and will not work with employers who Labor Ready knows are subject to an unsatisfied court or agency decision concerning unpaid wages. Also, for prevailing wage jobs, Labor Ready will not place employees at any companies which are on publicly available debarment lists.  In addition, Labor Ready must establish a system for remedying prevailing wage violations in a timely fashion, including through payment of back wages to affected workers, or face considerable fines.  

“This settlement is simply groundbreaking in its scope and will help to ensure that workers across the country are protected from wage theft,” said James W. Versocki of Archer, Byington, Glennon & Levine, LLP, a labor law firm in Melville, N.Y. that represents construction trade unions and referred the case to the Attorney General’s office. “We are thankful that the Attorney General and the Labor Bureau saw the merit of this referral and turned a local problem into a national solution; this type of innovative approach to law enforcement is a model that should be emulated.” 

In a joint statement, workers Lance and Lloyd Brown said, “Our family believes in hard work. But no matter how hard you work, it’s difficult to keep up with expenses and take proper care of our family, especially in these tough times. The fact that we got paid just a fraction of the salary of others who did exactly the same work is insulting and unfair. We are very grateful that Attorney General Schneiderman is taking on the tough fights to protect the wages we deserve for our hard work”. 

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Haeya Yim, Labor Bureau Section Chief Andrew Elmore, and Bureau Chief Terri Gerstein. The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES $182 MILLION FOR NEW YORKERS AS PART OF $7 BILLION CITIGROUP SETTLEMENT

RMBS Task Force, Co-Chaired By Schneiderman, Produces Second-Largest Settlement Ever Levied Against A Financial Institution In United States

Schneiderman: “Today’s Settlement Is A Major Victory In The Fight To Hold Those Who Caused The Financial Crisis Accountable”  

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today joined members of a state and federal working group he co-chairs to announce that $182 million – $92 million in cash, and at least $90 in consumer relief – would be allocated to New York State as part of a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup. As part of the settlement, Citigroup acknowledged it made serious misrepresentations to the public – including the investing public – arising out of the packaging, marketing, sale and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) by Citigroup. The resolution also requires Citigroup to provide relief to underwater homeowners, distressed borrowers, and affected communities through a variety of means including financing affordable rental housing developments for low-income families in high-cost areas. 

The settlement requires Citi to pay $4.5 billion in hard dollars and provide $2.5 billion in consumer relief. New York State will receive at least $182 million: $92 million in cash and a minimum of $90 million in consumer relief for struggling New Yorkers. The settlement was negotiated through the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, a joint state and federal working group formed in 2012 to share resources and continue investigating wrongdoing in the mortgage-backed securities market prior to the financial crisis. Attorney General Schneiderman co-chairs the RMBS working group.

“Since my first day in office, I have insisted that there must be accountability for the misconduct that led to the crash of the housing market and the collapse of the American economy,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This settlement will build upon our work bringing relief to homeowners around the country and across New York, and is exactly what our working group was created to do. Systemic frauds harmed thousands of New York homeowners and investors, and today’s result is a major victory in the fight to hold those who caused the financial crisis accountable.” 

The settlement includes an agreed-upon statement of facts that describes how Citigroup made representations to RMBS investors about the quality of the mortgage loans it securitized and sold to investors.  Contrary to those representations, Citigroup securitized and sold RMBS with underlying mortgage loans that it knew had material defects. As the statement of facts explains, on a number of occasions, Citigroup employees learned that significant percentages of the mortgage loans reviewed in due diligence had material defects.  In one instance, a Citigroup trader stated in an internal email that he “went through the Diligence Reports and think[s] [they] should start praying . . . [he] would not be surprised if half of these loans went down. . . It’s amazing that some of these loans were closed at all.”  Citigroup nevertheless securitized the loan pools containing defective loans and sold the resulting RMBS to investors for billions of dollars.  This conduct, along with similar conduct by other banks that bundled defective and toxic loans into securities and misled investors who purchased those securities, contributed to the financial crisis.

Attorney General Schneiderman was elected in 2010 and took office in 2011, when the five largest mortgage servicing banks, all 50 state attorneys general, and the federal government were on the verge of agreeing to a settlement that would have immunized the banks – including Citigroup – from liability for virtually all misconduct related to the financial crisis. Attorney General Schneiderman refused to agree to such sweeping immunity for the banks. As a result, Attorney General Schneiderman secured a settlement that preserved a wide range of claims for further investigation and prosecution. 

In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama announced the formation of the RMBS Working Group. The collaboration brought together the Department of Justice (DOJ), other federal entities, and several state law enforcement officials – co-chaired by Attorney General Schneiderman – to investigate those responsible for misconduct contributing to the financial crisis through the pooling and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities. The negotiations for settlement, which were led by Associate Attorney General Tony West of DOJ, were part of the RMBS Working Group.

Under the settlement, Citi will be required to provide a minimum of $90 million in direct consumer relief to struggling consumers, which will include principal forgiveness on first and second mortgages, mortgage refinancing at lower interest rates and financial assistance for down payments and closing costs for first-time or returning home-buyers.  

The settlement also includes a series of new mandates, which are intended to assist local governments with their community revitalization efforts. These include requirements for Citi to provide direct funding to support land banks and similar community development agencies working to revitalize distressed and underutilized housing, and a program that will create low-cost rental housing for low- and moderate-income families.

The settlement also requires Citi to provide direct funding to support legal services and housing counseling agencies that provide no cost representation to struggling homeowners. In New York, Attorney General Schneiderman has made significant investments in these services under his Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP). Attorney General Schneiderman’s program funds roughly 90 organizations across the state under the HOPP program, and they have served a combined total of nearly 30,000 families since the program launched in October of 2012.

As a result, families in New York have reaped significant benefits from previous Agreements like the National Mortgage Settlement. Where as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) initially estimated that New York homeowners would receive approximately $600 million in benefits under that settlement, thanks in large measure to the HOPP network and its proactive representation of homeowners, families in New York ultimately received more than $2 billion in mortgage benefits.

Compliance with the settlement will be overseen by a federal monitor who will be responsible for ensuring that targets under the settlement are met and that quarterly reporting requirements which will measure how relief is being allocated at a Census Tract level are made available to the public.

WEEK IN THE NEWS

July 7 to July 11, 2014

TOP HEADLINES

Schneiderman Works With Uber To Cap Pricing During Emergencies And Natural Disaster

Attorney General Schneiderman reached an agreement with Uber, to limit prices during emergencies and natural disasters, consistent with New York’s price gouging statute.  In addition, Uber used that agreement as the basis for a new national policy to limit pricing in emergencies. Under its agreement with the Office of the Attorney General, Uber will set a cap on its pricing during “abnormal disruptions of the market,” limited to the normal range of prices it charged in the preceding sixty days.

Schneiderman Encourages New York Police Departments To Apply For Bulletproof Vest Program

In an address to the New York State Association of Police Benevolent Association, Attorney General Schneiderman announced that more than 110 police departments across New York State have applied to receive funds under the inVEST Partnership, a $3.5 million program dedicated to assisting New York State law enforcement agencies with the purchase of vital and lifesaving bulletproof vests. Attorney General Schneiderman also encouraged more departments to apply, noting the deadline for applications is Tuesday, July 15.

The Attorney General also detailed his record on public safety and cooperation with the law enforcement community, with which he has worked collaboratively to come up with creative solutions to difficult problems. In an op-ed posted on The Huffington Post, he expanded on this idea and elaborated on efforts to be tough and smart on crime over the past three years, during which time murder and burglary rates have dropped by double digits statewide.

Schneiderman Reminds Protestors That New York Laws Protecting Access To Reproductive Health Facilities Are In Effect

As part of his longstanding commitment to protecting rights to reproductive health care, Attorney General Schneiderman issued an open letter to law enforcement agencies around the state clarifying New York’s clinic protection laws and regulations in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month that struck down a buffer zone law in Massachusetts.  While activists in some communities have sought to use the ruling to create confusion about which legal protections remain in place in New York, Attorney General Schneiderman noted that the ruling has no impact on buffer zone requirements already covering 22 counties in New York State. For information on reporting violations of buffer zones, click here.

Schneiderman Secures Refunds From EmblemHealth For Thousands Of New Yorkers Wrongly Denied Mental Health And Substance Abuse Treatment

In a settlement with New York City-based Emblem Health, Attorney General Schneiderman has required the health insurer to reform its behavioral health claims review process, cover residential treatment and charge the lower, primary care co-payment for outpatient visits to mental health and substance abuse treatment providers. The settlement also requires the health insurance plan — which has 3.4 million members — to submit previously denied mental health and substance abuse treatment claims for independent review. That review could result in more than $31 million being returned to members wrongfully denied benefits.

 

Schneiderman Strengthens Protections For Breastfeeding Mothers In Agreement With Barnes & Noble

Attorney General Schneiderman announced an agreement with Barnes & Noble, Inc. that will protect the rights of nursing mothers seeking to breastfeed at its stores in New York. Among other things, Barnes & Noble will train all New York store employees and managers on its breastfeeding policy, which prohibits employees from interfering with a mother’s right to breastfeed at its stores, and will display the international symbol for breastfeeding at the entrances to its New York stores. In addition, the company will pay $10,000 to Rockland County to support the activities of its Breastfeeding Promotion and Support Program.

Schneiderman Steps In To Ensure School Discipline Reform In Syracuse

Attorney General Schneiderman secured an agreement with the Syracuse City School District that will help reduce the high use of exclusionary discipline in the district. The agreement follows the Attorney General’s investigation of the school district, which revealed that 30 percent of its students were suspended during the 2012-13 school year, giving it one of the highest rates of suspension in the nation. The district also had a record of suspending black students at twice the rate of white students. The Attorney General also found that students with disabilities were often disciplined for behavior that was directly related to their disability. The agreement will further the commitment of both the Attorney General and the Syracuse City School District to protect school safety, while ensuring that every student in Syracuse has access to a quality educational environment.

Schneiderman Reaches Settlement With Beverage Company Over Misleading Advertising Claims Targeting Hispanic Communities

Attorney General Schneiderman announced that his office has reached a settlement with The Varas Group for conducting a misleading advertising and social media campaign, which claimed that the purple corn in its Chicha Limeña soft drinks could fight cancer and diabetes. The Varas Group has been marketing its products in the U.S. since 2006, mostly to Hispanic communities. The Varas Group has agreed to cease the use of health-related claims in all marketing materials and agreed to pay the State of New York penalties, costs, and fees.

Schneiderman Announces Agreements Ending Discriminatory And Predatory Practices at NYC Employment Agencies

Attorney General Schneiderman reached agreements to end unlawful discrimination and predatory business practices directed at immigrant job seekers by five employment agencies in New York City. These five agencies targeted immigrant and Spanish-speaking job seekers. The agreements reached require the businesses to cease engaging in unlawful discrimination when making job referrals, referring applicants to jobs paying below minimum wage, charging excessive fees and refusing to refund advance fees.

Schneiderman Arrested Westchester Medical Transport Company Owner On Felony Theft Charges

Attorney General Schneiderman secured the arrest of the owner of New Rochelle-based transportation company Carewell Ambulette, Inc., on felony charges for allegedly stealing more than $200,000 from the Medicaid program. The owner is accused of doctoring requests for taxi services to look like requests for ambulette services, for which Medicaid pays four times as much. The defendant potentially faces a maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison.

JOINT STATEMENT BY A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN & SUPERINTENDENT LAWSKY ON LYFT

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York State Superintendent of Financial Services Benjamin M. Lawsky today released the following statement regarding their motion for a temporary restraining order against the scheduled New York City launch of ridesharing service Lyft:

“After Lyft rejected a reasonable request by the State to delay its launch, we filed a motion for a temporary restraining order in State Supreme Court this morning. As a result of that action, the court has granted an injunction preventing Lyft from launching this evening in New York City. We will return to court on Monday, to address issues pertaining to Buffalo and Rochester in addition to New York City.

“We pursued this action only after repeatedly offering to work with Lyft in order to ensure that its business practices complied with the law. Instead of collaborating with the State to help square innovation with statute and protect the public, as other technology companies have done as recently as this week, Lyft decided to move ahead and simply ignore state and local laws. Lyft’s arguments are a disingenuous attempt to disguise old-fashioned law-breaking that jeopardizes public safety.

“We are pro-innovation and pro-competition, but allowing Lyft to flout dozens of different laws would, in addition to putting the safety of New Yorkers at risk, put law-abiding competitors at a substantial disadvantage — and discourage innovators from innovating in a place where the regulatory environment is unevenly applied. We are committed to fostering a competitive marketplace where each participant is treated fairly.

“We are hopeful that Lyft will now recognize that it has to play by the same set of rules as everyone else.”

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN AND NASSAU COUNTY D.A. RICE ANNOUNCE RINGLEADER OF CHILD MODELING SCAM TO SERVE 2 ½ TO 5 YEARS IN PRISON

James Muniz, 45, President Of Hicksville Child Modeling Agency, Pleaded Guilty In May To Scamming $236K From Families

Schneiderman: Those Who Take Advantage Of Unsuspecting New Yorkers Will Be Held Accountable

MINEOLA – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice today announced that the ringleader of a child modeling scam and the corporation of which he is president were sentenced today for scamming 100 clients of more than $236,000 with promises of lucrative modeling and acting jobs that did not exist.

James Muniz, 45, of Smithtown, and New Faces Development Center, Inc. (also known as Model Talent Development Corp.), were sentenced today to two and a half to five years in prison by Nassau County Court Judge William Donnino. Muniz pleaded guilty to two counts of Grand Larceny in the 3rd Degree (a D felony), one count of Scheme to Defraud in the 1st Degree (an E felony), and one count of Conspiracy in the 5th Degree (an A misdemeanor).

Muniz admitted to the court that he committed these crimes acting in concert with his co-defendants, Michelle Alperin-Smith, 43, of Nesconset; Jennifer Diaz-Domenech, 31, of Brooklyn; and Jennifer Santiago, 26, of Jamaica. Some of the cases against those defendants are pending.

“James Muniz used his business to prey upon proud, loving New York parents, even after the company was prosecuted civilly for committing similar offenses years earlier,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. “His sentence sends the message that those who take advantage of unsuspecting New Yorkers will be held accountable. My office will continue working diligently to prosecute fraud, and seek restitution for those who have been victimized.”

“With one broken promise after another, James Muniz and his accomplices turned the hopes and dreams of parents for a better life for their children into a money-making enterprise based entirely on taking advantage of others for a quick buck,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said. “It is my hope that with this sentence, these families will receive solace knowing that the man who deflated those hopes will be spending significant time behind bars.”

Between Jan. 1, 2011 and Nov. 30, 2012, Muniz, along with his co-defendants, approached adults with children and unaccompanied teenagers in Roosevelt Field Mall, Queens Center, Smithtown Mall and other public places and told them that the children or teenagers had modeling or talent potential.

Based on these representations of modeling or talent potential, Muniz and other New Faces employees would persuade clients into purchasing services such as photographs, discs of photographs, and placement of photographs on a website known as Gigacomps.

Muniz and his co-defendants then induced some of their clients to enter into multi-year agreements with New Faces by making false representations that the company had agreements with major retailers such as The Children’s Place, Target, Toys R Us, and Macy’s, and falsely representing that the clients’ children had been selected for multi-year contracts with said major retailers. The defendants also told clients that if immediate payments were not made, the clients would lose those opportunities.

The losses incurred by victims in this case ranged from $500 to $5,100. Victims were also promised refunds that Muniz and his employees never processed.

Muniz and his subordinates were charged in September 2013 after a five-month joint investigation between DA Rice’s office and  the New York State Attorney General’s office, and the AG’s Nassau Regional Office. The investigation identified approximately 100 victims of the scheme.

DA investigators arrested Muniz in October 2013 in Florida, where he fled after being charged in the case. He later waived extradition and returned to New York to face charges. A Nassau County grand jury subsequently indicted Muniz and his co-defendants.

Muniz was also sentenced to six months in jail by Judge Donnino in May after pleading guilty in an unrelated case to Criminal Contempt in the 2nd Degree (an A misdemeanor) for violating an order of protection for his then-wife in 2011.

Diane Peress, chief of DA Rice’s Economic Crimes Bureau, Marshall Trager, chief of DA Rice’s Government and Consumer Fraud Bureau, ADA April Montgomery of DA Rice’s Economic Crimes Bureau, and former Assistant Attorney General Victoria Safran and Senior Investigator Paul Matthews investigated and prosecuted the New Faces case. Safran was cross-designated as an Assistant District Attorney for the purposes of this prosecution for the Attorney General’s Office.

Assistant District Attorney D.J. Rosenbaum of DA Rice’s Special Victims Bureau is prosecuting the criminal contempt case.

Muniz is represented by Joshua Ketover, Esq.

The charges against any of the remaining defendants are merely accusations and the remaining defendants are presumed innocent until and unless found guilty.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT ADDRESSING SCHOOL DISCIPLINE ISSUES IN SYRACUSE 

Agreement Will Ensure That All Students Have Equal Access To Educational Opportunities In The Syracuse City School District

Schneiderman: My Office is Committed to Addressing the School-to-Prison Pipeline Across Our State

SYRACUSE – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today that his office reached an agreement with the Syracuse City School District that will help reduce the high use of exclusionary discipline in the district. The agreement will further the commitment of both the Attorney General and the Syracuse City School District to protect school safety, while ensuring that every student in Syracuse has access to a quality educational environment.

“It is critical that every child in our state has access to a quality education, and the use of zero-tolerance policies by school districts deprives them of that basic right,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. “My office is committed to protecting New York’s students by ensuring that districts adopt proven disciplinary policies conducive to a safe and effective learning environment. I applaud the Syracuse School District School Board and Superintendent Sharon L. Contreras for taking steps that will help eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline and expand the pathway to opportunity.”

Last year, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau began investigating the disciplinary policies and practices of the Syracuse City School District.  Specifically, the bureau reviewed the district’s practices for compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits state and local government entities receiving federal funding, such as school districts, from discriminating against their students on the basis of race or national origin. Discrimination includes the use of school discipline in a manner that treats similarly situated individuals differently on the basis of race. The bureau also investigated the district’s compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and state education law, which provides students facing discipline with certain procedural rights that must be respected.  

The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that the district suspended 30% of its students during the 2012-13 school year, giving it one of the highest rates of suspension in the state and nation. A significant proportion of those suspensions were for non-violent conduct. The Attorney General’s office also found that the district had a record of suspending black students at twice the rate of white students. These disparities persisted even when the conduct at issue was non-violent. The investigation revealed serious procedural deficiencies in the district’s implementation of discipline. The district often failed to provide adequate notice or convene adequate hearings for students facing discipline. Finally, the Attorney General found that students with disabilities were often disciplined for behavior that was directly related to their disability, in violation of federal law. 

Research has shown that suspensions have negative consequences for students, decreasing student achievement and increasing the likelihood that a student will drop out of school or enter the juvenile justice system, often called the school-to-prison pipeline. Moreover, studies have shown that, contrary to popular belief, removing a student from a classroom for disruptive conduct does not improve the performance of the remaining students.  Disciplinary alternatives to suspensions exist that better address student misconduct and do so without the negative effects of suspensions. Given the efficacy of these alternatives, most experts in the field agree that suspension should only be utilized as a measure of last resort.

New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. said, “What happened in Syracuse schools was deeply harmful to students and completely unacceptable.  But today, the Syracuse City School District is beginning the work to end the harm, address racial inequalities and protect the rights of all students. The agreement today sets an important precedent for districts across the state. The Board of Regents and the Department will continue to work closely with Attorney General Schneiderman to protect students’ civil rights in every classroom in every school in New York State.” 

“Today, we have come together to ensure that all of our students are provided with a safe and supportive learning environment,” said Syracuse City School District Superintendent Sharon Contreras. “We still have difficult work ahead in order to implement appropriate disciplinary policies and practices. I look forward to working with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, his Civil Rights Bureau, our dedicated staff and the entire community to provide our children with the highest quality educational opportunities and schools of which we can all be proud.”

“Today’s announcement of the results of the Attorney General’s investigation help bring closure to a difficult chapter for the Syracuse City School District. While challenges continue, we are now able to move forward with a substantive plan for addressing exclusionary discipline practices,” said Mayor Stephanie A. Miner. “I will continue to work closely with the Superintendent, the Syracuse Teachers Association, parents, and community leaders to foster an environment where teachers are treated respectfully and students are treated fairly. I appreciate how everyone has worked together to help address these issues and develop a plan to move forward. I extend my thanks to Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership and involvement.” 

“As a community we must work together if we truly value education and value our children. We must identify and implement better ways to support our students and our teachers,” said Board of Education President Michelle Mignano. “The Board of Education is committed to providing the best possible education for each of our students.  Our collaboration with the New York State Attorney General’s Office will help us to strengthen our school discipline policies, promote safe schools and most importantly, keep kids in school.” 

Under the terms of the agreement, the District will commit itself to reducing its use of exclusionary discipline against students.  The district will:

  • retain an independent monitor to provide oversight during the agreement and audit the district’s compliance with the agreement and with state and federal laws periodically and report his or her findings to the Attorney General’s Office;
  • create plans for the adoption and implementation of preventative techniques at its schools that will be aimed at encouraging students to avoid misbehavior;
  • amend its Code of Conduct to adopt or encourage the use of disciplinary strategies that do not rely on exclusion as a form of discipline, except as a last resort;
  • train its staff on these new preventative strategies, and on the new provisions of the Code of Conduct;
  • designate an Ombudsman to help the district and individual schools comply with the new Code of Conduct, and address school-level issues;
  • upgrade its data-keeping and analysis capabilities to ensure that it has the tools necessary to identify issues in its discipline practices and act accordingly;
  • enter into a memorandum of understanding with any entity that supplies the District with school safety officers that will provide policies governing officer’s conduct and training for officers on interacting with children in a school environment; and
  • implement new measures aimed at informing teachers, parents and students of their rights, and protecting their voices in the formulation of the discipline process. 

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney Generals Ajay Saini and Sandra Pullman, and Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. The Executive Deputy Attorney General of Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.

Attorney General Schneiderman is committed to promoting access to equal educational opportunities and combating discrimination for all New Yorkers. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visit www.ag.ny.gov.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ISSUES OPEN LETTER NOTING THAT ALL NEW YORK LAWS PROTECTING ACCESS TO REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH FACILITIES REMAIN IN EFFECT

Notice Clarifies That New York’s Clinic Protection Laws Remain Intact After Recent U.S. Supreme Court Decision

Schneiderman: I Am Committed to Protecting the Right of Every New Yorker to Full and Safe Access to Reproductive Health Care Services

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued an open letter to law enforcement agencies around the state clarifying New York’s clinic protection laws and regulations in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month that struck down a buffer zone law in the Massachusetts.  While activists in some communities have sought to use the ruling to create confusion about which legal protections remain in place in New York, Attorney General Schneiderman noted that the ruling has no impact on buffer zone requirements already covering 22 counties in New York State. 

“I am committed to protecting the right of every patient in New York to full and safe access to reproductive health care services,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “We will not allow activists to use a narrowly targeted Supreme Court decision as an opportunity to create confusion about the critical protections here in New York.  Not only do New York State’s clinic protection laws remain completely in place, I am committed to working with our partners in law enforcement to ensure they are fully enforced.”

After receiving reports of protestors allegedly disregarding buffer zones provided for under state law, the Office of the Attorney General sent a formal notice to law enforcement agencies detailing New York’s existing clinic protection laws and regulations.

New York City law establishes a 15 foot buffer zone in front of clinics to prevent harassment and intimidation.  In addition, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York granted a permanent injunction in 2005  requiring a group of 63 individuals and organizations to maintain a 15 foot buffer zone at reproductive health care facilities in the 17 counties in western New York.

Last month, in its decision in McCullen v. Coakley, the Supreme Court struck down a specific 35-foot buffer zone law in Massachusetts.  But the Court also affirmed that states may protect their strong interest in ensuring that citizens have full and safe access to reproductive health services.

In at least one case in Western New York, protestors wrongfully asserted that McCullen v. Coakley allowed protesters to disregard all buffer zone requirements.  In response, Attorney General Schneiderman’s Office issued an open letter clarifying that existing protections remain in place.  

In addition to today’s letter, Attorney General Schneiderman has dispatched investigators to ensure safe and lawful access to reproductive health clinics.

Those who are aware of violations of the state’s clinic protection laws are encouraged to contact local law enforcement agencies and to contact the Civil Rights Bureau in Attorney General Schneiderman’s Office by calling (212) 416-8250 or emailing civil.rights@ag.ny.gov.

Attorney General Schneiderman led a coalition of thirteen states and the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands in filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the McCullen v. Coakley case. The brief argued that states require latitude to craft appropriate responses to the unique factual circumstances their citizens face, and that the Massachusetts law was a reasonable restriction on the time, place and manner of speech. In addition to New York, the states joining in the filing with the Supreme Court were California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Memorandum

To:       Law Enforcement Agencies in New York State
From:   Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman
Date:   July 10, 2014
Re:       Protecting Access to Women’s Health Services.

Last month the Supreme Court issued a ruling in McCullen v. Coakley striking down a Massachusetts state law intended to  protect access to women’s health services. In the wake of that decision, we have received reports of activist groups in parts of New York suggesting to service providers that the Supreme Court invalidated all buffer zones and other protections.  That is not true. 

I am committed to protecting the right of every patient in New York to full and safe access to reproductive health care services.  Not only do New York State’s clinic protection laws remain intact, I am committed to working with your offices to ensure they are fully enforced.

Enclosed please find a pamphlet prepared by my office that details the protections afforded under State law. If you have any questions or would like assistance, please contact my Civil Rights Bureau by calling (212) 416-8250 or emailing civil.rights@ag.ny.gov(Read the pamphlet here.)

WESTCHESTER MEDICAL TRANSPORT COMPANY OWNER ARRESTED ON FELONY THEFT CHARGES IN MEDICAID FRAUD 

Kurien Palliankal Charged With Stealing More Than $200K By Falsifying Transportation Requests To Inflate Reimbursement

Schneiderman: Medicaid Dollars Are Meant To Help Our Most Vulnerable Citizens, Not Line The Pockets Of Businesses Owners

PEARL RIVER – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the arrest of Kurien Palliankal, the owner of New Rochelle-based transportation company Carewell Ambulette, Inc., on felony charges for allegedly stealing more than $200,000 from the Medicaid program. The individual and his company are charged with altering transportation requests sent to them by medical facilities authorizing taxi pickups and dropoffs for Medicaid patients. The defendants are charged with doctoring the requests during a four year period to claim requests for ambulette service, which is paid by Medicaid at a rate four times higher than for taxis. The corporation and Palliankal, 48, of Yonkers, are charged with top counts of Second Degree Grand Larceny. Palliankal faces a maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison. 

“New York’s important Medicaid program ensures our neediest citizens have access to medical care and that they can get to their doctor,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Every dollar stolen from Medicaid impacts our state’s ability to provide this care to those most in need. My office will pursue individuals and companies who steal from the Medicaid program and deprive our citizens of health care.”

Transportation of Medicaid patients to medical facilities requires a request from the medical provider and a prior approval from Medicaid. The provider must request only the level of service which is medically necessary based upon the patient’s medical condition: ambulance, ambulette or taxi. These requests are forwarded to a transportation company, and the transportation company uses them to secure an approval and payment from Medicaid. 

From July 2006 through March 2010, Palliankal and Carewell received over 4,000 request forms from medical providers authorizing taxi transportation. Palliankal changed these request forms from “taxi” to “ambulette,” causing Medicaid to pay a much higher rate for transportation – $31 per ride for ambulette service, compared to the reimbursement rate of $7.50 per ride for taxi service. By falsifying these records, Palliankal and Carewell were able to defraud Medicaid. 

Palliankal and Carewell are each charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class C felony; and five counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, a class D felony; Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, a class E felony; and Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, a class E felony. 

Palliankal and the Corporation were arraigned today before the Honorable Susan Kettner in New Rochelle City Court. Palliankal was released on his own recognizance. The charges against the defendants are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. 

The Attorney General would like to thank the Westchester County Department of Social Services for its assistance in conducting the investigation.  

The investigation was led by Senior Investigator Frank Bluszcz, Supervising Investigator Peter Markiewicz, Supervising Auditor Investigator Lora Pomponio and Associate Auditor Investigator Melissa Stoebling. 

This case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General William McClarnon of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit’s Pearl River Regional Office, led by Regional Director Anne Jardine. MFCU’s Downstate Chief of Criminal Investigations is Thomas O’Hanlon. The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is led by Acting Director Amy Held. The Criminal Justice Division of the Attorney General’s Office is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES AGREEMENTS ENDING DISCRIMINATORY AND PREDATORY PRACTICES AT FIVE NYC EMPLOYMENT AGENCIES

Agreements Seek To End Scams, Exploitation Of Job Seekers And Low-Wage Workers

Schneiderman: The Law Guarantees Equal Employment Opportunities For New Yorkers 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced agreements ending unlawful discrimination and predatory business practices directed at immigrant job seekers by five employment agencies in New York City. The agreements reached with Excellent Employment Agency, United Employment Agency, Patricia Employment Agency, Rivera Employment Agency, and Sunset Employment Services require the businesses to cease engaging in unlawful discrimination when making job referrals, referring applicants to jobs paying below minimum wage, charging excessive fees and refusing to refund advance fees.

These five agencies targeted Spanish-speaking job seekers in two neighborhoods of Queens and Brooklyn. Four of them are located in Jackson Heights and one is in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. An 18-month investigation by the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau found that the agencies collected national origin, gender, and age information from job seekers to unlawfully steer them, in accordance with employers’ discriminatory preferences, away from jobs such as “Mexican pasta man,” “European-looking sales girl,” “delivery, looking for a guy,” “construction 2-3 guys,” and “sales 20-25 years.” In addition, the employment agencies unlawfully referred applicants to jobs paying as little as $3.75 per hour, far below the applicable minimum wage in New York State.  Finally, the employment agencies charged job seekers excessive referral fees and failed to provide refunds of advance fees as required by New York law.

“Employment discrimination against vulnerable populations is an increasing and disturbing trend, and we need to do everything we can to protect job applicants across our state,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “These agreements will send a strong message: Employment discrimination and exploitation of job seekers – including among our hard-working immigrant communities – are unacceptable. We will continue to fight for a level playing field for New York workers and our law-abiding businesses.”

In addition to requiring compliance with the law, the agreements reached with these five employment agencies require the agencies to report to the Office of the Attorney General any employers that make discriminatory requests for job applicants or seek applicants for jobs paying below minimum wage. These provisions will aid the Attorney General in stopping businesses from using employment agencies to advance discriminatory and other unlawful hiring practices. The agreements also require the employment agencies to revise their policies and procedures, obtain training, and pay a total of $20,000 in penalties, fees, and costs to New York State.

There are over 450 licensed employment agencies in New York State, and more than 360 of them are located in New York City. These agencies are often small, family-run businesses, staffed by a small number of employees, which can serve an important function and have a large impact on their communities.  The five agencies with which the Attorney General has secured agreements have themselves referred hundreds of job seekers to employment each year, advertising in Spanish-language phone books and distributing Spanish-language flyers or business cards.

The agencies located in Jackson Heights are Excellent Employment Agency, located at 88-14 Roosevelt Avenue; the United Employment Agency, at 89-04 Roosevelt Avenue; the Patricia Employment Agency Corp. at 89-18 Roosevelt Avenue; and the Rivera Employment Agency at 82-07 Roosevelt Avenue.  Sunset Employment Services, Inc., operates out of 4905 4th Avenue in Brooklyn.

Julie Menin, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, said, “Protecting the rights of immigrants is a top priority for the City, and we commend the New York State Attorney General’s office for its continued commitment to protecting consumers from discrimination and unlawful business practices by employment agencies. Many of the bad actors in this industry prey on the most vulnerable and take advantage of their efforts to find a job and provide for their families. We look forward to continuing to work with the Attorney General in our efforts to close down employment agencies that are taking job seekers’ last dollars and leave them with nothing.”

Valeria Treves of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) said, “For years, the Queens community has been complaining about the predatory, fraudulent and substandard practices of local employment agencies. After conducting and releasing an in-depth study on this issue and shining a spotlight on the problem, we uncovered that this kind of fraud is very widespread. New York City’s new immigrants, many of whom rely on employment agencies to connect them to the job market, are particularly at risk of exploitation by employment agencies. We applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for taking action against this kind of fraud and securing agreements that will help ensure that job seekers will be protected and the law will be enforced against unscrupulous employment agencies.” 

Council Member Julissa Ferreras (21st Council District) said, “As the representative of the district that encompasses Jackson Heights and serves as home to thousands of hardworking immigrants, I know that predatory and abusive employment agencies exploit some the most vulnerable communities among us. Low-wage workers in Jackson Heights deserve meaningful access to employment opportunities.  I applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for going after fraudulent agencies that prey upon vulnerable communities and thank his office for making this issue a civil rights priority.”

State Senator Jose Peralta (13th Senate District) said, “I applaud the Attorney General for this important work. These agreements will serve to protect the most vulnerable members of the labor force, many of them immigrants, who are all too often the targets of predators seeking to profit from their struggles to make ends meet.”

Assemblyman Francisco Moya (39th Assembly District) said, “I want to thank the Attorney General for continuing to protect vulnerable New Yorkers, many of whom are in my district.  Hard working individuals should not be victimized trying to make a living for themselves and their families, and this settlement will go further to ensure fairness.”

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (51st Assembly District) said, “At a time when many New Yorkers are continuing to feel the impact of the Great Recession and the job market has still not recovered, it is important that we protect job seekers and end the exploitative practices at some employment agencies that take advantage of immigrant workers.  I was proud to sponsor legislation this year that sought to crack down on labor sharks and I applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for taking steps to end this predatory behavior.”

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Mayur Saxena and Volunteer Assistant Attorney General Matthew Lemle Amsterdam of the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau, which is led by Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. Assistant Attorney General Donya Fernandez of the Labor Bureau and Legal Assistant Shamika Rosario also assisted with the investigation. Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.

The Attorney General’s Office is committed to protecting all New Yorkers from unlawful discrimination. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visit www.ag.ny.gov.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN OP-ED: THE RIGHT WAY TO BE TOUGH AND SMART ON CRIME

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today published an op-ed on the Huffington Post on his office’s use of creativity and collaboration to tackle issues in law enforcement, an approach that is both tough and smart on crime. The following are excerpts from the op-ed:

ON BEING BOTH TOUGH AND SMART ON CRIME: In the last three years, crime has decreased across the board in New York.  Murder and burglary are down by double digits. At the same time, the state’s prison population has declined 4 percent. That is in large part thanks to our shared efforts to tackle crime in a way that is both tough and smart. While some folks are still pushing to bring back the draconian drug laws from a bygone era – policies that flooded our prisons but did nothing to make our streets safer – we have chosen a path that actually works.

ON CURBING THE ILLEGAL DRUG TRADE: Those of us in law enforcement cannot and will not tolerate violent predators or gangs that flood our streets with illegal drugs. That is why my office’s Organized Crime Task Force has worked with police departments across the state to break up some of the largest gangs and drug trafficking rings in New York. Since 2011, we have taken down 17 of the largest drug rings, busting at least 345 dealers.

ON COMBATING THE PRESCRIPTION DRUG ABUSE EPIDEMIC: I partnered with leaders in the public health and law enforcement communities to pass the Internet System for Tracking Overprescribing — I-STOP — which requires doctors and pharmacists to check a real-time database to see if a patient has one prescription for pain pills – or 20. By flagging addicts who are doctor-shopping to get their pain pills before they make the move to cheaper, more dangerous drugs like heroin, we are severing a key link in the chain of addiction and steering addicted patients into treatment.   

ON KEEPING DEADLY WEAPONS OUT OF DANGEROUS HANDS: Being tough and smart on crime means partnering with responsible gun owners and our local colleagues law enforcement to keep dangerous weapons out of our communities. That is why I have worked with police departments across the state to host gun buybacks. Together, we have taken more than 800 guns off the streets.  That is also why I partnered with gun show operators to develop an innovative set of procedures that guarantee a background check is performed for every firearm sold at a gun show in New York.

ON FIGHTING FOR A SOLUTION TO RISING SMARTPHONE THEFTS: We figured out that this epidemic would end if we could force the industry to install kill switches into every smart phone, so they can be shut off the way you cancel your credit card. Initially, the industry resisted. But in just one year, the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative has pressured some major smartphone makers into installing kill switches. And it is working. Preliminary statistics suggest crimes targeting products with theft-deterrent features fell, even as crimes targeting smartphones from manufacturers that refused to install those features rose.

ON PUTTING POLICE OFFICERS IN BULLETPROOF VESTS: No approach to crime – no matter how tough or smart – can work if we don’t protect the people protecting us.  When I learned that Congress had gutted a federal program to help local police departments buy bulletproof vests for their officers, I created the inVEST Partnership. This $3.5 million program uses funds seized from criminals to help police departments buy body armor for their officers. 

The full op-ed by Attorney General Schneiderman can be read here.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN REACHES SETTLEMENT WITH BEVERAGE COMPANY OVER MISLEADING ADVERTISING CLAIMS TARGETING HISPANIC COMMUNITIES

The Varas Group Made Illegal And Unsubstantiated Claims That Purple Maize Extract, An Ingredient In Chicha Limeña, Fights Cancer And Diabetes

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has reached a settlement with The Varas Group for conducting a misleading advertising and social media campaign for its Chicha Limeña soft drinks. The beverage, marketed mostly to Hispanic communities in metropolitan New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, was advertised as containing an ingredient that fights cancer and diabetes. The Varas Group has agreed to cease the use of health-related claims in all marketing materials and agreed to pay the State of New York penalties, costs, and fees. 

“There has to be one set of rules for everyone, including those who would make dubious health claims about their products,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “While soft drink companies may market the advantages of their products, they may not make unsubstantiated claims that their products have the potential to prevent or cure serious health problems.”

The Varas Group has been marketing its products in the U.S. since 2006, mostly to Hispanic communities. Chicha Limeña is a non-carbonated beverage containing water, sugar cane, purple maize extract, pineapple, lemon, cinnamon and cloves.  Chicha Limeña is made with ingredients native to Central and South America and is modeled on traditional Peruvian (Limeña or “of Lima”) soft drinks; “Chicha” is a maize- or corn-based beverage. These beverages often appeal to consumers with a fondness for foods and beverages that represent their heritage and are familiar to their tastes. 

Purple corn, touted as containing high levels of antioxidants, is enjoying popularity as a healthful ingredient. However, neither the precise health benefits nor required consumption levels to achieve a benefit have been established in scientific literature.  In an effort to expand its sales and capitalize on the popularity of purple corn-based products, Chicha Limeña was advertised on its webpage and in social media as “a nutritional powerhouse packed with antioxidants  … [that] may help prevent obesity and diabetes.”  Other marketing touted unsubstantiated health claims including purple maize’s purported ability to fight cancer and provide “tons of health benefits.” Obesity and diabetes are serious health problems in Latino communities. As part of the settlement, the company will pay $5,000 in penalties, costs, and fees.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Ellen J. Fried, Deputy Bureau Chief Laura J. Levine and Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia, all of the Consumer Frauds Bureau, and Executive Deputy Attorney General of Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ADDRESSES NEW YORK STATE ASSOCIATION OF POLICE BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATIONS ON KEEPING NEW YORKERS SAFE

Schneiderman’s Office Has Taken Down 17 Major Drug Trafficking Rings, Given Police Departments Tools To Keep Officers And The Public Safe, And Used Innovative Tactics To Stop Illegal Gun Sales

Schneiderman: Our Approach To Crime Is Both Tough And Smart

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today addressed a conference of the New York State Association of Police Benevolent Associations, and detailed his record on public safety and cooperation with the law enforcement community.  Following are excerpts from his remarks as prepared for delivery:

ON A TOUGH, SMART APPROACH TO CRIME
 
“What it takes is an approach to crime that is both tough and smart. As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, I understand the challenges you face every day. And it is my job  to help my colleagues in law enforcement protect their members and the people we all serve.”

ON A TOUGH AND SMART APPROACH TO ILLEGAL DRUGS

“My office also takes a tough and smart approach when it comes to the crisis of illegal drugs that have flooded our streets and ruined so many lives… Since 2011 we have broken up 17 major drugs rings, recovered $1.3 million from drug dealers, confiscated 79 kilos of cocaine, more than 500 grams of crack and more than 2,500 grams of heroin, and made 345 felony arrests of drug dealers and kingpins  statewide.”

ON THE COMMUNITY OVERDOSE PREVENTION (COP) PROGRAM
 
“We are also giving police officers  the ability to save lives when there is an overdose by paying to give naloxone – a proven antidote to heroin overdose – to any police department in the state that wants it. So far, 135 law enforcement agencies around the state  have been approved to receive  more than 27,000 naloxone kits  under my Community Overdose Prevention, or COP, Program. These include 16 of your member departments, including the Nassau County Police Department, the MTA Police, the Suffolk County Police Department  and the Lynbrook Police Department.”

ON THE inVEST BULLETPROOF VEST PROGRAM

“Because of cuts in federal funding, many departments  can’t afford  vests for new recruits or to replace vests  for veteran officers.

“That’s just wrong. So we stepped up, and my office created the inVEST Partnership. Through this partnership, we are devoting $3.5 million in forfeiture funds to help law enforcement agencies all over the state buy bulletproof vests for every police officer who needs one. As of yesterday,  more than 110 agencies statewide, including more than 10 of the police departments that belong to the New York State Association of PBAs, had applied for inVEST funding.”

ON ILLEGAL GUNS
 
“We sent undercover investigators into gun shows around the state,add comma and it didn’t matter what story they told the sellers – that their wives had gotten orders of protection against them, that the police had come and taken their guns away – they were still able to buy guns  without a background check.”

“We arrested the sellers, but then, instead of going on the attack and grandstanding, we sat down with the operators of six major gun shows and together drew up a set of  Attorney General model protocols to close the gun show loophole in New York.”

“Responsible gun owners are not the enemy. The only way  to make this country safe from illegal guns is to end the poisonous rhetoric about gun ownership and instead  get law enforcement and responsible gun owners working together. That’s being tough and smart, and that’s what we are doing.”

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH UBER TO CAP PRICING DURING EMERGENCIES AND NATURAL DISASTERS  

Uber To Implement New Formula Limiting Prices To Normal Range During Emergencies 

New York Agreement To Serve As Model For National Policy

Schneiderman: This Agreement Represents The Thoughtful Application Of Long-Established Law To New Technology

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with Uber, a mobile application that connects riders with for-hire vehicles, to limit prices during “abnormal disruptions of the market” – typically, emergencies and natural disasters — consistent with New York’s price gouging statute.  In addition, Uber is expected to announce a national policy to limit pricing in emergencies that is based on this agreement. 

“This agreement represents the thoughtful application of long-established law to new technology,” said Attorney General Schneiderman.  “It provides consumers with critical protections to which they are entitled under the law – and it provides Uber with clarity from government about how the law will be applied to its innovative pricing model.  This agreement also serves as a model for the kind of effective collaboration that should exist between government and technology companies like Uber. I am particularly proud that Uber is adopting a similar policy nationwide.”

Travis Kalanick, C.E.O. and co-founder of Uber, said, “This policy intends to strike the careful balance between the goal of transportation availability with community expectations of affordability during disasters. Our collaborative solution with Attorney General Schneiderman is a model for technology companies and regulators in local, state and federal government.” 

New York’s law against price gouging (General Business Law §396-r), was passed in the winter of 1978-79 in response to escalating heating oil prices.  It defines an “abnormal disruption of the market” as “any change in the market, whether actual or imminently threatened, resulting from stress of weather, convulsion of nature, failure or shortage of electric power or other source of energy, strike, civil disorder, war, military action, national or local emergency, or other cause of an abnormal disruption of the market which results in the declaration of a state of emergency by the governor.”  During an abnormal disruption of the market, all parties within the chain of distribution of any essential consumer goods or services are prohibited from charging “unconscionably excessive prices.” 

Uber does not set a single, fixed price for rides. Instead, its rates are dynamic, rising and falling with demand.  Under its agreement with the Office of the Attorney General, Uber will set a cap on its pricing during “abnormal disruptions of the market” limited to the normal range of prices it charged in the preceding sixty days.  In addition, it will further limit the allowable range of prices by excluding from the cap the three highest prices charged on different days during that period.  

Uber is expected to propose a similar change to its pricing model nationwide.  

The agreement announced today will apply to all Uber services that use dynamic pricing, including UberX, Uber Black and Uber SUV.

This matter was handled by Marty Mack, Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Offices, and Gary S. Brown, Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge of the Westchester Regional Office.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ENCOURAGES NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENTS TO APPLY FOR BULLETPROOF VEST PROGRAM 

More Than 110 Departments Have Applied To The inVEST Partnership, Which Will Provide Law Enforcement Agencies With Funding To Purchase Bulletproof Vests

Schneiderman: Officers Who Risk Their Lives To Protect Us Deserve Protection In Return

NEW YORK – During remarks to the New York State Association of Police Benevolent Associations conference, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today that more than 110 police departments across New York State have applied to receive funds under the inVEST Partnership, a $3.5 million program dedicated to assisting New York State law enforcement agencies with the purchase of vital and lifesaving bulletproof vests. Attorney General Schneiderman also encouraged more departments to apply, noting the deadline for applications is Tuesday, July 15. 

“The brave men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us safe deserve our every effort to protect them in return,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Reducing the cost of lifesaving bulletproof vests is consistent with our commitment to ensuring the safety of these officers and showing gratitude for the sacrifices they make on our behalf every day. The inVEST Partnership will arm officers across our state with life-saving vests they might not otherwise have, adding a critical layer of safety to one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.”

In June, Attorney General Schneiderman established the inVEST Partnership. As part of the program, the Office of the Attorney General will provide selected law enforcement agencies with up to 50 percent matching funds to purchase new vests. Law enforcement agencies in New York State in need of new or replacement bulletproof vests are encouraged to apply to the inVEST Partnership.

In 1998, recognizing the need to outfit police officers across the country with bulletproof vests, the U.S. Congress passed the Bulletproof Vest Partnership. The program has since provided New York State with over $25 million to help purchase more than 212,000 vests. However, since 2010, funding from the federal program has dropped by over 80 percent in New York State, while the demand for this lifesaving equipment has not decreased.

In response, Attorney General Schneiderman has allocated $3.5 million in funds seized as proceeds from joint federal and state criminal investigations in order to provide financial relief to New York State law enforcement agencies seeking to purchase bulletproof vests.

In the past thirty years, 71 police officers in New York State have died as a result of injuries sustained from gunfire in the line of duty, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. While no vest offers absolute protection, the National Institute of Justice has reported that more than 3,000 law enforcement officers have been saved by ballistic body armor in in the past thirty years. 

In order to apply, a law enforcement agency must be a member of the United States Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Equitable Sharing Program. Approved departments will be required to submit receipts for reimbursement by the end of this year.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH BARNES & NOBLE TO STRENGTHEN PROTECTIONS FOR BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS 

National Chain To Pay $10K To Support Rockland County’s Breastfeeding Promotion And Support Program 

Schneiderman: Breastfeeding Mothers Are Afforded Equal Protection Under Our Laws

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with Barnes & Noble, Inc. that will protect the rights of nursing mothers seeking to breastfeed at its stores in New York. The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau opened an investigation into the national chain following a March 16 incident in which a woman was asked to cover up or leave the company’s Nanuet, New York, store while breastfeeding her infant son. Under New York State law, a mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, so long as she otherwise has the right to be there, regardless of whether she is covered while nursing. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the law’s passage.

“All New York residents, including breastfeeding mothers, must be afforded equal protection under the law,” Attorney General Schneiderman said.  “No mother should endure harassment for breastfeeding her baby in public. There is one set of rules for everyone in New York, and I applaud Barnes & Noble for taking steps to ensure that moms are not harassed or discriminated against.”

Under the agreement, Barnes & Noble will strengthen its customer complaint resolution procedures with respect to the handling of complaints received from breastfeeding mothers, train all New York store employees and managers on its breastfeeding policy, which prohibits employees from interfering with a mother’s right to breastfeed at its stores, and display the international symbol for breastfeeding at the entrances to its New York stores. In addition, the company will pay $10,000 to Rockland County to support the activities of its Breastfeeding Promotion and Support Program. 

Barnes & Noble operates 42 stores in New York State: 13 in New York City, eight in the Mid-Hudson region; seven on Long Island; six in Western New York; three in the Southern Tier region; two in the Capital Region; two in Central New York, and one in the Mohawk Valley.

Dr. Susan Vierczhalek, chairperson of the New York Statewide Breastfeeding Coalition, said, “Mothers who choose to breastfeed their children must not be discouraged from doing so when in public. We applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for bringing attention to this very important issue and for working to remove barriers to breastfeeding.”

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “Health care providers and the law make clear that families who choose to breastfeed their children should be able to do so whenever and wherever necessary. We thank the Attorney General’s Office for taking steps to ensure that women seeking to exercise their right to breastfeed in New York State are able to do so.” 

The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General’s Office is committed to combating unlawful harassment and discrimination and protecting reproductive rights across New York State. To file a complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visit www.ag.ny.gov.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Dariely Rodriguez of the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau, which is led by Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT WITH EMBLEMHEALTH FOR WRONGLY DENYING MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT FOR THOUSANDS OF NEW YORK MEMBERS

Health Insurance Company To Overhaul Behavioral Health Claims Review Process, Cover Residential Treatment And Bring Co-Pays Into Line With Primary Care

Insurer To Submit Thousands Of Denied Claims For Independent Review; Could Result In More Than $31 Million In Restitution To 15,000 Consumers; Will Pay $1.2 Million Penalty

Schneiderman: We Will Continue To Vigorously Enforce New York Mental Health Parity Laws

NEW YORK – After an investigation uncovered widespread violations of mental health parity laws by the company, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement with New York City-based EmblemHealth, Inc., requiring the health insurer to reform its behavioral health claims review process, cover residential treatment and charge the lower, primary care co-payment for outpatient visits to mental health and substance abuse treatment providers. The settlement also requires the health insurance plan — which has 3.4 million members in its HIP and GHI divisions — to submit previously denied mental health and substance abuse treatment claims for independent review. That review could result in more than $31 million being returned to members wrongfully denied benefits.

An investigation by the Attorney General’s Health Care Bureau found that since at least 2011, EmblemHealth, through its behavioral health subcontractor, Value Options, issued 64% more denials of coverage in behavioral health cases than in medical cases. The agreement with EmblemHealth is the third reached by the Attorney General’s office so far this year enforcing the mental health parity laws and stems from a broader and ongoing investigation into health insurance companies’ compliance with the laws. Further information about the earlier cases can be found here and here.

“Our mental health parity laws were enacted to ensure that New Yorkers have adequate access to mental health and substance abuse treatment,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Insurers must comply with the laws – and they must treat people with mental health and substance abuse conditions as they do those with medical conditions. Under this settlement, improved services will be available to the millions of New Yorkers who are members of EmblemHealth plans. My office will make sure that everyone, including big insurance companies, play by the rules.”

New York’s mental health parity law, known as Timothy’s Law, was enacted in New York in 2006, and requires that insurers provide mental health coverage at least equal to coverage provided for other health conditions. The federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, enacted in 2008, prohibits health plans from imposing greater financial requirements or treatment limitations on mental health or substance use disorder benefits than on medical or surgical benefits.

Mental and emotional well-being is essential to overall health. Every year, almost one in four New Yorkers has symptoms of a mental disorder, but less than half of those people receive treatment. And, despite the fact that in any given year, one in ten New Yorkers has a substance use disorder, only 11% of these individuals receive any treatment. Lack of access to treatment for vulnerable individuals, which can be caused by health plans’ coverage denials, can disrupt work, family, and school life, and lead to more serious illness.

Under the agreement, EmblemHealth has agreed to provide members with an independent review of claims or requests that were denied as not medically necessary from 2011 through present, and to reimburse members for residential treatment costs that the plan did not pay due to its exclusion of coverage for this service.  In total, this could result in more than $31 million in reimbursement to more than 15,000 members.

The company – which serves members from Albany to Suffolk counties — will also submit to monitoring by an external entity, will file an annual parity compliance report, and will pay $1.2 million to the OAG as a civil penalty.

The Attorney General’s investigation into EmblemHealth revealed that the plan scrutinized behavioral health care claims more rigorously than it has medical and surgical claims. Since 2011, this has resulted in thousands of its members not receiving coverage for care requested by their doctors and therapists. The disparity is especially pronounced in more intensive levels of care. The plan denied 36% of its members’ claims for inpatient psychiatric treatment and 41% of its members’ claims for inpatient substance abuse treatment.

The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that before 2014, EmblemHealth did not cover residential treatment for behavioral health conditions for its 1.4 million HIP members, even though it is a standard, evidence-based form of treatment. EmblemHealth excluded this type of treatment while covering similar treatment — skilled nursing, for example — for medical conditions. In one case, EmblemHealth denied coverage of residential treatment for a young woman with a severe case of anorexia nervosa, a potentially life-threatening condition. EmblemHealth only agreed to cover the treatment after the Attorney General’s Health Care bureau intervened. 

Under today’s settlement, EmblemHealth has agreed to cover residential treatment for behavioral health conditions, including eating and substance abuse disorders, for all of its 3.4 million members. 

Emblem improperly denied requests for coverage of substance abuse rehabilitation, for example, on the grounds that the member was not experiencing “life-threatening withdrawal.” Such a withdrawal is not a requirement for such treatment. In fact, Emblem members who are suffering from life-threatening withdrawal require a more intensive level of care than rehabilitation, including medically managed inpatient detoxification. Emblem also denied requests for coverage of substance abuse rehabilitation treatment through application of “fail first” requirements. For example, Emblem improperly denied a request for coverage of substance abuse rehabilitation because the member had not recently failed an outpatient program.  

EmblemHealth has agreed to overhaul its claims review process by:

  • Removing visit limits for almost all behavioral health services.
  • Classifying claims correctly so that reviews are done expeditiously and members are afforded full appeal rights.
  • Removing the requirement that members “fail” outpatient substance abuse treatment before receiving inpatient rehabilitation treatment.
  • Basing the number of treatment days or visits approved on members’ needs rather than arbitrary limits.
  • Integrating medical and behavioral health claims review staff, which will facilitate the coordination of members’ care.
  • Ensuring that letters denying behavioral health claims are accurate and specific, so that members and providers understand the reasons for the plan’s denials, and can exercise their appeal rights.
  • Continuing coverage of treatment pending the completion of appeals, so that treatment is not interrupted.

Members will be notified by Emblem of their eligibility for independent review of eligible claims.

EmblemHealth also charges some members the higher, specialist co-payment for psychotherapy, which can deter members from seeking treatment. Under the agreement, EmblemHealth will charge all members the lower, primary care co-payment for members’ outpatient visits to behavioral health professionals.

To assist members in accessing their behavioral health benefits, EmblemHealth will appoint full-time behavioral health advocates to help members cut through red tape, and will provide information regarding claims review and treatment options.

Consumers with questions or concerns about this settlement or other health care matters may call the Attorney General’s Health Care Bureau Helpline at 1-800-428-9071.

The investigation of this matter was conducted by Assistant Attorney General Michael D. Reisman, of the Attorney General’s Health Care Bureau, which is led by Bureau Chief Lisa Landau. The Health Care Bureau is a part of the Social Justice Division, led by Alvin Bragg.

 


STATEMENT FROM A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following statement today regarding the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: 

“Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act, one of the most significant milestones in our nation’s ongoing effort to ensure equal justice under the law and one set of rules for all Americans.  Passed in the face of fierce opposition, the act was a monumental victory for civil rights activists in their fight to eradicate Jim Crow laws — which had long perpetuated widespread discrimination based on race.  For fifty years, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has protected New Yorkers from institutionalized inequality.  It establishes the right to fair treatment in employment, in housing, in education and in accessing places of public accommodation and transportation.  

“While we have made great progress, we also know that the struggle to end discrimination on the basis of race is not yet won — and that the strong medicine provided by the Civil Rights Act remains as crucial to the protection of equal justice today as it was then. My office is committed to ensuring equal justice for all New Yorkers by enforcing one set of rules for everyone. We will continue to use the Civil Rights Act as a tool to combat discrimination and ensure equal access for all New Yorkers in housing, education, employment and public accommodations.”

The Civil Rights Bureau Chief is Kristen Clarke. The Bureau is part of the Social Justice Division, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg. 

The Attorney General’s Office is committed to promoting equal justice under law. To file a complaint, contact the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visit www.ag.ny.gov.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES $25 MILLION SETTLEMENT WITH NATIONAL VETERANS CHARITY AND ITS DIRECT MAIL FUNDRAISERS

Agreement Provides $10 Million To Support Medical Research For Disabled Veterans; Disabled Veterans National Foundation To End Misleading Fundraising Appeals And Reorganize Board; Direct Mail Vendors Required To Reform Business Practices

Schneiderman: Charities, Direct Mail Companies Must Not Mislead Donors In The Name Of Our Brave Veterans

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has secured a $24.6 million settlement of his Charities Bureau’s investigation into direct mail fundraising abuses at what has become one of the country’s largest veterans’ charities, the Disabled Veterans National Foundation (DVNF). The abuses, the investigation found – including misleading solicitations and failure to disclose conflicts of interest –were perpetrated by DVNF’s two outside, for-profit direct mail vendors, Quadriga Art and Convergence Direct Marketing. 

Under the settlement, Quadriga, which produced and sent out the mailings and played the dominant role in running DVNF’s fundraising efforts, will pay $9.7 million in damages, and Convergence, which designed the solicitations and provided other advice, will pay $300,000 in damages. This $10 million will go to help support and improve the lives of disabled American veterans. In addition, Quadriga will forgive $13.8 million in debt that DVNF owes to Quadriga, and adopt a number of significant reforms to improve transparency and set a higher ethical bar for the direct mail charitable solicitations industry. Quadriga will pay an additional $800,000 to the State of New York for costs and fees. 

“This investigation sheds light on some of the most troublesome features of direct mail charitable fundraising as it is practiced in the United States today,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Taking advantage of a popular cause and what was an unsophisticated start-up charity, these direct mail companies used cleverly designed but misleading mailers to raise tens of millions of dollars in donations from generous Americans, nearly all of which went to the fundraisers and their agents, and left the charity nearly $14 million in debt. Charities and their fundraisers that rely on direct mail campaigns can and must do better — and this settlement is an important milestone on the path forward.”

The settlement with Quadriga and Convergence is believed to represent the largest amount of financial relief ever obtained in the U.S. for deceptive charitable fundraising. In addition to forgiving DVNF’s current debt of approximately $13.8 million, these for-profit direct mail companies will pay $10 million to assist the disabled vets who were supposed to have been helped by the DVNF’s nationwide appeals. Those funds will be used to support federally conducted research into technological advancements, new treatments, and innovative rehabilitation and service-delivery practices designed to improve the lives of disabled veterans. For example, $1 million of the funds will be directed to support cutting-edge spinal cord research at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx; $1,250,000 will go to support research on mental health issues; and $750,000 will be directed to support research into medical issues confronting disabled women veterans. 

DVNF, the Louisiana-incorporated, Washington, D.C.-based charity in whose name millions of misleading mailings were sent to the public, was founded in late 2007 by a board with no direct mail fundraising experience.  The charity is required by the settlement to reorganize its board, including replacing all of its founding directors; appoint a committee to re-examine its business model; terminate Quadriga and Convergence as fundraising advisers, and discontinue in all of its nationwide fundraising appeals the use of certain messaging, such as fictional stories of wounded veterans supposedly helped by the charity, that the New York Attorney General’s Office found to be misleading to the donating public.

Through the end of 2013, DVNF had raised over $116 million in charitable donations from members of the public who generously responded to the mailings and product inserts that Quadriga and Convergence designed, manufactured and shipped. Many of those mailings were false and misleading, the investigation found. Some highlighted a moving story about a wounded veteran who was never helped by DVNF; others falsely claimed that DVNF had a robust “network” of veterans’ advocates and benefit coordinators throughout the country; and still others claimed that for every dollar donated, the DVNF would be able to deliver $10 in goods and services to disabled veterans, when in reality over 90 cents of every dollar went to cover DVNF’s direct mail costs. Indeed, despite having already paid its fundraisers over $104 million, DVNF still owed them another $13.8 million.

DVNF was founded in November 2007 by the board of the National Association of State Women’s Veterans Coordinators, another Louisiana not-for-profit corporation. From the beginning, the investigation found, DVNF failed to maintain adequate independence from its principal fundraiser, Quadriga. Quadriga’s lawyers got the charity up and running and drafted the fundraising counsel agreement that DVNF signed with Brick Mill Studios, a Quadriga affiliate; Quadriga selected DVNF’s auditor; Quadriga’s  agent, Larry Rivers, a veteran with deep ties to the DVNF board, served as a highly influential “unpaid financial consultant” to that board, even while earning over $2.3 million in undisclosed commissions from Quadriga on the business that the fundraiser did with DVNF; and, when the media asked probing questions about these relationships, it was Quadriga that managed DVNF’s public relations response.

The Attorney General’s investigation determined that Quadriga took advantage of the DVNF board’s lack of fundraising experience to sign the charity up for a “funded model” direct mail solicitation campaign far larger in scale than the DVNF board ever imagined. Under the “funded model” arrangement, the fundraiser assumes the up-front printing, packaging and mailing costs of the direct mail campaign, and is paid only out of the revenues brought in by the campaign. In exchange, the fundraiser obtains effective control over the charity’s donated revenues, as well as a lien on the charity’s donor list. In this case, the investigation found, DVNF was not adequately informed, and did not ask, about many critical elements of such a campaign, including its projected revenues and costs, the projected break-even point for the charity, the price of particular items used in the campaign or potential conflicts of interest. Here, there were multiple conflicts of interest, including among the Quadriga affiliates, between Convergence and Quadriga, and between Larry Rivers, Quadriga’s commissioned sales agent, and DVNF, where Rivers served as a consultant and which then hired his daughter as chief administrative officer.

Since its founding, DVNF’s principal program activity has been its “gift-in-kind” program. Under this program, DVNF paid a third-party vendor, Charity Services International (CSI) of South Carolina, to obtain donated goods from corporate or institutional donors, document the supposed value and transfer of title to the donated goods and transport the goods to recipients such as veterans’ homeless shelters and “stand-downs” (sites where goods are distributed to needy veterans and their families).  The investigation found that DVNF’s board provided minimal oversight of its “gift-in-kind” program, failing in many cases to ensure that the donated goods were being directed to disabled veterans, as the fundraising appeals suggested, or had any useful purpose at all.  The investigation also showed that, without telling its charity client, Convergence received commissions from CSI linked to the amount of goods that DVNF obtained from CSI.  

Under the settlement agreement, DVNF has terminated its relationship with CSI and will establish a board-level gift-in-kind committee to re-evaluate this program and, if it is continued, improve its administration. 

The settlement affords DVNF, which hired a new executive director while the investigation was ongoing, the opportunity to make a fresh start:  It is relieved of its enormous debt burden; all of its original board members must step down by the end of 2014; at least five new qualified directors must be added to its board; and, in addition to the gift-in-kind committee, the board must establish a new, independent audit committee. Furthermore, after a transition period winding down its existing direct mail campaign, DVNF is prohibited, for three years, from using Quadriga or Convergence to design or manage its charitable fundraising appeals, and it must permanently cease and desist using the fundraising claims the Attorney General’s office found to be false and misleading.

Attorney General Schneiderman’s settlement also requires Quadriga and Convergence to adopt a comprehensive set of reforms that will serve as important rules of conduct for the charitable fundraising industry going forward. Among other things, the reforms agreed to by Quadriga and Convergence require full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest, prohibit dealings with a start-up charity that does not have independent counsel, and require the direct mail vendors to exercise due diligence concerning the factual accuracy of the fundraising appeals they send out in a charity’s name. To ensure that its “funded model” charity clients fully understand the scope and costs of their fundraising campaigns, Quadriga is also required to provide these clients with a complete written description of the elements of the proposed campaign, the costs and rate structure associated with each such element, and the annual and total costs and revenues the campaign is projected to generate.

The parties to the settlement have neither admitted nor denied the Attorney General’s findings.  A copy of the settlement is available here

The investigation was conducted by Assistant Attorneys General Michael Torrisi and Elizabeth Fitzwater of the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau and Senior Enforcement Counsel David Nachman of the Executive Division, together with Research Analyst Liam Arbetman. The Charities Bureau is led by Bureau Chief James Sheehan. The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN OP-ED: CRACK DOWN ON WORKPLACE RETALIATION

NEW YORK –Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today published an op-ed in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. The following are excerpts from the op-ed:

ON WORKPLACE RETALIATION AT A NEW YORK MCDONALD’S: Imagine you work in a restaurant kitchen. You detect a gas leak and report it to your supervisor, who does nothing. When you call 911, the fire department finds the gas leak and closes the place for the night. And instead of a raise or praise for potentially saving lives, you get … fired. This is what happened in an upstate New York McDonald’s last year.

ON WHAT RETALIATION MEANS FOR WORKPLACES: The case demonstrates many aspects of today’s workplaces: the absence of job protections for low-wage workers, the capriciousness with which an employee’s livelihood can be whisked away, the importance of a strong labor movement, and the critical role for protective statutes and muscular labor law enforcement. But the case also exemplifies something fundamental that is missing from the current debate about today’s workplace: the extent to which labor rights affect more than just employees. Workers’ ability to speak out without fear of retaliation creates a safer society for everyone.

ON WHAT WORKERS’ RIGHTS MEAN FOR PUBLIC SAFETY: Workers’ rights and public safety are inextricably intertwined. When workers cannot speak up, the potential consequences are dire: tainted food, unsafe water, harm to the environment, hazardous roads, gas leaks that are ignored.

ON PROTECTIONS FOR WORKERS: State and federal laws do provide some protection for workers who report violations and unsafe conditions. In the case of the McDonald’s worker who reported the gas leak, our office got involved. Because the employee did not want to be reinstated, we obtained a year and half of “front pay” in lieu of reinstatement for him; as a part-time minimum-wage worker, even a year and a half of front pay totaled just $10,000.

ON CHANGING THE PUBLIC DEBATE: Laws prohibiting retaliation could certainly be strengthened. But the public debate needs to be changed as well. Workers are not just another interest group whose rights are somehow distinct from the well-being of society as a whole. We are all substantially healthier — both figuratively and literally — when workers have a voice.

The full op-ed by Attorney General Schneiderman can be read here.

STATEMENT FROM A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON MOVE TO PROHIBIT BURNING OF COAL AT DANSKAMMER POWER PLANT IN HUDSON VALLEY

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today hailed a decision by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to prohibit the burning of coal at the Danskammer Generating Facility, located in the Town of Newburgh. The half-century-old power plant has been dormant for two years, and plans are in the works to reopen the facility. With the DEC’s decision to prohibit the burning of coal, the facility will instead use natural gas. Oil will be used as a backup energy source. 

Attorney General Schneiderman issued the following statement on the DEC’s decision:

“The decision by the Department of Environmental Conservation to prohibit the future use of coal at the Danskammer facility is a major victory for every New Yorker who shares my commitment to fighting for clean air.  The burning of coal poses a real threat to public health, contributes directly to climate change and creates coal ash waste containing toxins. I’m pleased the DEC recognized these concerns and issued a decision that will benefit all New Yorkers.”

STATEMENT FROM A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON INDEPENDENCE DAY

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today released the following statement in honor of Independence Day:

“Today we join together to commemorate the tireless hope and wisdom of those individuals who gave rise to this great nation. Our nation was built on the fundamentally American value that there should be one set of rules for everyone, no matter how rich or powerful. Our task as a nation has been to make that vision closer to reality, and I am committed to using every tool in my office’s disposal to fight for equality for every New Yorker.  

“Today we also honor the men and woman who have risked everything and continue to sacrifice for our freedom and safety. Let us celebrate our past achievements and recommit to improving our country with each generation, in pursuit of greater justice and equality.

“I wish every New Yorker, and all Americans, a memorable and joyous 4th of July.”  

THIS WEEK IN THE NEWS

June 30 to July 4, 2014

TOP HEADLINES

Schneiderman Reaches a $25 Million Settlement with National Veterans Charity & Its Direct Mail Fundraiser

Attorney General Schneiderman secured a precedent-setting $24.6 million settlement as a result of his Charities Bureau’s investigation into direct mail fundraising abuses at what has become one of the country’s largest veterans’ charities, the Disabled Veterans National Foundation (DVNF). The investigation found that two for-profit direct mail vendors – Quadriga Art and Convergence Direct Marketing – used cleverly designed but misleading mailers to raise tens of millions of dollars in donations from generous Americans, nearly all of which went to the fundraisers and their agents, and left the charity nearly $14 million in debt. $10 million of the statement will go to help support and improve the lives of disabled American veterans, and the debt that DVNF owes to Quadriga Art will be forgiven. In addition, Quadriga will adopt a number of significant reforms to improve transparency, setting a higher ethical bar for the direct mail charitable solicitations industry. The news of this agreement was broken on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.

 

Schneiderman Secures Settlement With Reverse Mortgage Provider Over Misleading Advertising

Attorney General Schneiderman reached a settlement with New View Mortgage Corp. arising from misleading direct mail solicitations sent to nearly 10,000 New York seniors. The solicitations, advertising reverse mortgages, were designed to look like official government notices from the Federal Housing Administration. The mailings also claimed to present the “facts” behind reverse mortgages, but they offered only the benefits and none of the risks. As part of the settlement, the company must pay a penalty of $12,500 and may not misrepresent the features, benefits, and eligibility requirements of reverse mortgages in future solicitations. The Attorney General also released tips for homeowners considering a reverse mortgage.

Schneiderman Negotiates Agreement With Westchester Town Ensuring Fair Consideration Of All  Job Applicants

Attorney General Schneiderman announced an agreement with the Town of Greenburgh in Westchester County to amend a policy that unlawfully disqualified certain individuals from employment with the municipality based solely on past criminal history. The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau opened an inquiry into Greenburgh’s policy after receiving complaints from the Osborne Association, an advocacy organization that works to address the needs of individuals recently released from prison. In response, the Town of Greenburgh amended the background check policy, bringing the municipality into compliance with state law. Going forward, the town will consider the mitigating factors required by state law when determining whether an individual’s criminal history is related to the employment opportunities he or she seeks.

Schneiderman Op-Ed: Crack Down On Workplace Retaliation

Attorney General Schneiderman published an op-ed in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on the need to combat worker retaliation in order to create a safer society for everyone. The Attorney General offered a number of recent examples – including the tainted peanut butter outbreak at the Peanut Corporation of America and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – in which fear of reprisal by employees stopped them from speaking out against public hazards observed at their workplace. He not only highlighted his office’s ongoing efforts to provide some protection for workers who report violations and unsafe conditions, but also called for a change in the public debate to recognize that we are all substantially healthier when workers have a voice.

Schneiderman Commemorates 50th Anniversary Of Civil Rights Act

Attorney General Schneiderman honored the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as “one of the most significant milestones in our nation’s ongoing effort to ensure equal justice under the law.” The Attorney General also reflected on the ongoing struggle to end discrimination on the basis of race in New York and across our nation. New Yorkers who believe they have been victimized by discrimination are urged to contact the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250, or civil.rights@ag.ny.gov.

WEEK IN THE NEWS

June 23 to June 27, 2014

TOP HEADLINES

Schneiderman Files Lawsuit Against Barclays For Allegedly Deceiving Investors

Attorney General Schneiderman announced his lawsuit against Barclays – one of the world’s largest banks – arising from the operation of  its dark pool and other aspects of its electronic trading division. The complaint alleges Barclays has dramatically increased the market share of its dark pool through a series of false statements to clients and investors about how, and for whose benefit, Barclays operates its dark pool. While Barclays represents to investors that  it has implemented special safeguards to protect clients from “aggressive” or predatory high-frequency traders, Barclays is accused of operating its dark pool to favor high-frequency traders. The lawsuit also alleges that Barclays falsified marketing material purporting to show the extent and type of high frequency trading in its dark pool.  This would not only negatively impact institutions trading within the dark pool, but also individuals who might have invested with those institutions.

Schneiderman& NYPD Commissioner Bratton Announce Takedown Of Worldwide Khat Trafficking Ring

Joined by representatives of the NYPD, State Police and Department of Homeland Security in New York City, Attorney General Schneiderman detailed the 215-count indictment of 17 members of a criminal drug ring who allegedly flooded New York City, as well as other parts of New York State, with several tons of khat. Khat is a plant containing controlled substances similar to amphetamines, a dangerous and illegal drug with worldwide reach. The indictment claims defendants obtained khat from Yemen, Kenya and Ethiopia and shipped large quantities to U.S.-based managers for distribution. The ring then laundered the proceeds through operations in Minnesota and wired the money to various locations abroad, including Dubai and England.

Schneiderman Announces Lawsuit Against Continuum Health Partners, Beth Israel Medical Center& St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center For Violations Of False Claims Act

Attorney General Schneiderman announced that his office has filed a lawsuit alleging that New York City-based Continuum Health Partners, Inc., Beth Israel Medical Center and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center failed to return money to the New York State Medicaid Program that they knew they had no right to have received. In one example, the complaint alleges that in February 2011, Continuum identified over 900 potentially improper claims to Medicaid, totaling approximately $1,000,000, but it failed to  take steps to repay all of the affected claims.

Schneiderman Announces NYS MAP Program To Help Homeowners Avoid Foreclosure

Attorney General Schneiderman launched his new  NYS MAP  program, which aims to provide low cost loans to New Yorkers struggling to avoid foreclosure. With many families statewide denied mortgage modifications as a result of small outstanding debts, NYS MAP aims to assist homeowners stay in their homes by helping them resolve those debts. The program is an enhancement to the Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), which provides struggling borrowers with free legal and housing counseling services, serving more than 28,000 homeowners since its launch in October 2012. NYS MAP is being established first on Long Island, a region that has been particularly devastated by the foreclosure crisis. Borrowers in the rest of the state can apply beginning October 15. If interested, visit www.nysmap.org for more information.

Schneiderman Recovers Millions For Individuals Scammed By Hard-Tactic Telemarketer

Along with the Federal Trade Commission and the Florida Attorney General, Attorney General Schneiderman reached a $15.6 million settlement with The Tax Club, for scamming consumers out of millions of dollars by allegedly misleading them into believing that its services would help consumers’ home-based businesses succeed. The schemes charged a large initial fee, between approximately $1,000 to $3,000, with a restrictive refund policy and recurring monthly “membership” payments of at least $19.99 a month. Many of the services offered were actually unnecessary—and were never provided. The settlement includes restitution, recovered from the personal assets of Tax Club executives, for 26 New Yorkers victimized by the company’s schemes.

 

Schneiderman Announces Sentencing Of Buffalo Man Who Posed As An Optometrist

Attorney General Schneiderman secured the sentencing of a Buffalo man who fraudulently operated as an optometrist without a license for 13 years. As part of his sentencing, the defendant has paid back the $116,821 he illegally collected from New York’s Medicaid program and other health insurers.

Schneiderman Secures Suspension Of “Legal Assistance Firm”

Attorney General Schneiderman announced that Supreme Court Justice James McClusky ruled in favor of his office’s case against Legal Docs By Me, suspending operations at the alleged unscrupulous business’ two locations in Watertown and Syracuse. The Attorney General’s Office has argued that Legal Docs By Me was misrepresenting the services it was providing to consumers, misrepresented pricing of its services and regularly provided misinformation to consumers about legal transactions – even relying on legal guidance obtained via Google search.

Schneiderman Announces Arrest and Indictment of Alleged Queens Fraudster

Attorney General Schneiderman indicted and arrested a New Rochelle woman who has allegedly operated a long-running scheme to steal from Queens residents. As alleged in the indictment, she defrauded her customers, many of whom were immigrants, by making false promises to perform a variety of services, from helping them obtain legal residency status to clearing up traffic tickets. Between 2012 and 2013 she collected more than $38,000 from her clients without providing the services for which she charged. If convicted, the defendant faces up to 7 years in prison.

 

Schneiderman Arrests Two After They Failed To Care For An Ailing Veteran Patient

Attorney General Schneiderman arrested and arraigned a Westchester nurse and nurse aide after they failed to provide care to an ailing Korean War Veteran in their care at the New York State Veterans’ Home. The defendants are accused of making false statements in the resident’s medical records to falsely reflect that they had provided the necessary care. They each face up to four years in prison. This investigation was part of Attorney General Schneiderman’s ongoing effort to protect vulnerable seniors and veterans who deserve the best of care.

Schneiderman Sues Western NY Mechanic for Deceiving Customers

Attorney General Schneiderman has sued a Western New York mechanic for allegedly defrauding racing enthusiasts by accepting payments for work on high performance engines he never completed. The mechanic allegedly used cash payments from consumers to issue refunds to other customers, took money for parts but then never ordered the parts, and even removed parts from customers’ engines to use for other projects. In one case, a consumer paid Leverentz $3,500 to install an engine in a vintage Corvette. Rather than install the engine, valued at $30,000, he gave it away to settle a debt he owed. The lawsuit seeks refunds for consumers and civil penalties for his violations of consumer protection laws.

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES FRAUD CHARGES AGAINST BARCLAYS IN CONNECTION WITH MARKETING AND OPERATION OF ITS DARK POOL

Investigation Into Barclays’ Dark Pool And Electronic Trading Business Uncovered An Alleged Pattern Of Fraud And Deceit, Misrepresentations to Investors

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric Schneiderman today announced a lawsuit against the international bank Barclays, arising from the operation of Barclays’ dark pool and other aspects of its electronic trading division. The complaint alleges Barclays has dramatically increased the market share of its dark pool through a series of false statements to clients and investors about how, and for whose benefit, Barclays operates its dark pool. Contrary to Barclays’ representations that it has implemented special safeguards to protect clients from “aggressive” or predatory high-frequency traders, Barclays is accused of operating its dark pool to favor high-frequency traders.

“The facts alleged in our complaint show that Barclays demonstrated a disturbing disregard for its investors in a systematic pattern of fraud and deceit,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Barclays grew its dark pool by telling investors they were diving into safe waters. According to the lawsuit, Barclays’ dark pool was full of predators – there at Barclays’ invitation.”

The complaint alleges that Barclays falsified marketing material purporting to show the extent and type of high frequency trading in its dark pool.  For example, Barclays removed from a marketing document intended for institutional investors the dark pool’s then-largest participant – a high frequency trading firm Barclays knew engaged in predatory behavior in the dark pool.  In response, one employee stated:  “I had always liked the idea that we were being transparent, but happy to take liberties if we can all agree.”

Barclays heavily promoted a service called Liquidity Profiling, which Barclays claimed was a “surveillance” system that tracked every trade in Barclays’ dark pool in order to identify predatory traders, rate them based on the objective characteristics of their trading behavior, and hold them accountable for engaging in predatory practices.

Contrary to those promises, the complaint alleges that:

  • Barclays has never prohibited any trader from participating in its dark pool, regardless of how predatory its activity was determined to be;
  • Barclays did not regularly update the ratings of high-frequency trading firms monitored by Liquidity Profiling;
  • Barclays “overrode” certain Liquidity Profiling ratings – including for some of its own internal trading desks that engaged in high-frequency trading – by assigning safe ratings to traders that were otherwise determined to be toxic.

The complaint further alleges that, contrary to Barclays’ representations that it protects clients from aggressive or predatory high-frequency trading in its dark pool, Barclays in fact operates its dark pool to favor high-frequency traders and has actively sought to attract them by giving them systematic advantages over others trading in the pool. As alleged in the complaint, this included:

  • Falsely underrepresenting the concentration of aggressive high-frequency trading in its dark pool;
  • Misrepresenting its “Liquidity Profiling” service – which Barclays claimed protected investors from predatory behavior – by failing to provide many of the benefits marketed with the service; and
  • Claiming that Barclays does not favor its own dark pool when routing client orders to trading venues, while in fact doing just that. As alleged in our Ccomplaint, Barclays falsified an analysis of how it routed a major client’s orders.

Today’s complaint results from Attorney General Schneiderman’s Insider Trading 2.0 initiative and an intensive investigation into Barclays’ practices. The investigation was aided significantly by a number of former Barclays’ employees, who observed much of the conduct described in the complaint. These witnesses helped advance the investigation by providing meaningful information and testimony.

“No regulator – no matter how broad their authority – can succeed on its own,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I want to personally thank those that have courageously reported wrongdoing to our office and encourage others to do the same.”

Attorney General Schneiderman launched his Insider Trading 2.0 initiative over one year ago, and began examining the multitude of special relationships and early access to market-moving information that are far too prevalent in today’s electronic markets. Since that time, Attorney General Schneiderman has cracked down on early peeks at market-moving data on consumer and analyst sentiments, and he has worked to end the distribution of corporate earnings releases directly to high-frequency traders ahead of the investing public.

The Barclays investigation and litigation is led by Chad Johnson, Chief of the Investor Protection Bureau; Nicholas Suplina, Senior Advisor and Special Counsel; and Assistant Attorneys General John Castiglione, Jordan Salberg, and Rebecca Reilly.  Karla G. Sanchez is the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN RELEASES CONSUMER ALERT ON FIVE COMMON PHONE SCAMS TARGETING SENIOR CITIZENS

A.G. Offers Tips To Seniors As Scams Spike During Summer Months

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued a consumer alert on five common telephone scams targeting senior citizens. These common scams, identified by complaints and other evidence collected by the Attorney General’s Office, typically spike during the summer months. In a move to raise awareness about these scams and to help keep seniors safe, Attorney General Schneiderman is also participating in a Tele-Town Hall on elder abuse being hosted by AARP. 

“My office will use every legal tool at our disposal to protect senior citizens and hold scammers accountable,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “To prevent senior citizens from becoming victims of fraud and abuse, we must empower them with information they can use to protect themselves.”

“Identity theft and other forms of fraud rank high among the concerns of the 50+ in New York, threatening to rob them of their life savings and destroy their fragile kitchen table economies,” said Beth Finkel, State Director for AARP in New York State. “AARP established a Fraud Watch Network, which provides free of charge to Americans of all ages information to help them protect themselves and their families while also offering assistance to victims.” 

“It’s estimated that fraud cost older Americans $2.9 billion in 2011 alone, and as society ages and people live longer this problem threatens to get worse,” said Finkel. “So we’re delighted that Attorney General Schneiderman will be joining thousands of our members across New York during our Tele-Town Hall today to discuss what they can do to avoid fraud and what his office can do to help them if they need it.”

Common Telephone Scams Targeting Seniors:

Grandparent Scam – Typically, this scam comes in the form of an urgent phone call. The caller claims to be “your favorite grandson” or just says “it’s me”… prompting the grandparent to supply the needed name. While the emergencies vary, the scenario is usually this: tThe “grandson” is out of town and needs money fast — to make bail, or to pay for automobile repairs or medical expenses. The caller begs the grandparent not to tell his parents, just wire the money immediately. Scammers know that parents and grandparents fear a call that tells them their loved one is in trouble. Each year, thousands of Americans get caught in the Grandparent Scam. Increasingly, scammers use actual relatives’ names and information gleaned from social media and other internet sites.

Jury Duty Scam – The caller will claim to be an officer of the court and say there’s a warrant for the arrest of the victim for failing to report for jury duty. The scammer will also claim that there is a fine for failing to show up for jury duty, and that unless the fine is paid immediately, the police will be sent to the victim’s home to make an arrest. The scammer will request that the “Jury Duty Warrant” be paid with a Green Dot Card Money Card or Western Union MoneyGram. The scam has been around for years and surfaces periodically in New York.  In one recent case, the calls were traced to a Georgia prison.

Lottery Scam – The caller says you’ve won a foreign lottery and requests that you, as the “winner,” send a check or to wire money to cover taxes and fees.  Legitimate contests never ask for money upfront. The caller may request your banking information in order to electronically direct deposit your winnings. This is an attempt to steal your identity and will wipe out your bank account.

The callers often use a name that sounds like a government agency or official-sounding authority. The name can be invented, like the “National Sweepstakes Bureau,” or “The National Consumer Protection Agency.” Sometimes they will use an actual name of a government agency, like the Federal Trade Commission. The scammers claim that the government “oversees” the integrity of foreign lotteries. This is a scam.

IRS Scam – The caller will claim to be an agent or police officer from the Internal Revenue Service calling about a past due tax balance that is owed. The caller will tell the victim that unless the debt is paid immediately, a team of officers will come to the victim’s home that day to arrest the victim. The scammer will also request that the “IRS Tax Warrant” be paid with a Green Dot Card Money Card or Western Union MoneyGram.  These scammers often use caller ID spoofing so that the victim’s caller ID box says “Internal Revenue Service” or displays the phone number of the Internal Revenue Service.

Utility Scam – The caller claims to be a representative of a local utility provider. In some cases, the scammer has the victim’s correct account number. The scammer will then advise the resident that the utility bill is past due and must be paid immediately to avoid termination of service.  The scammer will also request that the delinquent bill be paid with a Green Dot Card Money Card or Western Union MoneyGram.  Suspects committing this scam have often obtained personal information via the internet, Facebook, Instagram or other social media. 

Tips For Seniors to Avoid Falling Victim:

Think Of The Telephone As A “One Way Street” 

It’s okay to give out information over the phone if you made the call to a number you know and trust (such as your own bank). However, never give out personal information when you receive an unsolicited call. If you receive a call soliciting personal information, just hang up the phone, no matter what the caller ID says. If the caller says he’s from your bank and is checking on possible unauthorized withdrawals from your account, hang up the phone and then call your bank.  If it was your bank that was trying to call, then it will be happy to confirm the call and will often provide requests to you in writing.  If your bank says it wasn’t trying to reach you, that means the caller you hung up on was a scammer.  

Beware If A Caller Ask To Keep A Conversation A Secret

A legitimate caller will never request that a conversation remain a secret, and you should immediately be suspicious. Whether the caller claims to be from the government, a bank, or a family member, requests for confidentiality should raise a red flag.

Just Say No!

You don’t have to be polite when you receive unsolicited phone calls. The safest thing to do is to say “no” and hang up. Legitimate callers will typically also provide requests in writing. It is better to be guarded than to fall victim.

Remember the old adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Be wary of any offers or deals that sound too good to be true, as they likely are too good to be true. 

Attorney General Schneiderman reminds New Yorkers that in addition to being vigilant consumers, they should also report instances of fraud to his office.

Consumers are encouraged to file complaints by visiting the Office’s website or calling 1-800-771-7755.

STATEMENT FROM A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON SUPREME COURT’S RULING ON MASSACHUSETTS LAW CREATING A PROTECTIVE BUFFER ZONE AROUND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH FACILITIES

NEW YORK –Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following statement in response to today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in McCullen v. Coakley:

“While we are pleased that the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that states may protect their strong interest in ensuring that citizens have full and safe access to necessary reproductive health care services, we are disappointed that the Court rejected  the particular approach adopted by Massachusetts. New York’s clinic protection laws are not implicated by today’s decision, but my office remains committed to supporting the ability of a state to provide other kinds of protection as required by its own experience.”

Background

Massachusetts’s Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act creates a protective buffer zone within 35 feet of the entrances of designated reproductive health facilities. In today’s decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Massachusetts Act serves a significant governmental interest in a content neutral way, but burdens more speech than is necessary to achieve the Act’s purposes.

Attorney General Schneiderman led a coalition of thirteen states and the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands in filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case.  The brief argued that states require latitude to craft appropriate responses to the unique factual circumstances their citizens face, and that the Massachusetts law was a reasonable restriction on the time, place and manner of speech. In addition to New York, the states joining in the filing with the Supreme Court were California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

New York’s amicus brief was prepared by New York Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood, Deputy Solicitor General Andrea Oser and Assistant Solicitor General Zainab A. Chaudhry, with assistance from the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau.

A copy of today’s brief can be viewed here.

A.G. SCHNEIDMERMAN ANNOUNCES NATIONAL SETTLEMENT WITH HARD-TACTIC TELEMARKETERS THAT RETURNS $16 MILLION TO CONSUMERS 

Twenty-Six New Yorkers And Consumers Nationwide To Receive Restitution; Company Took Millions From Entrepreneurs Seeking Help Launching Small Internet-Based Businesses

Schneiderman: Hard-Sell Telemarketing Tactics Are Often Illegal  

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office, along with the Federal Trade Commission and the Attorney General of Florida, have reached a $15.6 million settlement with The Tax Club, Inc., which operated out of the Empire State Building, related to deceptive business practices and false advertising seen in telemarketing schemes that targeted consumers operating internet-based businesses. The settlement agreement, entered in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York earlier this month, prohibits future misconduct. The settlement money will be returned to consumers across the country as restitution, including to 26 New Yorkers.

“As a result of this settlement, former Tax Club executives will be giving up a substantial chunk of their personal assets,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “Before turning over your hard-earned money to telemarketers, it’s important to make sure they have a reputation for delivering what they promise.” 

Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, “Before you put money into a work-at-home business opportunity, ask questions to determine if it is legitimate. We encourage consumers to read our consumer information to learn how to recognize schemes that promise more than they deliver.”

Information about telemarketing fraud and tips to avoid becoming a victim can be found here.

The investigation into The Tax Club, which also does business as Success Merchant Services, Corporate Tax Network, and Corporate Credit, adversely affected consumers nationwide, including senior citizens. New Yorkers targeted by the company filed complaints with Attorney General Schneiderman’s office beginning in 2010 and continue to come in. The victims lived across the state, including in Binghamton, New York City and on Long Island; and in Cattarangus, Erie, Monroe, Onondaga, Orange, Putnam, Renssealer, Rockland, St. Lawrence and Westchester counties. 

The operators of The Tax Club’s telemarketing schemes took millions of dollars from consumers by allegedly misleading them into believing that its purported services would help consumers’ home-based businesses succeed. According to a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court in January 2013 by Attorney General Schneiderman, the FTC and the Florida Attorneys General, The Tax Club, which purchased lists of small business owners from companies that offered internet-based business opportunities, called consumers and falsely claimed to be affiliated with companies that they had already bought services or products from. The lawsuit alleged that the telemarketers pitched business development services, including business coaching services, corporate formation services, and credit development services. 

The suit further charged that, after an initial hard-tactic sale, the telemarketing companies called consumers repeatedly to sell other services they claimed were “essential,” typically for several thousand dollars per service. The schemes charged a large initial fee, between approximately $1,000 to $3,000, with a restrictive refund policy and recurring monthly “membership” payments of at least $19.99 a month. Many of the services offered were actually unnecessary—and were never provided. 

Under the settlement, the defendants are banned from selling business coaching services and work-at-home opportunities, subject to certain exemptions. They are permanently prohibited from misrepresenting material facts about any product or service, selling or otherwise benefitting from consumers’ personal information and violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule, which established the federal Do Not Call Registry and which prohibits abusive and deceptive telemarketing acts. They must also clearly disclose the seller’s identity, that the purpose of a call is to sell a good or service, and the nature of the good or service.

The settlement includes judgments against three of the former company’s executives. The order against Edward B. Johnson, the company founder, bans him from selling credit development, business planning, and merchant account processing services. He is personally required to pay $2.6 million. The assets to be turned over include bank and brokerage accounts, and proceeds from the sale of real and personal property. Brendon A. Pack, the former director of marketing at The Tax Club, and Michael M. Savage, the former president of The Tax Club, are required to jointly pay $13 million. They are banned from selling business coaching services, credit development services and work-at-home opportunities and are prohibited from calling consumers unless they have express written consent from a consumer to receive calls, or they are fulfilling or providing services previously purchased by the consumer. 

In New York, Investigators Robin Womack and Mike Ward assisted with this investigation. The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Judy S. Prosper, Guy H. Mitchell, Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Harlem Regional Office, and Jane Azia, Bureau Chief of the Attorney General’s Consumer Frauds Bureau. Marty Mack is the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Offices. Karla G. Sanchez is the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice. 

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES LAWSUIT AGAINST CONTINUUM HEALTH PARTNERS, BETH ISRAEL MEDICAL CENTER AND ST. LUKE’S-ROOSEVELT 

Lawsuit Alleges False Claims Act Violations Against Continuum Health Partners, Beth Israel Medical Center And St. Luke’s Roosevelt  

Schneiderman: Those Who Fail To Return Funding That Isn’t Rightfully Theirs Will Be Held Accountable

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has filed a lawsuit alleging that Continuum Health Partners, Inc., Beth Israel Medical Center and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, headquartered in New York, failed to return money to the New York State Medicaid Program that they knew they had no right to have received.

“This lawsuit sends the message that those who violate the New York State False Claims Act and fail to return funding that isn’t rightfully theirs will be held accountable,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. “My office will continue working diligently on all fronts to protect the integrity of the Medicaid Program.” 

The complaint in intervention alleges that between 2009 and 2010 Beth Israel and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, submitted improper claims to Medicaid for services rendered to Healthfirst enrollees as a result of a computer error. In 2010, the New York State Comptroller’s office informed Continuum (which at the time of the conduct operated Beth Israel and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt) that it had identified a handful of improper claims stemming from the computer problem. After learning of this from the Comptroller’s Office, Continuum conducted an internal investigation.

The complaint also alleges that in February of 2011, Continuum identified over 900 potentially improper claims to Medicaid, totaling approximately $1,000,000. It also alleges that nonetheless, Continuum failed to take steps to repay all of the affected claims within 60 days after these claims had been identified, and that Continuum proceeded to repay only small batches of affected claims, some of which were brought to its attention by the Comptroller, over the next two-plus years. Final repayments were not made until March 2013, and repayments were made for more than 300 of the claims only after the United States, through the United States Attorneys’ Office for the Southern District of New York, issued a Civil Investigative Demand to Continuum concerning these payments in June 2012.  

The complaint against Continuum, Beth Israel and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt was filed under the New York False Claims Act and other statutes in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the United States Attorneys’ Office for the Southern District of New York coordinated on the investigation. The New York investigation was conducted by Special Auditor-Investigator Elliot Hirshon and Special Auditor Investigator Deowattie Persaud.

The matter is being handled by Special Assistant Attorney General Jacob M. Bergman of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, led by Acting Director Amy Held, and Executive Deputy Attorney General of the Division of Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan. 

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES ARREST AND INDICTMENT OF ALLEGED SERIAL FRAUDSTER

Court Papers Charge That Victims Paid Cash For A Wide Variety Of Services That Were Never Delivered

Schneiderman: Those Who Defraud New Yorkers Will Face Justice

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the arrest and indictment of Sonia Vertucci, for operating a long-running scheme to steal from Queens residents. As alleged in the indictment, Vertucci falsely promised a wide range of services to her predominantly immigrant clients and collected more than $38,000 in upfront cash payments, but never delivered any services or refunded any money.  

“Scam artists who prey on immigrants, or other hardworking New Yorkers, with false promises will not be tolerated in our state,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “No matter how elaborate their schemes, those who defraud New Yorkers will face justice.”

The indictment, filed in Supreme Court in Queens County, charges Vertucci, age 42 of New Rochelle, with two counts of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (a class “E” felony), three counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a class “D” felony), two counts of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree (a class “E” felony) and four counts of Petit Larceny (a misdemeanor). If convicted, Vertucci faces up to 7 years or more in prison.  

The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that between 2012 and 2013, Vertucci operated an elaborate scheme to defraud New Yorkers, allegedly promising a wide variety of services she could not, and did not deliver. She promised immigrants Social Security cards and help obtaining legal residency status. She promised truck drivers she would clear up tickets and license suspensions to allow them to get back to work. In each case she demanded money up front, usually in cash, and then did nothing. Her alleged fraud cost victims more than $38,000. 

Vertucci went to great lengths to cloak her scam with an appearance of legitimacy. The investigation revealed that she rented retail storefronts on busy avenues, with awnings and signs advertising “Express DMV Services,” “Mailbox Rentals,” “Auto Insurance,” “Immigration,” and other services. The stores had plausible sounding names, such as “Multi-Service Center” and “Tristate Business Center,” and were populated with administrative staff. Customers were falsely told that Vertucci had lawyers on call to assist her, and were given official-looking receipts for payment. In reality, Vertucci had no businesses on file with the New York Department of State. She obtained leases for her commercial spaces by passing bad checks, and vacated – with victims’ money – just before being evicted. She then set up a new store and defrauded new victims.

Vertucci most recently moved from Queens to New Rochelle. Anyone who believes they have been a victim of Vertucci is urged to call the Attorney General’s immigration fraud hotline at 1-866-390-2992.

This investigation was initiated by the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau. The Attorney General thanks the New York State Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for their cooperation on this case. The investigation was handled by Investigator Sixto Santiago, Senior Investigator Luis Carter, Deputy Chief Investigator Vito Spano, and Chief Dominick Zarrella of the Attorney General’s Investigations Bureau. 

This case is being prosecuted by Senior Counsel Brian McDonald and Senior Analyst Jacqui Brown in the Attorney General’s Criminal Division, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan. Essential assistance has been provided by Assistant Attorney General Dariely Rodriguez, Special Counsel Jessica Attie, Legal Assistant Shamika Rosario, and Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. The Civil Rights Bureau is part of the Social Justice Division, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg. 

The charges are accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law. 

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES PROGRAM TO HELP HOMEOWNERS AVOID FORECLOSURE

New York State Mortgage Assistance Program (NYS MAP) Will Provide Loans To Families Struggling To Avoid Foreclosure

Program Will Bridge Struggling Homeowners To Affordable Mortgage Modifications

HEMPSTEAD — Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the launch of the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program, or NYS MAP, which will provide small loans to families struggling to avoid foreclosure. The loans will assist families in securing mortgage modifications and result in more families staying in their homes. The program is an enhancement to the Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) which provides struggling borrowers with free legal and housing counseling services, and has served more than 28,000 homeowners across the state since the launch of the program in October of 2012. Today’s announcement will be detailed at a Nassau County Town Hall in Hempstead and will outline the terms of the program including the decision to roll out NYS MAP in Long Island first; recognizing that the region has been particularly devastated by the foreclosure crisis. Applications from Long Island families will begin being processed on September 15. Borrowers in the rest of the state can apply beginning October 15.

“For many families across New York State, receiving a small loan through this program will mean the difference between a mortgage modification and the loss of a home. It’s hard to imagine a better investment in communities and families still feeling the effects of the housing crisis,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “We know that our Homeowner Protection Program has had real results, helping thousands of families keep their homes. I’m pleased to announce that the Mortgage Assistance Program will go even further, providing a lifeline to families still in need.”

In the course of its work mitigating the damaging effects of the housing crisis in New York State, Attorney General Schneiderman’s office discovered that many families are being denied mortgage modifications as a result of small outstanding debts. Even families with reliable income streams are denied modifications due to things like a series of missed mortgage payments, delinquent second or third mortgage liens, or unpaid property tax bills which need to be satisfied before a first mortgage holder will grant a modification. By filling the gap for families, the NYS MAP program will empower consumers to negotiate with their mortgage holders and ultimately remain in their homes.

Eligible loan uses will include, but not be limited to, paying off arrears including mortgage payments or unpaid interests and fees; paying down second or third mortgages; satisfying property tax liens or other liens that might lead to loss of homeownership; and supplying borrowers with a “matching” fund to achieve principal reduction or other beneficial first lien modification terms. Consumers will be eligible to apply for loans of varying amounts not to exceed $40,000 per borrower, and the Attorney General anticipates that the program will have the capacity to disburse several hundred NYS MAP loans over the next 18 months. In all cases, a NYS MAP Loan will result in homeownership retention at the time the loan is made. 

To access NYS MAP, homeowners will work with an existing HOPP counselor or legal aid provider to complete the application. Today, the Attorney General’s office launched the website www.nysmap.org where prospective applicants can find out about the program and get connected to a HOPP lawyer or counselor.  Consumers can also contact the New York Attorney General Consumer hotline at 855-HOME-456. 

The program is modeled after a New York City funded pilot program administered through the Center for New York City Neighborhoods (CNYCN). The Attorney General Program is working with CNYCN, as well as the Empire Justice Center, to assist in the operations of NYS MAP. Both agencies are contracted by the Office of the Attorney General to assist with the administration of the HOPP program.

“We are proud to partner with Attorney General Schneiderman, the Empire Justice Center, and all of the HOPP partners across the state on the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program,” said Christie Peale, Executive Director of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods. “Despite reports of an improving housing market, communities all over New York are still struggling from the impacts of the housing crisis, and homeowners are still fighting every day to keep their homes in the face of foreclosure. Thankfully, these loans will keep hundreds of families in their homes and in their neighborhoods.”

Ms. Veneta Burton is one example of how the NYS MAP program expects to change lives. Ms. Burton lives with her daughter and three grandchildren in the Bronx. After getting diagnosed with breast cancer, Ms. Burton fell behind on both her mortgage and her condo association payments. Soon after she received a foreclose notice. Fortunately, Ms Burton found her way to Legal Services, Bronx NYC, a HOPP grantee, who connected her with the MAP pilot program. With her $22,000 loan, she was able to pay down her mortgage and her condo association arrears, which also brought down her housing expenses by $300 per month. “We would have lost our home to foreclosure without this program,” said Ms. Burton.

“For homeowners facing foreclosure a MAP loan can provide the extra financial assistance they need to bridge the gap to a successful workout or mortgage modification,” said New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been. “The city’s Mortgage Assistance Program has already helped more than 170 New York City homeowners stave off foreclosure. The New York State Mortgage Assistance Program will be another critical resource in providing the counseling and financial services needed to help New Yorkers keep their homes and find stable financial footing. I thank the Attorney General’s office for their commitment and partnership in our work to combat the foreclosure crisis.”

Housing Counselors and Legal Services providers outside of NYC are anxious to see NYS MAP expanded to their region, particularly those who are working in communities hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. On a regional basis, Long Island has the highest distressed mortgage rate– loans that are 90 days or more delinquent but not yet in foreclosure –across New York State at 11.1%. Certain communities on the Island have even higher rates such as Brentwood and Hempstead, whose rates are 24% and 28% respectively. For these reasons, the Attorney General has chosen to roll out NYS MAP in Long Island first.

Other areas across the State which will be eligible for the program later in the fall, continue to suffer the effects of the housing crisis. In the Hudson Valley, distressed mortgage rates in Newburgh and Spring Valley are at 16%, and Middletown is at 19%.

Across upstate and Western New York, the distressed mortgage problem is concentrated in certain communities, with the highest rates in Troy (9%), Rochester (7%) and certain neighborhoods in Buffalo, such as Kensington (10%). Overall, Erie County has the fifth highest distressed mortgage rate in New York State. Monroe County ranks the eighth highest for mortgage distress.

“The NYS MAP funds will provide a safety net for eligible homeowners and will serve as a critical tool for counselors to assist families in obtaining an affordable payment and home-ownership retention,” said Marianne Garvin, President and CEO of the Community Development Corporation of Long Island. “We are privileged to be part of the network of providers under the New York State Attorney General Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) and value Attorney General Schneiderman’s ongoing commitment to New York.”

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN & NYPD COMMISSIONER BRATTON ANNOUNCE TAKEDOWN OF WORLDWIDE KHAT TRAFFICKING RING

Seventeen Indicted For Funneling Several Tons Of Khat Across Four Continents, Distributing The Drug Across New York And Other States 

Schneiderman And Bratton: Today’s Indictment Is The Result Of Our Relentless Fight Against Organized Drug Distribution Rings

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner William J. Bratton today announced the indictment of 17 members of a criminal drug ring who allegedly flooded New York City, as well as other parts of New York State and parts of Massachusetts and Ohio, with several tons of khat, a plant containing controlled substances similar to amphetamines. The 215-count indictment unsealed in Brooklyn Supreme Court charges that the defendants obtained khat from Yemen, Kenya and Ethiopia; shipped it to the United States through countries including the United Kingdom, China, Holland and Belgium; and trafficked it around New York City and several other New York counties, as well as Massachusetts and Ohio. The ring then laundered the proceeds through operations in Minnesota and wired the money to various locations abroad, including Dubai and England.

“Khat is a dangerous and illegal drug with worldwide reach. As a result of this international takedown, a sophisticated operation accused of bringing drugs into the United States and sending the profits overseas has been shut down,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Trafficking often funds other criminal activity. Traffickers who threaten our communities and inflict untold harm on countless families will be brought to justice.”

“Illegal drugs can find their way into our city from any corner of the world via organized criminal networks,” NYPD Commissioner Bratton said. “Through the far-reaching capabilities of our joint law enforcement partners these criminals can be tracked down and brought to justice wherever they are located, as evidenced in today’s indictments by the New York State Attorney General’s office.”

Khat is a plant cultivated largely in Kenya and Ethiopia. Among its active ingredients are cathinone, a stimulant classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the New York State Public Health Law, and cathine, which is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance. Users of khat chew the leaves and stems of the plant and swallow the juice, which is most potent when it is fresh. Khat traffickers, therefore, must operate efficiently to transport khat from Africa, where it is cultivated, to users in the United States and elsewhere. Khat became illegal in the United Kingdom on Tuesday.   

As part of the investigation, state and local law enforcement agents led by the New York State Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) and the NYPD’s Intelligence Division conducted a nearly year-long investigation. The indictment alleges that England-based defendant Yadeta Bekri, known to his co-conspirators as “Murad,” systematically shipped large quantities of khat to his U.S.-based “managers,” Bayan Yusuf and Ahmed Adem, through multiple U.P.S. stores located in Manhattan. Yusuf and Adem, both of Rochester, NY, would then allegedly deliver the khat to their distributors and direct customers based in Brooklyn, Rochester and Buffalo, as well as Everett, Mass. 

Surveillance conducted as part of the investigation revealed that, in each city, the defendants would use various buildings to store large quantities of khat until they were able to distribute the drugs. For example, two of the defendants – Mustafa Sadeq Ali and Sadeq Hassan Ali – were observed on several occasions via electronic surveillance bringing multiple boxes of khat (containing approximately 25 pounds per box) into the Islamic Society of Flatbush on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, which was adjacent to the apartment they shared. Defendants were also repeatedly observed at storage rental facilities including CubeSmart and Storage Deluxe locations in both Brooklyn and Queens.

At Bekri’s direction, Yusuf and Adem allegedly transported the proceeds of these illegal sales by car to Bekri’s fiancée and co-conspirator Ibsitu Hashi in Minnesota who, in turn, sent the money back to Bekri via Dubai and other countries.

The New York State Police, ICE Homeland Security Investigations, and United States Customs and Border Protection all assisted in the investigation.

“ICE Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Customs and Border Protection dedicate significant resources to identify vulnerabilities in trade and travel systems like those exploited by the criminal syndicate dismantled today,” James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York, said. “HSI is committed to leveraging partnerships across all levels of law enforcement to preserve America’s national security.”

“We are proud to have partnered with the New York State Attorney General’s Office in bringing to justice those involved in this criminal organization,” said Robert E. Perez, Director, New York Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  “CBP remains ever vigilant at our ports of entry to ensure the security and safety of our nation.”

Today’s indictment charges 17 co-conspirators with crimes including Operating as a Major Trafficker and various counts of Criminal Sale and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, Money Laundering and Conspiracy to commit those crimes.  The Operating as a Major Trafficker statute (§220.77(1) of the Penal Law of the State of New York), authored by Attorney General Schneiderman, went into effect in November 2009 as part of changes to the Rockefeller-era drug laws and is the only felony narcotics charge in the state that carries a possible life sentence.

The defendants charged today are:

Yadeta Bekri (a.k.a. “Murad”), 23, of England
Mustafa Sadeq Ali, 21, of Brooklyn
Sadeq Hassan Ali, 46, of Brooklyn
Noman Saleh Almoflehi, 21, of Brooklyn
Ahmed Khader Sulaiman, 25, of Brooklyn
Al Khader Sulaiman, 29, of Brooklyn
Wail Seidi, 21, of Queens
Nabil Seidi, 35, of Queens
Mohamed Seidi, 26, of Queens
Abubaker Seidi, 39, of Queens
Ali Saleh, 39, of Rochester
Mohamed Mohamed, 54, of Rochester
Bayan Yusuf, 31, of Rochester
Rumiya Osman, 30, of Rochester
Ahmed Adem, 31, of Rochester
Malyun Ibrahim, 49, of Everett, Mass.
Ibsitu Hashi, 34, of Blaine, Minn.

The investigation was directed by OCTF Investigator Brian Fleming and Supervising Investigator Arthur Schwartz, OCTF Deputy Chief Christopher Vasta and Investigations Bureau Chief Dominick Zarrella in the Attorney General’s office, and by NYPD Detective Milton Lopez, Sergeant Scott Mackay and Lieutenant Joseph Sullivan of the Intelligence Division and Deputy Inspector Paul Mauro. The case is being prosecuted by OCTF Deputy Bureau Chief Tarek Rahman, with the assistance of OCTF Analyst Nicole Accurso and Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff. The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice is Kelly Donovan.

The charges against the defendants are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT TO ENSURE GREATER DIVERSITY IN THE FILM/TV PRODUCTION INDUSTRY

Agreement Offers A Level Playing Field For African-Americans, Latinos, And Other Minorities

Schneiderman: New Yorkers Must Have Equal Employment Regardless Of Race Or National Origin

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement with the International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees, Local 52, concerning the Local’s admissions process and the exclusion of African-Americans and Latinos from the union. Local 52 agreed to an overhaul of its admissions process to ensure equal opportunity for membership without regard to race, ethnicity, or national origin. In addition to injunctive relief, the Local also agreed to pay $475,000 in monetary relief.  

“My office is committed to ensuring equal access to employment opportunities in New York State,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “For decades, the film and television production industry has been a cornerstone of the New York economy, an international symbol of our state, and a source of good-paying jobs. I applaud Local 52 for taking steps that will make more of those jobs available to all workers regardless of their race, ethnicity, or national origin.”

Local 52 is one of the labor organizations representing employees in the film and television production industry. Headquartered in New York City, the Local’s active membership totals over 3,500 employees who perform a variety of essential jobs – for instance, electrical, grip, property, sound, and video – on film and television shoots in New York and four other states.      

Beginning in 2012, the Attorney General received complaints from experienced African-American and Latino applicants who were denied admission to Local 52 – many of them repeatedly – about irregularities in the union’s admissions process. The investigation revealed that the Local followed a policy of nepotism in admissions and inconsistently applied its application procedures – such as prior work experience and examination requirements – to the benefit of family and friends of mostly white existing members. These policies had a discriminatory effect upon minority applicants and caused significant disparities between the number of African-American and Latino members in the Local and the number of minorities in the available labor pool in New York. 

Under the terms of the agreement, Local 52 will:

  • restructure its admissions process; 
  • adopt equal employment opportunity/anti-harassment policies;
  • hire a diversity consultant to assist in the creation of a recruitment plan to increase the number of minorities in its applicant pool;
  • establish partnerships with educational and community organizations aimed at identifying and preparing African-Americans and Latinos for the industry and for membership in the union; 
  • hire a full-time human resources director to manage the new admissions and recruiting processes; 
  • develop EEO/anti-harassment trainings for all union leadership and new members as they join the Local; 
  • establish new recordkeeping requirements; and
  • pay $475,000 in costs, fees, and restitution for complainants who participated in the OAG’s investigation and were denied admission to the union.

“We are pleased to have assisted the Attorney General’s Office in casting a spotlight on certain arbitrary and illegal barriers to local union membership for Latinos and minorities in New York’s lucrative film and cable industry” said Jackson Chin, Senior Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “We are likewise pleased that the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau has looked into the concerns we raised, and has taken action to implement measures that will lead to fair access to union membership and equal employment opportunities.”

Howard Sherman, Interim Executive Director of The Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, said, “For decades, our organization and other advocates have been working tirelessly to diversify the film and television industry, both in front of and behind the camera. I applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for working to make this highly visible industry reflect the true composition of America today.”  

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Justin Deabler and Dariely Rodriguez of the Civil Rights Bureau. The Civil Rights Bureau, led by Chief Kristen Clarke, is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg. 

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH WESTCHESTER MUNICIPALITY ENSURING FAIR CONSIDERATION OF ALL APPLICANTS FOR EMPLOYMENT

Town Of Greenburgh Agrees To Amend Town Policy That Unlawfully Denied Jobs To Certain Class Of Applicants With Felony Convictions

Schneiderman: Illegal Barriers Denied Jobs To Felony Offenders

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with the Town of Greenburgh to amend a policy, initially adopted in January, which unlawfully disqualified certain individuals for employment with the municipality based solely on criminal history. The policy required the town to review the criminal convictions of any applicant conditionally hired for municipal employment and automatically disqualify those applicants with certain felony convictions, including anyone with a felony conviction within the last 10 years.

“Every New Yorker looking for work should be fairly considered by employers, and not automatically disqualified or denied access to employment opportunities,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Those who have served their time have a right to re-enter society free of barriers or roadblocks to employment.”

The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau opened an inquiry into the Town of Greenburgh’s policy after receiving complaints from the Osborne Association, an advocacy organization that works to address the needs of individuals recently released from prison. In response, the Town of Greenburgh amended the background check policy, bringing the municipality into compliance with state law. Going forward, the town will consider the mitigating factors required by state law when determining whether an individual’s criminal history is related to the employment opportunities he or she seeks.

The town policy, adopted in January 2014, violated state law, which requires employers to consider several factors before disqualifying an individual based on his or her criminal record, including the nature and gravity of the conviction, its relation to the duties of the job sought, the amount of time which has passed since the conviction, the age of the applicant when the offense was committed, and any evidence of rehabilitation.

The Town of Greenburgh joins the City of Oswego which, in 2013, reversed a local law that prohibited individuals with felony convictions from obtaining taxi licenses, without first considering several factors required by state law. Further information on that case can be found here. This work is part of the Attorney General’s ongoing work to combat barriers to reentry and to ensure that individuals with prior criminal convictions are provided an equal opportunity to reintegrate into society.

Carolina Cordero Dyer of the Osborne Association said, “We applaud the Attorney General for taking action following the complaint that we brought to the attention of his Office’s Civil Rights Bureau. The resulting change better reflects what we know is true about the Town of Greenburgh. That it is a town committed to fairness and doing what is right. We know better than to discriminate based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender; this action by the Attorney General reminds us that we also know better than to discriminate against those with a criminal conviction in their past.”

The Attorney General’s Office is committed to promoting access to equal employment opportunities and combating discrimination in New York State. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visit www.ag.ny.gov.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney Generals Sandra Pullman and Ajay Saini of the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau, which is led by Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. The bureau is part of the Social Justice Division of the Attorney General’s Office, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 30, 2014
Twitter: @AGSchneiderman

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT WITH REVERSE MORTGAGE PROVIDER OVER MISLEADING ADVERTISING TARGETING SENIORS

Company Misrepresented Itself As A Government Entity, Misled Seniors About Benefits Of Reverse Mortgages

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement with New View Mortgage Corp. arising from misleading direct mail solicitations sent to nearly 10,000 New York seniors. The solicitations, advertising reverse mortgages, were designed to look like official government notices from the Federal Housing Administration. Solicitations were mailed in envelopes that read, ‘Economic Stimulus Notice’ and ‘Government Lending Division,’ and the body of the solicitation identified the sender as ‘Federal Housing Administration Home Benefit HECM Program.’ As part of the settlement, the company must pay a penalty of $12,500 and may not misrepresent the features, benefits, and eligibility requirements of reverse mortgages in future solicitations.

“Making New York more affordable for the middle class includes protecting consumers from false and misleading advertising practices,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Our office will hold companies accountable when they seek to rip off or defraud seniors and require them to comply with the letter of the law.”

The solicitations sent by New View Mortgage contained a section called “Facts you need to know” about the HECM mortgages. However, these “facts” presented only the benefits of reverse mortgages and none of the risks. For example, the solicitation emphasized “No Monthly Mortgage Payments Required Ever!” but failed to disclose that consumers who enter into reverse mortgages continue to be responsible for tax and insurance payments. The solicitations also stated that “Your Heirs WILL inherit all remaining equity” but failed to disclose that heirs have to pay off the reverse mortgage loan in order to keep the home. While reverse mortgages may allow seniors to stay in their home without making mortgage payments, they are not necessarily the best option for all homeowners. Fees and other charges can be high in some cases. There are often less costly and more appropriate options available. 

New View Mortgage Corp. is a mortgage broker and banker located in Woodbury, New York.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Jeanna E. Hussey and Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia of the Consumer Frauds Bureau. The Consumer Frauds Bureau is part of the Division of Economic Justice led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.

Tips for Homeowners Considering a Reverse Mortgage

  • Don’t sign loan documents unless you understand how a reverse mortgage works.
  • Shop around and compare your options and the terms various lenders offer.
  • Become familiar with the different types of reverse mortgages.  Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) are federally insured and backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Proprietary reverse mortgages are private loans offered by individual companies.  HECMs generally provide bigger loan advances at a lower total cost compared with proprietary loans. But if you own a higher-valued home, you may get a bigger loan advance from a proprietary reverse mortgage.
  • Be aware that reverse mortgages can have high upfront fees.
  • Think about the impact of a reverse mortgage on your heirs. A reverse mortgage can use up all or some of the equity in your home and decrease the value of any inheritance for your heirs. Your heirs will have to repay the loan in full to retain ownership of the home.
  • You are required to go to counseling before you are eligible for a federally insured reverse HECM  mortgage. Visit HUD’s website http://go.usa.gov/v2H to find out more information or call HUD’s housing counselor referral line (1-800-569-4287) to find a qualified reverse mortgage counselor.  
  • Before deciding to enter into a reverse mortgage, discuss your circumstances with a trusted friend, advisor, or family member.  You may want to invite that person to your discussion with the lender and/or HUD approved counselor.
  • Resist pressure to use a reverse mortgage to pay for goods or services, like home improvement services, because the total cost of the product or service is tied to getting the reverse mortgage.
  • Resist pressure to buy any financial products or services, like annuities or long-term care insurance.
  • If you need cash, always consider a less costly option.  A home equity loan or a home equity line of credit might be a cheaper way to borrow cash. In addition, there are state and local programs that may help you defer property taxes, lower your heating costs, or save on other bills.
  • You can cancel most reverse mortgages within three business days after closing for any reason, without penalty.

For more information on reverse mortgages visit the following websites for the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

STATEMENT: A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES MULTI-STATE SETTLEMENT WITH SUNTRUST, HAILS BENEFITS TO NEW YORKERS RECOVERING FROM HOUSING CRISIS

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following statement regarding today’s announcement of a multi-state settlement with SunTrust to remedy mortgage origination, servicing and foreclosure abuses:

“The law applies to everyone equally, no matter how rich or powerful, and our office will continue to hold mortgage servicers accountable when their practices abuse New Yorkers still struggling from the housing crisis. This settlement with SunTrust will result in $7.5 million in direct relief for New Yorkers to address abuses and delays they suffered throughout the mortgage process. Consumers will now be able to secure loan modifications and receive direct payments, and SunTrust will be subject to tough new mortgage servicing standards and oversight from an independent monitor.”

The settlement includes New York and 48 other states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The three-year settlement provides direct payments to New Yorker borrowers for past foreclosure abuses. The agreement’s mortgage servicing terms largely mirror the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement reached in February of that year between the federal government, 49 state attorneys general, including Attorney General Schneiderman, and the five largest national mortgage servicers.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES FUNDING TO EQUIP NASSAU AND SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE WITH LIFE-SAVING HEROIN ANTIDOTE

The AG’s COP Program Has Approved More Than $200K To Equip And Train Police Officers At 18 Long Island Law Enforcement Agencies, Including Nassau And Suffolk County PDs

Schneiderman: Making Naloxone Available To Long Island Officers Will Save Lives

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that the Nassau County and the Suffolk County police departments have been approved for his Community Overdose Prevention (COP) Program. Since the Attorney General’s program was launched just over two months ago, 18 law enforcement agencies on Long Island have been approved for $222,788 in purchases and training for the use of 2,452 naloxone kits. The Attorney General’s $5 million, statewide program aims to put naloxone, an antidote that can instantly reverse the effects of a heroin overdose, into the hands of police officers across New York.

“The COP Program is an essential part of our effort to combat the spike in heroin overdoses that is plaguing communities and families on Long Island and across New York State,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “By providing police officers with naloxone, we are making this life-saving overdose antidote, available in every town, village and hamlet on Long Island.”Long Island had the second largest number of naloxone kit reimbursements in the state, after New York City, and the second largest number of approved law enforcement agencies in the state, after the Mid-Hudson Valley.

Nassau County Acting Police Commissioner Thomas C. Krumpter said, “Although Naloxone kits have been a required piece of equipment on Nassau County Police Ambulances for many years, the impact of it the hands of our patrol force has been tremendous. In the past few months, some Nassau County police officers have been equipped with Naloxone kits, resulting in numerous lives having been saved from accidental heroin overdoses. With the funding from the Attorney General’s office, the entire patrol will now have this life saving tool available to them.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber said, “The Suffolk County Police Department is grateful to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his office for approving our application for 350 Narcan kits. As the first law enforcement agency in the state to begin using Narcan, we have already saved more than 200 people and trained 1,183 police officers to administer this life saving drug. The additional supply of Narcan from the Attorney General will help us to continue fighting this war on drugs and save lives.”

Long Island had the second largest number of naloxone kit reimbursements in the state, after New York City, and the second largest number of approved law enforcement agencies in the state, after the Mid-Hudson Valley. Suffolk County has the second highest number of approved agencies in the state, with ten. Nassau County has the second largest number of kits, with 1,933.

In Nassau County, the Floral Park Police Department; Garden City Police Department; Glen Cove Police Department; Great Neck Estates Police Department; Lynbrook Police Department; Port Washington Police District and the Rockville Centre Police Department have also been approved.

In Suffolk County, the East Hampton Village Police Department; Huntington Bay Village Police Department;Northport Police Department; Riverhead Police Department; Sag Harbor Village Police; Southampton Town Police Department; Southampton Village Police Department; Southold Town Police Department; and the Quogue Village Police Department are also approved.

Since the COP Program was launched April 3, the Attorney General’s office has approved 117 police departments, and more than $1.72 million, to fund the reimbursement for 26,273 naloxone kits. New York City had the largest number of naloxone kit reimbursements in the state, with five law enforcement agencies, including the New York City Police Department, approved for reimbursement of $1.2 million for the purchase and training for 20,385 naloxone kits. The Attorney General’s Office has approved 35 law enforcement agencies in the Mid-Hudson Valley for reimbursement of $104,780 for the purchase and training for 1,461 naloxone kits.

Almost 200 departments statewide have applied for funding and the Attorney General’s Office has approved enough kits to equip almost half of the state’s police with naloxone. A total of 26 Long Island agencies have applied to the program.

Each naloxone kit consists of a zip bag or pouch containing two prefilled syringes of naloxone, two atomizers for nasal administration, sterile gloves and a booklet on the use of the drug. The cost of a naloxone kit is approximately $60, and the shelf life of each kit is approximately two years.

The success of naloxone in combatting opioid overdoses cannot be overstated. Since the fall of 2010, the police department of Quincy, Massachusetts, the first department in the nation to require its officers to carry naloxone, has used the drug 221 times and successfully reversed 211 overdoses (as of February), a success rate of over 95%. In New York’s Suffolk County, 563 lives were saved last year alone.

Since taking office, Attorney General Schneiderman has fought against the scourge of heroin in New York. He led the effort to rein in prescription opioid abuse by passing unanimous legislation to create I-STOP – the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing. Initial figures indicate that I-STOP has reduced doctor-shopping – the practice of going from doctor to doctor to accumulate prescriptions – by 75% in just the first year. On the criminal side, I-STOP has led to the prosecution of several doctors who willingly participate in doctor-shopping. Separately, the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force has successfully dismantled a number of heroin rings around the state.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES RESOLUTION OF MCDONALD’S FRANCHISE RETALIATION INVESTIGATION

McDonald’s Franchisee In Upstate New York Agrees To Pay $10K To Employee Who Was Fired When He Reported Gas Leak To Fire Department

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement with Warrenone, Inc., a franchisee operating four McDonalds restaurants in Wayne and Monroe counties. The settlement resolves the Attorney General’s investigation into the illegal firing of an employee at Warrenone’s Lyons, New York location.

An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office found that on April 8, 2013, a part-time minimum-wage employee of the restaurant made multiple attempts to report a gas leak. When his supervisors did not address the situation, he reported the leak to the Lyons Fire Department. Responding firefighters and local law enforcement both confirmed that there was a gas leak, and the store was temporarily closed to the public for the night. While the firefighters were at the restaurant investigating the leak, two supervisors informed the employee that he was fired.

New York Labor Law Section 740 forbids employers from retaliating against an employee for reporting to a supervisor or to the authorities when an employer violates a law that poses a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. The public health and safety issue reported here — a gas leak — involved a violation of provisions of the New York State Fire Code, among other things.

“It’s outrageous that an employee would be terminated for contacting the local authorities about a serious safety risk. He should be thanked, not fired,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Workers who try to protect the public and their fellow employees deserve protection, and the state should have their back.”

As a result of this settlement, the company will pay $10,000 in restitution which constitutes approximately one and one half years’ worth of front pay in lieu of reinstatement for the discharged employee. Lost compensation was already obtained through enforcement by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on May 17, 2013. Labor Law Section 740 does not provide for additional liquidated damages.

In addition to payment of restitution, Warrenone will create and implement procedures for complaints, and investigation of complaints, regarding health and safety in its restaurants. Warrenone will also report quarterly to the Attorney General about any health and safety complaints, and about the management’s response to those complaints.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Kevin M. Lynch and Special Counsel Patricia Kakalec in the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau, which is led by Bureau Chief Terri Gerstein. Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN AND COMPTROLLER DINAPOLI ANNOUNCE SENTENCE OF FORMER MET COUNCIL CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER FOR ROLE IN STEALING $9M IN KICKBACK SCHEME

Friedman Was Integral Part Of Conspiracy To Steal From Publicly Funded Social Services Group 

Herbert Friedman Sentenced To 4 Months In Jail And Will Pay $775,000 In Restitution

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli today announced the felony conviction and sentence of Herbert Friedman, former Chief Financial Officer of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (Met Council). Herbert Friedman, together with other co-conspirators, stole approximately $9 million from the taxpayer-funded nonprofit organization in a 20-year grand larceny and kickback scheme.

“The conspirators in this case abused their positions of trust to help steal millions of dollars from a taxpayer-funded charitable organization – one dedicated to serving some of New York City’s poorest and most vulnerable residents,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “As this case and others have shown, those who rip off taxpayers will be prosecuted and punished. I thank Comptroller DiNapoli for his continued partnership in our efforts to root out public corruption and to ensure that taxpayer money is protected. I also thank the Met Council board of directors for cooperating with our investigation.”

State Comptroller DiNapoli said, “Stealing money meant to aid the needy is just plain wrong. This conviction sends a strong message to those who would violate the public’s trust: you will be caught and prosecuted. My office will continue to work with Attorney General Schneiderman as part of our joint task force to root out corruption and protect public money.”

Met Council is a New York State not-for-profit organization that provides the poor and elderly in the metropolitan New York City area with social, economic, housing, food and emergency financial assistance as well as anti-family violence programs. Met Council receives funding through New York State and New York City grants, legislative member items and contracts.

Friedman, 80 years old, pleaded guilty on May 6, 2014, before the Honorable Michael Obus in New York County Supreme Court to Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a class D felony) and Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree (a class E felony). Friedman admitted that between the early 1990s and 2009, he received approximately $250,000 from the grand larceny and kickback scheme. Three other defendants, David Cohen, William Rapfogel and Joseph Ross, previously pleaded guilty in the case. The OAG’s recommended sentence took into account Friedman’s age and medical condition, his cooperation with the investigation and his payment of more than $250,000 in restitution to offset the severe financial loss to Met Council.

Cohen and Rapfogel, previously admitted to their part in the elaborate scheme. The thefts began in 1992, when Cohen devised the scam with Joseph Ross, of Century Coverage Corporation. The company would submit inflated invoices for insurance coverage to Met Council. Met Council would pay the inflated premiums and Ross would then pay cash kickbacks to Cohen, Rapfogel and Friedman, Met Council’s chief financial officer until his departure in 2009. Friedman, was responsible for overseeing all payments to outside vendors such as Century.

This sentence is a result of an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s Office in conjunction with New York State Comptroller DiNapoli, as part of the Joint Task Force on Public Integrity.

The joint investigation by the Attorney General’s and Comptroller’s offices continues.

Gerard Matheson is the lead investigator assigned to the case. Supervising Investigator Michael Ward of the Investigations Bureau is also working on the case. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Investigator Dominick Zarella. Also assisting in the investigation are Supervising Auditor Edward J. Keegan, Associate Auditor Matthew Croghan, and Supervising Investigative Analyst Paul Strocko of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau, Legal Support Analyst KerryAnn Rodriguez of the Public Integrity Bureau, and Policy Analyst Liam Arbetman of the Charities Bureau.

This case is being prosecuted by Gary T. Fishman, Chief of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau, with Assistant Attorney General Jihee Suh of the Public Integrity Bureau. The Attorney General’s Criminal Justice Division is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH NATION’S LEADING RETAILERS TO PROVIDE UNIT PRICING ONLINE

Unit Pricing Information Helps Consumers Comparison Shop Across A Variety Brands And Pricing Options

Schneiderman: Making New York More Affordable For The Middle Class Includes Empowering Consumers To Spend Their Money Wisely 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a first-ever initiative to bring unit pricing information to online supermarkets and drugstores nationwide, including top national and New York retailers. Within nine months, this information will be available on the websites and mobile apps of Walmart, Costco, Walgreens, FreshDirect, CVS and Drugstore.com. Amazon refused to participate in this consumer-oriented initiative.

“As the internet becomes the shopping mall of the 21st century, we need to ensure that consumers have the same robust protections online that they do in brick-and-mortar stores,” said Attorney General Schneiderman.“Making New York more affordable for the middle class includes empowering consumers to spend their money wisely. This agreement, in which government and the private sector worked collaboratively to adapt conventional rules to an evolving marketplace, is a victory for consumers. I commend these retailers for recognizing the need for transparency and promoting openness online.”

Unit pricing benefits consumers by allowing them to quickly compare prices of different items regardless of quantity, manufacturer, packaging size or discounts. For example, a single product category, such as breakfast cereal, can feature a wide array of sizes and packaging combinations from a variety of competing brands. The unit price combines those factors and gives the price per ounce, generally displayed next to the retail price, allowing consumers to make better and faster choices.

According to Forrester Research, online grocery sales are projected to reach $21 billion a year nationwide by 2016. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have some type of unit pricing requirement.  New York law requires that large retail stores clearly display the price per unit of measurement for most types of food, cleaning and paper products, toiletries, pet food and over-the-counter medications.

Prior to this initiative, unit pricing information online was rare. Among large retailers, full availability of unit pricing was limited to online grocer Peapod.

Under the agreement, Walmart and Costco will provide unit pricing information on their websites and mobile stores throughout the United States by the end of 2014. Walgreens, FreshDirect, CVS and Drugstore.com will provide unit pricing online by March, 2015. All six chains have agreed to continue providing unit pricing to consumers in the future, including in any online stores they create in the years to come.

“FreshDirect is an industry leader, and we were pleased that the Attorney General asked us to lead the charge to upgrade information to enhance customer knowledge in the online fresh food sector,” Jodi Kahn, FreshDirect’s Chief Consumer Officer said.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Bureau encourages other retailers to recognize the benefits of providing this information to consumers and follow the strong example these chains have set.

‎Although Amazon displays unit pricing on some of its pages, it does not provide the information uniformly across its platforms. Furthermore, its subsidiaries do not currently display unit pricing. Unfortunately for consumers, Amazon refused to agree to provide this information. The company claims it will extend unit pricing to its subsidiary Quidsi, which operates online stores like Soap.com, but refused to commit to that in a written agreement. It also would not agree to extend unit pricing to pages where that information is absent, nor would it commit to continue providing unit pricing information to consumers in the future.

Attorney General Schneiderman encourages anyone with questions about the unit pricing initiative to call the Attorney General’s Consumer Frauds hotline at (800) 771-7755.

The initiative is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Tristan C. Snell, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection Laura J. Levine, Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN AND D.A. GASCÓN ANNOUNCE THAT GOOGLE AND MICROSOFT WILL INCLUDE A SMARTPHONE KILL SWITCH IN NEXT OPERATING SYSTEMS

Inaugural Report Also Reveals New Data Showing That Thefts Fell Drastically Following Apple’s Introduction Of A Kill Switch 

Schneiderman & Gascón: In Just One Year, The Secure Our Smartphones Initiative Has Made Tremendous Strides Towards Curtailing The Alarming Trend Of Violent Smartphone Theft

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón today announced that, for the first time, Google and Microsoft will incorporate a kill switch into the next version of their respective operating systems. Google’s operating system, Android, runs on more than half of all smartphones used in the United States. Microsoft’s operating system is on all Nokia smartphones. Today’s announcement means that a kill switch will be incorporated into the three dominant smartphone operating systems — Android, iOS, and Windows Phone — which currently encompass 97 percent of smartphones in the United States.

The announcement is part of a new report issued by the Secure Our Smartphones (“S.O.S.”) Initiative, an international partnership of law-enforcement agencies, elected officials and consumer advocates, which will mark its first year tomorrow.

The report also revealed new crime statistics showing that, after Apple added a “kill switch,” robberies and grand larcenies involving iPhones plummeted. Simultaneously, violent crimes against people carrying phones without a kill switch surged. The data is part of a new report issued by the Secure Our Smartphones (“S.O.S.”) Initiative, an international partnership of law-enforcement agencies, elected officials and consumer advocates, which will mark its first year tomorrow.

“The commitments of Google and Microsoft are giant steps toward consumer safety and the statistics released today illustrate the stunning effectiveness of kill switches,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “In just one year, the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative has made tremendous strides towards curtailing the alarming trend of violent smartphone theft. We will continue the fight to ensure that companies put consumers’ safety first and work toward ending the epidemic of smartphone theft. ”

The new report, “Secure Our Smartphone Initiative: One Year Later,” includes previously unreleased data from the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), as well as the police departments of San Francisco and London. The new statistics describe the scope of the smartphone theft epidemic and validate the kill switch as an effective part of a multi-layered approach to combatting smartphone crimes. The statistics also validate the necessity of a ubiquitous opt-out solution.

In New York City, theft of iPhones fell significantly after the release of Apple’s Activation Lock on September 18, 2013, as indicated in the chart below. In the first five months of 2014, robberies and grand larcenies involving Apple products dropped 19% and 29%, respectively, compared to the same time period from 2013. The decrease in Apple thefts far surpassed the citywide decrease in all robberies (-10%) and all grand larcenies (-18%). Perhaps most tellingly, robberies and grand larcenies from a person involving a Samsung smartphone, which did not have a kill switch during much of this time, increased by over 40%. (Encouragingly, Samsung introduced a kill switch solution in April of 2014 on their Verizon Wireless devices, the impact of which will likely be seen in future statistics.)

Statistics from San Francisco and London show similar outcomes. In San Francisco, iPhone robberies declined 38% while robberies of Samsung devices increased by 12%. In London, Apple thefts declined by 24% while Samsung thefts increased by 3%. (In both cities, data from six months leading up to Apple’s Activation Lock was compared to the six months following its introduction.)

“We can make the violent epidemic of smartphone theft a thing of the past, and these numbers prove that,” saidDistrict Attorney George Gascón. “It was evident from day one that a technological solution was not only possible, but that it would serve as an effective deterrent to this growing threat.  This past year we successfully held the wireless industry’s feet to the fire and it’s already having an impact for consumers. In the year ahead we will work to ensure this technology is deployed industry-wide, and in the most effective manner possible.”

“In the year since London joined with our friends and colleagues in the US in the Secure Our Smartphones coalition we’ve made significant progress in reducing the number of smartphone thefts, which have been a shared problem across our cities,” said London Mayor Boris Johnson. “By making the phone manufacturers face up to the responsibility they have to their customers, technology that previously attracted thieves is now being used to deter them. The SOS has shown that the only solutions to these global problems are ones developed globally and Londoners and I look forward to further progress as we enter our second year.”

Richard Aborn, President of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, said, “Cell phone theft has become a major public safety issue in New York and across the country. Unfortunately, these robberies often become violent and put innocent people at serious risk. The Crime Commission is proud to have been a part of the S.O.S. Initiative from the beginning, and we are encouraged by the positive impact it has had on this crime trend in such a short time under the leadership of Attorney General Schneiderman. There is still much to do, however, to protect citizens in our city and elsewhere from cell phone theft. Local law enforcement, Congress, and hardware and software companies must work together to make stealing a smartphone a worthless endeavor for criminals.”

In the year since its inception, the S.O.S. Initiative has spurred a major shift in the wireless industry, evidenced by several tangible accomplishments:

  • In September, 2013, just three months after S.O.S. began its efforts, Apple unveiled “Activation Lock,” a proof-of-concept kill switch available on all iPhones running the iOS 7  operating system with ‘Find My iPhone’ enabled. In April, 2014, Samsung introduced “Reactivation Lock.”
  • Earlier this year, S.O.S. worked with Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Jose Serrano to introduce companion federal legislation to require carriers and manufacturers to make kill switch anti-theft solutions mandatory for all smartphones in the United States. On May 15, 2014, Minnesota became the first state to mandate a kill switch on all phones.
  • In April, 2014, the industry group CTIA abandoned its long-held opposition to a kill switch and announced a “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment” in which AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless and others pledged to implement a kill switch solution on an opt-in basis.

The work of the S.O.S. Initiative continues. With the majority of phones still without a kill switch, smartphone-related thefts and violence remain a tragic reality. Criminals now target devices not likely to be equipped with a kill switch, increasing the importance of immediately implementing the life-saving technology across all manufacturers. Because kill switches are only available on an opt-in basis, not enough consumers are signing-up. This underscores the urgency of S.O.S.’s call to make kill switches a standard opt-out function on all phones.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 23, 2014

Twitter: @AGSchneiderman

STATEMENT FROM A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN IN HONOR OF LGBT PRIDE WEEK

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today released the following statement in honor of LGBT Pride Week:

“The United States of America was founded on the principle of equal justice under law, but equal justice did not become a reality when the Declaration of Independence was signed, or when the Constitution was ratified. Instead, it’s been the task of each successive generation of Americans to strive toward ever greater justice and equality. Now, we mark the anniversary of a critical milestone in that struggle. Forty-five years ago this week, after generations of being harassed, abused and even jailed simply for being true to themselves, gay men and lesbians took to the streets in righteous outrage and said, “Enough!” And so, on a summer morning in 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village, the modern gay rights movement was born.

“This week we honor the countless LGBT heroes who have chosen, over the past four decades, to be part of a powerful movement for equality by living openly and proudly. We honor the LGBT allies who have taken a stand for equality because of someone they know and love. And we honor those friends who are no longer with us, but whom we know would celebrate the tremendous progress that we’ve made in just the past year. All those who have been part of the LGBT rights movement have made America a better country by insisting that we live up to our fundamental values.

“Just days before our last annual celebration of Pride, the United States Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. In the months that followed every single court to address the issue has concluded that the government must recognize the right of gay and lesbian couples to equal protection under the law. Last week President Obama announced that he would be signing an Executive Order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by any business that seeks to do business with the US government. It’s been an incredible year of change for a diverse community.

“My office is deeply committed to the essential Constitutional principle of equal protection under the law, and to assuring that all New Yorkers’ civil rights – including LGBT New Yorkers – are vigorously protected.  Every day there is more work to be done to move the needle of progress forward, but in that work there is a time and place to pause and reflect upon our victories. Let us take this week to celebrate the LGBT family, friends, and neighbors whose spirit and contributions have advanced the great American project of achieving ever greater justice and ever greater equality with each generation. Happy Pride.”

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 23, 2014
Twitter: @AGSchneiderman

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES ELECTION DAY HOTLINE TO HELP ENSURE ACCESS FOR VOTERS ACROSS NEW YORK STATE DURING 2014 ELECTION CYCLE

Attorney General Will Operate Hotline To Address Language Access, Polling Place Barriers, Voter Intimidation On Election Day

Schneiderman: Effort Will Help Ensure Equal Access To The Ballot Box 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an Election Day hotline to help ensure that minority-language voters, people with disabilities and all eligible voters are able to cast an effective ballot during the June 24th federal primary election. The Attorney General urges voters to call the office’s hotline at800-771-7755 or email civil.rights@ag.ny.gov at any time between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Tuesday to report issues or problems at the polls. The hotline will be staffed by attorneys and staff in the office’s Civil Rights Bureau.  Hearing-impaired voters can call 800-788-9898 for TDD services.

“The right to vote remains one of our most important civil rights.  My office remains committed to enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and other federal and state laws that require that all voters be provided equal access to the ballot box,”  said Attorney General Schneiderman. Our Election Day hotline will help ensure that all eligible voters across our state are able to exercise their constitutionally-protected right to vote on Election Day.”

During the office’s 2012 and 2013 Election Day monitoring efforts, the office fielded hundreds of complaints from voters across the state and worked with local election officials and others to help troubleshoot and resolve a range of issues and barriers encountered by voters at the polls. The Election Day hotline is part of Attorney General Schneiderman’s ongoing statewide initiative to ensure that voters do not encounter language barriers on Election Day.

In addition, the Attorney General’s Office will focus on barriers impacting voters with disabilities, voter intimidation reports, and other issues faced by minority voters. The office will receive and respond to election-related complaints relating to any of the statutes that the office enforces.

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 23, 2014

Twitter: @AGSchneiderman

STATEMENT: A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN LAUDS SUPREME COURT’S BACKING OF CLEAN AIR ACT AUTHORITY TO LIMIT CLIMATE CHANGE POLLUTION FROM MAJOR SOURCES

NEW YORK –Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following statement in response to today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding a key authority of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states to limit emissions of climate change pollution by major stationary sources under the federal Clean Air Act:

“Today, the U.S. Supreme Court further solidified the authority provided by the federal Clean Air Act to address the mounting dangers posed by runaway climate change. In its decision today, the high court agreed that a key permitting program applies to limit emissions of climate change pollution from power plants, refineries, and other large industrial facilities. Today’s decision affirmed requirements that large sources control climate change pollution as well as other pollutants. “This is the latest in a line of decisions upholding Clean Air Act authority to address climate change pollution.”

Background

In today’s decision, the Supreme Court ruled that EPA reasonably interpreted the Clean Air Act to require large industrial facilities to limit their emissions of climate change pollution if they are also required to obtain permits due to their emissions of certain other dangerous air pollutants. The Court rejected arguments from industry and other states that these limits on climate change pollution are unworkable.  At the same time, the Court held that EPA could not extend permitting requirements to sources that emit only climate change pollution and not other dangerous pollutants.

Attorney General Schneiderman led a coalition of 15 States and New York City in filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case.  The brief argued that EPA’s interpretation was reasonable and demonstrated that the States’ recent experience with permitting for climate change pollution has proven to be workable and sensible.

In addition to New York, the states joining in the filing with the Supreme Court were California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the City of New York.

The industrial facilities at issue in this case are new plants, including power plants, refineries and cement kilns, and plants undergoing major modification that increase emissions.

This matter was handled by Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, Deputy Solicitor General Steven C. Wu, and Assistant Solicitor General Bethany A. Davis Noll.  From the Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau, led by Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic and Deputy Bureau Chief Monica Wagner, Assistant Attorneys General Michael Myers and Morgan Costello worked on this matter.

For further background on this issue click here.

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 12, 2014

Twitter: @AGSchneiderman

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN SECURES OVER $220,000 SETTLEMENT FROM HOBBY LOBBY STORES IN AN INVESTIGATION OF MISLEADING ADVERTISING

Stores Ran Bogus Sales During Two-Year Period, Consumers Deceived Over Supposed Discounts

Settlement Includes $138,600 For Nearly 700 Public Schools Across Upstate New York

ROCHESTER – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that retail chain Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. has agreed to enter into a settlement of his office’s investigation into alleged deceptive advertising practices. Hobby Lobby misled customers into thinking they were receiving steep discounts through deceptive advertising over a two-year period.  As part of the settlement, the company will change its advertising practices over the next 60 days, contribute $138,600 in supplies to public schools near Hobby Lobby stores in Upstate New York, and pay $85,000 in civil penalties and other costs.

“When companies mislead customers by advertising never-ending sales, our office will hold them accountable,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Ultimately, a permanent sale is no sale at all.”

As a result of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s settlement, Hobby Lobby, a major seller of school supplies, will be required to give nearly 700 schools a total of $138,600 in gift cards for supplies in addition to paying civil penalties.  

The investigation began in 2013, when Attorney General Schneiderman’s office began tracking marketing materials advertising 50 percent off and 30 percent off sales. Hobby Lobby advertised its custom framing, furniture, and home décor products as sale items for more than 52 consecutive weeks.  The investigation determined that Hobby Lobby violated New York’s General Business Law (350-D) for False Advertising. Sales that are never-ending are in violation of the false advertising law. 

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Bruce, and the investigation was handled by Investigator Jennifer Hill of the Rochester Regional Office, which is led by Assistant Attorney General In-Charge of the Rochester office Debra Martin. The Rochester Regional Office is part of the Division of Regional Offices, headed by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs Marty Mack.

Number of Schools Eligible to Receive Gift Cards for Student Supplies:

Erie 177
Monroe 108
Onondaga 102
Dutchess 49
Albany 48
Oneida 37
Schenectady 35
Niagara 26
Chemung 23
Orange 20
Rensselaer 20
Saratoga 14
Ulster 14
Madison 5
Wayne 5
Herkimer 3
Oswego 3
Total 689

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 16, 2014

Twitter: @AGSchneiderman

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES COMMITMENT BY CAPITAL ONE TO EXPAND ACCESS TO BANK ACCOUNTS FOR CONSUMERS PREVIOUSLY EXCLUDED FROM THE BANKING SYSTEM 

Policy Changes Will Help Eliminate Barriers That Unfairly Keep Low-Income New Yorkers And Consumers Nationwide From Opening Checking And Savings Accounts 

Schneiderman: New Yorkers Must Have Equal Access To Banking Services 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that Capital One Financial Corporation has agreed to adopt new policies governing its use of ChexSystems, a credit bureau that screens people seeking to open checking or savings accounts, which will allow many more New Yorkers to open bank accounts. Working in cooperation with the Attorney General’s office, Capital One has devised new policies that will allow many thousands more New Yorkers and consumers nationwide to open bank accounts by the end of this year. The change comes amid concerns that screenings by ChexSystems and other credit bureaus, which are used by many of our nation’s biggest banks, adversely affect lower-income applicants and those who fall prey to identity theft. 

“No one – least of all struggling New Yorkers – should be forced to rely on high-cost alternatives to banks just because they bounced a check or were a victim of identity theft,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Equal access is the least we can do to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to widely used services such as our nation’s banking system. I commend Capital One for stepping up and working with us to help eliminate an unnecessary barrier to opening a checking or savings account. I would hope other banks will step up and join us to do the same.”

ChexSystems is one of several databases used by some of the nation’s largest banks and credit unions to analyze the banking history of consumers who apply for bank accounts. Customers who are deemed by ChexSystems to present a credit or fraud risk are typically denied the opportunity to open an account. Such databases disproportionately affect lower-income Americans, often punishing them for relatively small financial errors and forcing them to resort to fringe banking services that are more costly than mainstream checking and savings accounts. 

Studies show that more than 3 million New York households are either unbanked, meaning that no family member has a bank account, or are underbanked, meaning that they have a bank account but also rely on high-cost alternative financial services. According to one study, the New York State average for unbanked households is 9.8%, higher than the national average of 7.7%. Of counties with more than 100,000 households, the study ranks the Bronx as the second most unbanked county in the country and Brooklyn as the eighth most unbanked county. Of cities with more than 100,000 households, Buffalo ranks as the eighth most unbanked city in the country. Of midsize cities– those with 50,000 to 100,000 households– Rochester is the eighth most unbanked. In New York City, according to a 2010 study, more than 825,000 adults did not have bank accounts and, in two neighborhoods —Jamaica in Queens and Melrose in the Bronx—residents spent more than $19 million per year on check cashing fees.

 The Attorney General’s agreement with Capital One comes as part of an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s Civil Rights and Consumer Frauds Bureaus into the use of credit bureaus like ChexSystems by major American banks.  

Under the terms of the agreement, Capital One will continue screening customers for past fraud but will no longer seek to predict whether customers present credit risks. Capital One also has committed to expanding its support for the Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE), a New York City agency that provides financial education and counseling to low-income New Yorkers. Capital One, which has an existing partnership with the city agency, will donate $50,000 to help OFE provide counseling for applicants who are rejected by the bank on the basis of a ChexSystems report. OFE’s services are available to all New Yorkers, regardless of their county of residence. The changes to Capital One’s policies, which are expected to take effect by the end of 2014, will be implemented nationwide. 

Marc Morial, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Urban League, said, “Promotion of economic opportunity for minority and low-income families and communities must be a top priority.  Too many African-American and Latino communities are denied access to traditional banking products and left vulnerable to costly and predatory check cashing outlets. I thank the Attorney General’s Office for taking action to ensure that banks are extending basic services equally to all communities.”

Justine Zinkin, CEO of Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners, said, “Today’s announcement is an important step in the process of reforming how the big banks serve low-income consumers. At Neighborhood Trust our clients are regularly denied basic banking services because of errors in ChexSystems or identity theft, and it is nearly impossible to correct these inaccuracies. The irony is that our clients and millions of other low-income New Yorkers, the majority of whom are underbanked, would be reliable customers. This is not to mention the outsized social impact of getting someone banked. Neighborhood Trust applauds the Attorney General’s office and Capital One. We hope investigations like this one will continue and that other banks will follow Capital One’s example.”  

Kleber Santos, Capital One Bank’s Senior Vice President of Retail and Direct Banking, said, “We greatly appreciate the work of the Attorney General’s staff in bringing these concerns to light, and we’re pleased to be able to work together to expand access to critical banking services for all New Yorkers. Capital One is committed to providing the broadest possible access to our banking products and services to consumers across the credit spectrum to help ensure that economic opportunity is available to everyone, in every community.”

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Melvin Goldberg of the Consumer Frauds Bureau and Special Counsel Jessica Attie of the Civil Rights Bureau. The Civil Rights Bureau, led by Chief Kristen Clarke, is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg. The Consumer Frauds Bureau, led by Chief Jane M. Azia, is part of the Division of Economic Justice headed by Executive Deputy Attorney General Karla G. Sanchez.

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 29, 2014.

Twitter: @AGSchneiderman

STATEMENT FROM A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ON THE ASSEMBLY’S PASSAGE OF LEGISLATION AUTHORIZING 10 NEW LAND BANKS

NEW YORKAttorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following statement in response to the passage today by the New York State Assembly of legislation authorizing ten new land banks in the State of New York:  

“I commend Assemblyman Magnarelli and the State Assembly for passing legislation to increase the maximum number of land banks in New York State from 10 to 20. Land banks are a critical tool to help communities that are plagued by vacant and abandoned properties to recover from the housing crisis. My office is already funding eight land banks, from Long Island to the Hudson Valley to Central and Western New York, and more funds will be available in this year. By supporting land banks, we are empowering local communities to rebuild their own neighborhoods, house by house, block by block. I urge the Senate to join with the Assembly in giving more communities the opportunity to revitalize neighborhoods by returning derelict properties to responsible, productive use.”

The Attorney General’s program bill, sponsored in the Assembly by the Chairman of the Committee on Local Governments, William Magnarelli, changes state law to increase the maximum allowable number of land banks from 10 to 20. Many cities do not have land banks, but there is a critical need for the kind of community redevelopment that land banks can make possible.

Following the collapse of the housing market, the New York State Legislature passed a law in 2011 establishing land banks — nonprofit organizations that can acquire vacant, abandoned, or foreclosed properties and choose to rebuild, demolish, or redesign them. By restoring vacant or abandoned properties, land banks lower costs for local governments, benefit public schools, reduce crime and boost the local economy. However, the legislation that authorized land banks in New York did not provide funding for them. Attorney General Schneiderman launched a Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative to fill that gap and allow the land banks to fulfill their purpose.  He has dedicated $33 million to fund that initiative.  In February of this year, the Attorney General proposed his program bill to expand the number of land banks from 10 to 20.

Following are the first round of awards through the program, which were announced on October 29, 2013:

  • The Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Bank Corporation was awarded $2.087 million;
  • The Rochester Land Bank Corporation was awarded $2.78 million;
  • The Greater Syracuse Property Development Corporation was awarded $3 million;
  • The Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation was awarded $1.5 million;
  • The Newburgh Community Land Bank was awarded $2.45 million;
  • The Suffolk County Land Bank Corporation was awarded $675,000;
  • The Capital Region Land Bank was awarded $150,000; and
  • The Broome County Land Bank was awarded $150,000.

Attorney General Schneiderman first announced last June that he would dedicate National Mortgage Settlement funds to support land banks. In July, he opened the first round of the competitive Request for Applications (RFA) process.

The projects selected for funding will carry out a range of vital community development activities, including demolition of blighted, vacant, and abandoned homes; acquisition and renovation of vacant homes, including remediation of environmental hazards; resale of renovated properties as affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families; acquisition of vacant land that will be transferred to existing community residents who will maintain and repurpose the underutilized open space; and environmental pre-development studies and analyses that will eventually lead to remediation and redevelopment of brownfield sites. Proceeds from the resale of renovated properties will go back to the land banks and allow them to continue their work.

Attorney General Schneiderman’s Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative will particularly benefit cities and counties that have struggled to maintain local services despite significant declines in tax revenue as a result of the foreclosure crisis and the subsequent epidemic of vacant and abandoned properties. The eight land banks funded have committed to return hundreds of properties to productive use and to get those lots back on the local and county tax rolls over the next 24 months.

The land banks are also using Attorney General Schneiderman’s funding to leverage additional resources from both private and public sources in order to expand their community revitalization efforts. A conservative estimate suggests that the land banks will be able to access a combined total of more than $21 million in other public and private funding over the next two years.

Finally, the Attorney General is providing most grantees with funds to hire full-time staff, which will allow the land banks to expand operations and seek long-term sustainable sources of funding.

The second round of the competitive Request for Applications (RFA) process will open this summer.

THIS WEEK IN THE NEWS

May 26 to May 30, 2014

TOP HEADLINES

=============

Schneiderman’s COP Program To Fund Equipping Of NYPD Officers With Life-Saving Heroin Antidote

Joined by NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, Attorney General Schneiderman announced that the NYPD – the largest police force in the United States – has joined his Community Overdose Prevention (COP) Program, which will provide the force with $1,170,000 funding to equip 19,500 police officers with the extremely effective heroin antidote, naloxone. The COP Program uses funds seized from drug dealers and other criminals to reimburse local police departments for the cost of naloxone kits.

The Attorney General also announced that, in less than two months since the COP Program was launched, more than 150 law-enforcement agencies have applied to the COP Program, with several dozen more in the process of completing necessary steps. The COP Program has now approved the distribution of approximately 25,000 kits to 150 police departments across the state.

=============

Schneiderman Busts International Cocaine Pipeline In “Operation Snowfall”

Attorney General Schneiderman dismantled a “quick-delivery, high-volume” cocaine pipeline allegedly operating between New York City and the Dutchess County town of Wappingers Falls. According to an indictment unsealed this week, cocaine was packaged and sold out of two apartment buildings in Washington Heights, with deliveries made several times a week to Wappingers Falls, where drugs were also distributed out of a local deli. The ring allegedly funneled the proceeds of its sales to the Dominican Republic.

As a result of the investigation, known as “Operation Snowfall,” eight people have been charged with a combined 140 counts related to the trafficking and possession of cocaine and a ninth person was arrested on drug-related charges. One of the defendants includes a member of a prominent Wappingers Falls family. During the bust, the Attorney General’s Office also seized nearly $10,000 in cash and almost three kilos of cocaine, which has a street value of approximately $200,000.

=============

Schneiderman Applauds Assembly’s Passage Of Land Banks Bill

Attorney General Schneiderman commended the New York State Assembly for passing legislation, sponsored by Assemblymember William Magnarelli, to increase New York’s number of land banks from 10 to 20, doubling the availability of this critical tool to help communities plagued by vacant and abandoned properties recover from the housing crisis. The Attorney General’s Office is already funding eight land banks, from Long Island to the Hudson Valley to Central and Western New York, and more funds will be available in this year. Learn more about this initiative here.

=============

Schneiderman Praises Consumer Credit Fairness Act’s Passage

The Attorney General also applauded the passage of the Consumer Credit Fairness Act in the New York State Assembly, and thanked Assemblymember Helene Weinstein for her leadership on this issue. This bill would protect consumers when debt collectors attempt to collect on debt by using the judicial process, ensuring notice is provided when a suit is filed and requiring collectors to prove that the debt is legally owed to them. Similar to Chief Judge Lippman’s proposed reforms to the legal process for consumer credit cases – which the Attorney General praised last month – this legislation will promote an overall fairer system for thousands of New Yorkers.

=============

Schneiderman Arrests Broome County Nurse For Endangering Nursing Home Resident And Falsifying Records

Attorney General Schneiderman announced the arrest and arraignment of a Broome County nurse who allegedly failed to follow nursing home policy after a resident fell and injured himself, lying to the facility about what happened. The Attorney General restated his commitment to ensuring all New Yorkers can trust their loved ones will be appropriately cared for in nursing facilities.

   

Dear Friends and Neighbors,It really is true that a committed group of concerned citizens can – at least sometimes – effect change.  Several months ago, a large number of Edgemont residents who use the number 65 Bee Line bus to the Scarsdale Train Station petitioned their County government to add another bus each morning and evening.

As Infrastructure Committee chair, I put the petitions on our agenda and discussed the possibility of additional buses with the Department of Transportation’s Deputy Commissioner, Patricia Chemka.  She then took the matter to Liberty Lines, which runs Bee Line buses, and the company agreed to the change.

As a result, there is now an additional morning trip at 8:24 a.m., to meet the 8:49 train in Scarsdale; and a 7:37 p.m. bus from the Scarsdale Train Station to Underhill Road and Central Avenue.  I hope that these buses will make life a little easier for the commuting public.

Growing our mass transit system will be very important to us in the coming years.  It will help the environment, reduce traffic and demand for parking, and make our homes more attractive to a younger generation that prefers mass transit to cars.  I see these additional buses as one step in the right direction.

Thanks to all of the Edgemont residents who stood up for their community’s needs, and set into motion the events that led to this change; and to all of the County and Liberty Lines employees who made it happen.

If you have any other suggestions for how County government can improve your community, by all means contact my office, and we’ll do what we can.

Sincerely,

WESTCHESTER COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS
TRAFFIC ADVISORY
ASHFORD AVENUE C.R. 134
VILLAGES OF DOBBS FERRY & ARDSLEY
BRIDGE JOINT REPAIRS
LANE CLOSURESROADWAY: Ashford Avenue

LIMITS: Ashford Avenue between Southfield Avenue and Saw Mill River Road (Rt.9A)

WHAT: Bridge joint repair work

IMPACTS: There will be single lane closures of Ashford Avenue in each direction within the above
limits. Police personnel will be in place to assist with maintenance and protection of traffic. Motorists are advised to use alternate routes to avoid delays.

WHEN: Lane closures will take place on Wednesday, April 1 between the hours of 9:00 AM and
3:00 PM.

WHO: Westchester County Department of Public Works and Transportation contract # 12-537.

For additional information please contact Westchester County Traffic Engineering Division at (914) 995-2555.

Dear Friends and Neighbors,Shredding personal documents serves a double purpose– to recycle paper and protect the environment as well as to protect your sensitive information against identity theft.  Westchester residents may bring personal documents for shredding to any one of the Mobile Shredder locations listed below.  They are conveniently located in different locations throughout the County so that all residents can take advantage of this service.  The first location is Saturday, March 28 in Greenburgh.Please share this important information with your friends and family.


2015 Mobile Shredder Events Calendar

3/28

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Greenburgh

Town Hall
177 Hillside Ave.

4/4

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

City of Rye

City Hall
1051 Boston -

Post Rd.

4/11

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Yonkers

Roosevelt HS
631 Tuckahoe Rd.

Otsego Rd. Entrance

4/18

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Eastchester

1 Gabriel –
Rescigno Dr.

Scarsdale

4/22

Wed.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Cortlandt

Town Hall
1 Heady St.

4/24

Fri.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Mount Kisco

Fox Senior Center
198 Carpenter Ave.

4/25

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Harrison

MTA Lot
Harrison Ave. at

Halstead Ave.

5/2

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Mamaroneck

Harbor Island Park
123

Mamaroneck Ave.

5/9

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Mt. Vernon

Municipal Lot
S. 5th Ave.

at W. 2nd St.

5/11

Mon.

9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Mount Pleasant

Recreation Center
125 Lozza Dr.

5/16

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Yonkers

Yonkers High School
150 Rockland Ave.

5/16

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Croton

Earth Day Event
Croton Point Park

1A Croton

Point Ave.

5/23

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

New Rochelle

Police Station
515 North Ave.

5/30

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Hastings-on-Hudson

Zinsser Parking Lot
134 Southside Ave.

6/5

Fri.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Yorktown

363 Underhill Ave.

6/6

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Larchmont/
Mamaroneck

Maxwell Ave.
Larchmont

6/13

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Greenburgh

Town Hall
177 Hillside Ave.

6/17

Wed.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Yonkers

Murray Skating Rink
348 Tuckahoe Rd.

6/20

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Montrose

Hen Hud Library
185 Kings Ferry Rd.

6/27

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Tarrytown

Parking Lot
Green St.

7/11

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Hastings-on-Hudson

Zinsser Parking Lot
134 Southside Ave.

7/18

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Yonkers

Emerson
High School

7/25

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

New Rochelle

Police Station
515 North Ave.

8/8

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Mt. Vernon

Municipal Lot
S. 5th Ave.

at W. 2nd St.

8/14

Fri.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Yonkers

Murray Skating Rink
348 Tuckahoe Rd.

8/15

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Sleepy Hollow

28 Beekman Ave.

8/22

Sat.

9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Peekskill

City Hall
828 Main St.

8/29

Sat.

10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Tarrytown

Parking Lot
Green St.

Demystifying MEDICARE
and Healthcare Coverage for Seniors


Mon., 4/6, 6-8:45 pm, TARRYTOWN
Warner Library, 121 N. BroadwaySun., 4/12, 1:30-4:30 pm, OSSINING
Ossining Public Library, 53 Croton Ave.Wed., 4/15, 6:30-9:30 pm, SLEEPY HOLLOW
Phelps Memorial Hospital, 701 N. Broadway

Mon., 4/20, 6-9 pm, SHRUB OAK
Hart Library, 1130 East Main St., Shrub Oak

Thurs., 4/23, 6-8:45 pm, YONKERS
Will Library, 1500 Central Park Ave.

Sat., 4/25, 1-4 pm, PEEKSKILL
Field Library, 4 Nelson Ave.Wed., 4/29, 7-9:30 pm, MOUNT KISCO
Fox Center, 198 Carpenter Ave.Sat., 5/2, 1-4 pm, NEW ROCHELLE
New Rochelle Lib., 1 Library Pza@Lawton St.

Mon., 5/4, 6-8:45 pm, WHITE PLAINS
White Plains Library, 100 Martine Ave.

Wed., 5/6 6:15 – 9 pm, GREENBURGH
TDY Community Center, 32 Manhattan Ave.


This presentation of the library system’s Westchester Seniors Out Speaking is perfect for anyone trying to navigate through our complicated healthcare system. It will help those who already have Medicare, as well as people soon to be 65, planning their retirement, or assisting relatives and friends with their medical decisions.

WSOS Graphic

The engaging, interactive program outlines the various parts of Medicare and lays out the costs associated with the medical and drug insurance provided by the government and private companies.

Topics include:

  • Original Medicare
  • Medicare Advantage Plans
  • Prescription drug plans (Part D)
  • Medigaps (supplemental plans)
  • Various cost-saving programs (MSPs, Extra Help, EPIC, etc.)

Walk-ins welcome, but pre-registration is requested at (914) 231-3236. Please visit http://www.westchesterlibraries.org/westchester-seniors-out-speaking/ for additional locations and dates.

Dear Neighbor,The New York State Public Service Commission has been seeking public input on Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), in an effort to improve the State’s energy policy.  I offered the following comments at the REV hearing held at the Yonkers Public Library last month.Sincerely,


STATEMENT OF WESTCHESTER COUNTY LEGISLATOR MARYJANE SHIMSKY
REFORMING THE ENERGY VISION
PUBLIC HEARING BEFORE THE NEW YORK STATE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION
YONKERS PUBLIC LIBRARY, YONKERS, NY
FEBRUARY  10, 2015

Members and Staff of the Commission,

Thank you so much for agreeing to schedule this hearing in Westchester County.  As home to almost one million people, Westchester County is one of the most populous Counties in the State; and many of its municipalities, companies and organizations have been at the forefront of issues concerning energy production, and its impact on the environment.  I am sure that my neighbors will have much to say tonight, of potential use to New York’s energy planning.

As we seek to reform our energy vision, it is vital to note that traditional methods of electrical generation – fossil fuels and nuclear – are causing serious and irreparable harm to the environment and to the public health.  Also, the traditional grid system of electrical distribution is in terrible shape, and would take massive infusions of nonexistent capital to fix.  Meanwhile, our environment is further degraded, and our system of electrical distribution is getting less and less reliable.

Fortunately, we are making great technological advances in energy creation and energy efficiency.  The easiest energy to account for is the energy we never need.  Energy conservation reduces demand for more generation capacity, saving the electrical providers money, reduces costs for the consumer, and reduces emissions into our environment.

Alternative energy technologies are becoming more productive and efficient by the year, and innovations will continue into the future.  Clean alternative energy  — solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels, among others –promises a cleaner and healthier environment, and potential for more decentralized energy production, which would take pressure off of the grid.  Fracked gas and nuclear power are not clean alternative energy sources.   They cause environmental degradation if used as designed, risk catastrophic harm if corners are cut on safety, and any calculation of their net potential must include the massive energy outlays needed to produce the fuels in the first place.

Contrary to the positions of some high-paid lobbyists, energy conservation and alternative energy has and can continue to spur economic development and job growth.  A smart corporation that looks to the future of the energy industry can make energy conservation and alternative energy a valuable profit center.  Sometimes, doing good can result in doing well; and the energy industry is one area in which this can be the case.

In sum, any reform of the energy vision should be informed by these three concepts:

  • aggressive, and continually innovating, energy conservation must be an integral part of our future energy plans;
  • we must move with all deliberate speed toward a fossil-fuel free, and nuclear-free, future; and
  • since technologies, resource supplies and other variables change over time, any vision must include the means to revise plan elements and metrics to reflect changing realities.

Thank you for your time.  I may be reached at the contact information above.

MaryJane Shimsky

 League Breakfast

Thursday, February 26
9:00 a.m.
Hudson Social Café
at the
Dobbs Ferry Train Station
11 Station Plaza (across the tracks)

Westchester’s Crumbling Infrastructure
a discussion with
The Honorable MaryJane Shimsky
Chair, Infrastructure Committee
Westchester County Board of Legislators

Sponsored by the
League of Women Voters of the Rivertowns
League of Women Voters of Westchester
Contact: (914) 332-1301
The public is always welcome at a League event.
Snow date: Monday, March 16 at 8:30 a.m.

Dear Neighbor,

One of the best ways to minimize the risk of identity theft, one of the fastest growing crimes in the nation, is to take the step of shredding documents before disposing of them. This prevents thieves from stealing and using your unique identifying information such as your name, address, phone number, credit card number or social security number.
To help combat identity theft, Westchester County government put a Mobile Shredder into service several years ago. Unlike a home shredder that can only handle a limited number of sheets of paper at a time, this powerful piece of equipment pulverizes entire boxes of files at a time!  Since it was first put into service, thousands of residents have brought their confidential papers to be shredded and hundreds of tons of paper have been recycled.
The Mobile Shredder will be in Hastings-on-Hudson  this Saturday, January 24th 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Zinsser Parking Lot 134 Southside Ave.  
I encourage you to protect yourself from being an identity theft victim and take advantage of this opportunity to safely dispose of old documents and files you no longer need or use.
The Mobile Shredder is a free service. The county offers it not only to Westchester residents but to local municipalities and Westchester’s public schools that once had to pay private shredding companies to dispose of their confidential files safely.  This is yet another example that demonstrates the county’s commitment to developing strategies to share services with local municipalities in order to reduce costs and save taxpayer dollars.
For more information on the Mobile Shredder and the county’s entire recycling program, please visit
.
Sincerely,

Hastings-on-Hudson Affordable Housing

The Washington Avenue Condominium Affordable Housing Project is almost complete at 52 Washington Avenue in Hastings-on-Hudson!  This development consists of 3 condominium units of fair and affordable housing in 1 newly renovated building consisting of one two bedroom and two three bedroom condos.  Annual household income must not exceed 80% of the Westchester County area median income based on household size.  It must be your primary residence.  For more information please click on the link below to download the Affordability Analysis and Expression of Interest forms.  Flyers and the Affordable Analysis are also available at the Hastings Village Clerk’s office, the Library, and the James Harmon Community Center (Addresses can be found on the Hastings-on-Hudson home page – http://www.hastingsgov.org/Pages/index)

Dear Neighbors,

For thousands of years (and probably ever since there were people), the beginning of winter has been a time for people to celebrate together.  Then as now, the dark days and harsh cold remind us of our place in a universe larger than human existence, and how much we need each other as we find our way in life’s journey.
Our observances of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa connect us, and people all over the world, to great religious and cultural traditions.  These holidays also give us the chance to have fun with family, friends and neighbors — the surest way to ward off the winter’s chill.
Whichever holidays you celebrate, I wish you a joyous and festive season.  And let’s all look forward to a happy and prosperous 2015.
Sincerely,

Dear Friends,

Life is not a math problem, with one right answer: good times beget a plethora of good answers, but  tough times may afford us no right answers at all. There was no right answer for the 2015 County budget. In 2010, Westchester was well financed and well run.  Five years later, our state of the art operations are feeling the strain of multiple years of budget cuts and layoffs.  Some of the reasons for this – decreased revenues due to the recession and general restructuring of the American economy – were beyond the control of County government.  Other reasons – most especially a belief that all parts of the government  needed to be starved, including the bricks and mortar of our infrastructure, and social programming that helped develop our workforce – were in County control, and those controlling the County did not always choose wisely. In 2015, we are nearing the point when systems will be so broken, and our coffers will be so empty, that we may not be able to fix critical parts of the County’s operations.  This year, we have had to authorize the kind of borrowing that governments should not have to do – to cover annual costs like covering tax settlements, and to bond for minor repairs that should be funded as regular maintenance.  The 2015 budget also raids a fund earmarked for emergency communications improvements.   In order to right our County’s fiscal ship, we are going to need some good luck over the next several years. That being said, the Board of Legislators made numerous improvements to the budget, improvements that will improve our fiscal resiliency in the coming years.   Plans to engage in capital borrowing for minor road repairs have yielded to a more sensible, operations-based approach that can save us as much as $11 million over the next five years.  With the Board’s support, the County is taking initial steps to address our $1 billion-plus backlog in infrastructure projects.  The Board also recognized the need to maintain investments in our human infrastructure, making commitments to keep child care and after school programs available to our low-income working families, and to maintain funding for economic engines like tourism and the arts.  And negotiations by our Board leadership reduced the amount of questionable borrowing.  On balance, the Board of Legislators took a bad budget and made it a less bad budget. I had a very difficult time deciding how to vote, even after my colleagues broke 9-7 in favor.  I balanced the “bad” against the “less bad,” and decided at the end to vote for the budget, because however flawed it was, I felt it important to put myself in the best position to help make sure that the good promises made in the 2015 budget – the improvements that will put us in better stead in the coming years — are kept. A budget is not a guarantee of government action – it is, depending on how you look at it, an initial blueprint or a set of promises.  Our County will be strong only if we follow through on what is good in the budget, and find ways to reduce the negative impacts of that which is more problematic.  I stand ready to spend the next twelve months doing just that. Sincerely, _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ BRONX RIVER PARKWAY, CR 9992 ROAD & RAMP CLOSURES

MILL & PAVING OPERATIONS
TOWN OF GREENBURGH
VILLAGE OF SCARSDALE
CITIY OF WHITE PLAINS
ROADWAY:  Bronx River Parkway Southbound & Southbound Access Ramps.
LIMITS:
Southbound Bronx River Parkway & Entrance Ramps Closure
  • There will be no access to the SB BRP, in White Plains, south of the County Center.
  • All Traffic will be detoured onto Central Avenue, south to the Sprain Brook Parkway.
  • Entrances to the Southbound BRP at Main Street, Fenimore Road & Ardsley Road will be closed.
WHAT: Mill and paving operations.
IMPACTS: The Bronx River Parkway & Ramps will be closed to motorists within the above limits.
WHEN: Monday, December, 15, 2014 between the hours of 9:30 AM and 3:30 PM.
WHO: Westchester County Department of Public Works and Transportation Contract # 14-534.

For additional information please contact Westchester County Traffic Engineering Division at (914) 995-2555. BRONX RIVER PARKWAY, CR 9992 ROAD & RAMP CLOSURES

MILL & PAVING OPERATIONS
TOWNS OF GREENBURGH & EASTCHESTER
VILLAGE OF SCARSDALE
CITIES OF YONKERS & WHITE PLAINS
ROADWAY:  Bronx River Parkway.
LIMITS: Northbound Bronx River Parkway

  • at the BRP/Sprain Brook Parkway split.
  • at Fenimore Road (Exit 15).
  • at Main Street (Exit 21)

Southbound Bronx River Parkway

  • at Cemetery/Old Tarrytown Road (Exit 23)
  • Westchester County Center (Exit 22).
  • SB Entrance Ramp from Main Street/Rt 119
  • SB Entrance Ramp from Fenimore Road.
  • SB Entrance Ramp from Ardsley Road.
  • at Vermont Terrace.
WHAT: Mill and paving operations.
IMPACTS: The Bronx River Parkway & Ramps will be closed to motorists within the above limits.
WHEN: Northbound closures will take place on Thursday, and Friday (December 11 & 12) between the hours of 9:30 AM and 3:30 PM, and on Saturday (December 13) between the hours of 7:00 AM and 5:00 PM.Southbound closures will take place on Friday (December 12), between the hours of 9:30 AM and 3:30 PM, and on Saturday (December 13), between the hours of 7:00 AM and 5:00 PM.
WHO: Westchester County Department of Public Works and Transportation Contract # 14-534.

For additional information please contact Westchester County Traffic Engineering Division at (914) 995-2555. ROADWAY CLOSURES

BRONX RIVER PARKWAY NORTHBOUND&SOUTHBOUND
BRONX RIVER PARKWAY-CRANE ROAD BRIDGE REPLACEMENT
VILLAGE OF SCARSDALE, TOWNS OF GREENBURGH & EASTCHESTER
ROADWAY:  Bronx River Parkway.
LIMITS: Between Harney/Strathmore Road (Exit 10) and Crane Road (Exit 12)
WHAT: Bronx River Parkway Crane Road Bridge Replacement.
IMPACTS:
The Northbound &Southbound Bronx River Parkway will be closed:
  • Wednesday DAY December 10, between 7:00 AM and 3:30 PM.
    • Periodic 5-10 minute stoppages of both directions of the Bronx River Parkway will occur during the above hours to facilitate the erection of the 600 ton crane.
  • Thursday, EARLY MORNING, December 11 through Sunday, EARLY MORNING, December 14, between 2:00 AM and 5:00 AM
    • Closure of Both Directions of the Bronx River Parkway between Exit 10, Harney/Strathmore Road and Exit 12, Crane Road.
  • Monday DAY December 15, between 7:00 AM and 3:30 PM.
    • Periodic 5-10 minute stoppages of both directions of the Bronx River Parkway will occur during the above hours to facilitate the disassembly of the 600 ton crane.
WHEN:
Wednesday, December 10 thru Monday, December 15, 2014. (See above for time of day).
All closures are weather permitting.

For additional information please contact Westchester County Traffic Engineering Division at (914) 995-2555. Dear Neighbors,Here is the latest on the Crane Road Bridge night work.First, the good news: this week’s work was completed early, so there will be no more night work until December 10.According to the County DPW Commissioner, the night work from December 10-14 should be less noisy than that  during the period of December 15-19, when the use of hoe rams and jackhammers will be needed.  As of now, night work is still scheduled to be completed by December 19. We are still discussing the scheduling issues with Metro North as well. You can read the County’s latest Crane Road update below for further details. Sincerely,   BRONX RIVER PARKWAY, CR 9992

WORK POSTPONEMENT MILL & PAVING OPERATIONS

VILLAGE OF SCARSDALE CITIES OF YONKERS & WHITE PLAINS

ROADWAY:  The Northbound Bronx River Parkway.
LIMITS: At the Bronx River Parkway/Sprain Brook Parkway split.

At Fenimore Road (Exit 15). At Main Street (Exit 21)

WHAT: Postponement of Mill and paving operations.
IMPACTS: Scheduled closures are postponed until further notice due to weather conditions
WHEN:
Scheduled closures for Monday, December 8, thru Wednesday, December 10, 2014 are
postponed until further notice due to weather conditions.
WHO: Westchester County Department of Public Works and Transportation contract # 14-534.

For additional information please contact Westchester County Traffic Engineering Division at (914) 995-2555.

  Night of December 3 through the night of December 9

  • No overnight work anticipated

Night of December 10 through night of December 13

  • Mobilization of the 600 ton crane (daytime on 12/9)
  • Removal of the steel floor beams and outside steel girders
  • Overnight roadway closures and/or 15 minute stoppages of traffic are anticipated
  • Demobilization of the 600 ton crane (daytime on 12/15)

Night of December 15 through the night of December 19

  • Removal of the North & Middle Abutments adjacent to the railroad tracks

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Dear Neighbors,

Since I communicated with you last week, we’ve received additional information on the nighttime demolition schedule for the Crane Road Bridge, which we have reproduced below. I have been told by the Chief of Staff to the County Executive that there is still late night work, including jackhammering and hoe ramming, to be completed.
Our regular committee meeting schedule is somewhat disrupted because of our current work on the 2015 County budget, but at the next opportunity I hope to review the schedule with the Commissioner of Public Works to get a better idea of how much noise can be expected, and when, as the schedule continues; and to confirm that the schedule is still up to date.
Meanwhile, we are reaching out to Metro North – as a follow-up to previous efforts — to see if any schedule accommodation (to allow work at less problematic hours) may be possible at this stage of the operation.
If the work remains on schedule, it appears, based on the information below, that this phase of work should be completed by December 19.  We’ll inform you if we hear anything different.  And feel free to contact me with your experiences.
Sincerely,
Although approximately 2/3 of the new Crane Road Bridge has been completed, in order to complete the project and restore the Bronx River Parkway to two lanes in each direction the existing bridge over the railroad must be removed so the remainder of the new bridge can be constructed in its place. The demolition work must be completed in 2014 to insure project completion in 2015.
Please note that all demolition that can be completed safely during daytime hours will be accomplished during the day but, based on Metro-North Railroad safety requirements and restrictions, significant amounts of the demolition work must be done during an overnight shift when train frequency is lower (typically between the hours of 9:00 PM and 5:30 AM). Some of the most critical work can only be accomplished when no trains are running (typically between the hours of 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM).
Night of December 1 through the night of December 5
  • Installation of temporary supports for steel girder & steel stringer removal and miscellaneous concrete removal
Night of December 6 through the night of December 9
  • No overnight work anticipated
Night of December 10 through night of December 14
  • Mobilization of the 600 ton crane
  • Removal of the steel floor beams and outside steel girders
  • Demobilization of the 600 ton crane
  • Overnight roadway closures and/or 15 minute stoppages of traffic are anticipated
Night of December 15 through the night of December 19
  • Removal of the Middle Abutment adjacent to the southbound railroad tracks
Click here if you have any questions or comments.
Click here for Crane Road Bridge frequently asked questions.
Click here to subscribe to receive updates on the progress of the bridge’s repairs.

Before the holiday season kicks into high gear, give yourself and your family the gift of good health – get the vaccines you need at a free vaccine clinic provided by the Westchester County Health Department on Dec. 9 at the Westchester County Center, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Supplies are limited, so please register in advance.The health department clinic will offer: ·      free flu vaccines to residents ages 4 and up and ·      free HPV and meningococcal vaccine for college students.   Residents who are uninsured or whose insurance doesn’t cover vaccines also may receive these vaccines: ·     Zoster vaccines for ages 60 and up to protect against Shingles ·     MMR for women of childbearing age who neither received this vaccine nor had the diseases measles, mumps and rubella ·     Tdap for residents ages 19 and up who never received a Tdap vaccine. This vaccine provides protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis and is especially important for adults who spend time with infants, who are not fully protected from these diseases. Westchester residents are encouraged to register at  www.health. ny.gov/Go2Clinic. Residents without internet access can call 914-995-7425. Walk-ins are also welcome. Supplies of each vaccine are limited and are not guaranteed. To date, the health department  has expanded access to adult vaccines  by giving nearly 1,000 vaccines at clinics at the County Center, Westchester Community College and at  Hope Community Center, New Rochelle; Grace Church, White Plains; Neighbors’ Link, Mount Kisco and Don Bosco Center in Port Chester. In addition to flu shots, residents also were offered vaccines that provide protection against pertussis, pneumonia, measles, mumps and rubella, HPV and shingles. Each year in the U.S., about more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu complications. People most at risk for complications from the flu include pregnant women, adults age 50 and older, children under the age of five and their caregivers, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and anyone who has certain underlying medical conditions. To prevent spreading the flu, cough or sneeze into your elbow and wash your hands often with soap and water. If you do get a respiratory infection, stay home until 24 hours after your fever subsides to avoid spreading your germs. Clean surfaces you touch frequently, such as doorknobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.  Get plenty of rest, exercise and eat healthy food. For more information about the flu, contact the Westchester County Department of Health at (914) 813-5000 or go to www.westchestergov.com/health; Like us on Facebook.com/wchealthdept and Follow us on Twitter @wchealthdept. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ VILLAGES OF DOBBS FERRY & ARDSLEY

BRIDGE JOINT REPAIRS
LANE CLOSURES
ROADWAY: 
Ashford Avenue.
LIMITS: Ashford Avenue between Southfield Avenue and Saw Mill River Road (Rt.9A).
WHAT: Bridge joint repair work.
IMPACTS:
There will be single lane closures of Ashford Avenue in each direction within the above limits.
WHEN:
Lane closures will take place on Monday, December 1 thru Friday, December 5, 2014
daily between the hours of 9:30 AM and 3:30 PM.
WHO: Westchester County Department of Public Works and Transportation contract # 12-537.
For additional information please contact Westchester County Traffic Engineering Division at (914) 995-2555.

Dear Neighbors,

As many of you have already experienced firsthand, the reconstruction work on the Crane Road Bridge has taken a noisy turn.  Demolition of the second roadway has been scheduled for times that Metro-North does not run trains through the area, roughly from 2 AM to 6 AM; and will take about three to four weeks to complete.
I am very concerned about reports I am receiving about the level of noise, and the lack of notice to the residents of Old Edgemont and Greenacres.  To do this kind of work, including blasting, at the dead of night, is a severe imposition on the thousands of residents in the area.  To cause this kind of inconvenience in the heart of the holiday season is even worse.
Sometimes work at odd hours cannot be avoided, especially in an area with passenger railroads below; but at the very least residents need to be able to plan their lives, especially during the holidays.  To that end, I have asked the Department of Public Works Commissioner to provide a specific schedule with the precise times of work, as the Department  has been doing with road closures during this project; and to transmit the information as widely as possible, in an effort to provide timely notice to all residents.
I have also asked the Department of Public Works to provide all information on the noise levels they are creating, their efforts to negotiate a more resident-friendly demolition schedule with Metro North, and their noise amelioration measures.  I will let you know when I receive a response.
Meanwhile, please contact me with your experiences with the work in question, so that I have an accurate idea of what is going on, and how it is affecting the neighborhoods in the area.
We all know that the bridge needs to be replaced, and that its location over the Metro North tracks makes scheduling the work a real nightmare.  But the people who live in the area and pay our salaries deserve every notice, consideration and amelioration we can provide to them.  I stand ready to work with DPW and all of our colleagues in government to help make that happen.
Sincerely,

ASHFORD AVENUE C.R. 134 &

NORTHBOUND SAW MILL RIVER PARKWAY ENTRANCE RAMP
VILLAGES OF DOBBS FERRY & ARDSLEY
BRIDGE JOINT REPAIRS LANE & RAMP CLOSURE
ROADWAY:     Ashford Avenue & Saw Mill River Parkway Northbound Entrance Ramp.
LIMITS:            Ashford Avenue between Southfield Avenue and Saw Mill River Road (Rt.9A). Entrance Ramp to the Northbound Saw Mill River Parkway from Ashford Avenue.
WHAT:              Bridge joint repair work.
IMPACTS:        There will be a single lane closure of Ashford Avenue in each direction within the above limits. The Entrance Ramp to the Northbound Saw Mill River Parkway from Ashford Avenue will be closed to motorists. With a posted detour utilizing Saw Mill River Road (Rt.9A) to Lawrence Street to the Saw Mill River Parkway.
WHEN:              The lane closures will take place on Thursday, November 20, Friday November 21, and Monday, November 24 and Tuesday, November 25, 2014 between the hours of 9:30 AM and 3:30 PM.
                            The Entrance Ramp Closure will take place Wednesday, November 19 thru Friday, November 21
                            and Monday, November 24 and Tuesday November 25, 2014 between the hours of
                            9:30 AM and 3:30 PM.
WHO:                Westchester County Department of Public Works and Transportation contract # 12-537. For additional information please contact Westchester County Traffic Engineering Division at                             (914) 995-2555.
In addition, The Ashford Avenue QuickNews Link has been established and you can sign up via a link on  www.westchestergov.com/ashfordavenuebridge or http://www3.westchestergov.com/subscribe. Please check off the box “Ashford Avenue Bridge Project”.

The Mobile Shredder is Coming to Hastings-on-Hudson Dear Neighbor,

Some examples of documents that should be shredded before being thrown out for recycling include old bills and invoices, driver licenses, expired credit cards, bank and store receipts, pre-approved credit card applications, old tax returns and supporting documents, loan applications, bank statements, school records, etc.Papers from businesses or commercial enterprises will not be accepted.To speed up the process, residents must remove all metal clips, fasteners, binders, folders and hard covers and place the papers loosely in a box. Hard covers – cardboard or plastic covers on items such as ledger books, marble composition books and hard-cover books will not be accepted. Residents may rip away pages from these hard cover books for shredding and throw the covers in their household trash.

One of the best ways to minimize the risk of identity theft, one of the fastest growing crimes in the nation, is to take the step of shredding documents before disposing of them. This prevents thieves from stealing and using your unique identifying information such as your name, address, phone number, credit card number or social security number. To help combat identity theft, Westchester County government put a Mobile Shredder into service several years ago. Unlike a home shredder that can only handle a limited number of sheets of paper at a time, this powerful piece of equipment pulverizes entire boxes of files at a time!  Since it was first put into service, thousands of residents have brought their confidential papers to be shredded and hundreds of tons of paper have been recycled. The Mobile Shredder will be in Hastings-on-Hudson on June 1 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. 134 Southside Avenue (Zinsser Parking Lot) I encourage you to protect yourself from being an identity theft victim and take advantage of this opportunity to safely dispose of old documents and files you no longer need or use. The Mobile Shredder is a free service. The county offers it not only to Westchester residents but to local municipalities and Westchester’s public schools that once had to pay private shredding companies to dispose of their confidential files safely.  This is yet another example that demonstrates the county’s commitment to developing strategies to share services with local municipalities in order to reduce costs and save taxpayer dollars. For more information on the Mobile Shredder and the county’s entire recycling program, please visit http://environment.westchestergov.com/residents/recycling-events/mobile-shredder Sincerely,   With Memorial Day Weekend on the horizon, Westchester County’s three beaches and four pools await your arrival this summer!

BEACHES

Croton Point Park, Croton Point Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson – (914) 862-5290 Schedule:

  • May 25 – June 16: open Saturdays and Sundays and Memorial Day
  • June 21 – Aug. 18: open Wednesday through Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday)*
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., no admittance after 6 p.m.

Fees:

  • Swimming is free
  • Parking $5 with a County Park Pass and $10 without Pass

Glen Island Park, Pelham Road, New Rochelle – (914) 813-6720 Schedule:

  • May 25 – June 16: open Saturdays and Sundays and Memorial Day
  • June 21 – Aug. 18: open Wednesday through Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday)*
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., no admittance after 6 p.m.

Fees:

  • $4 for adults and $3 for children ages 5 to 11 with a valid Westchester County Park Pass; children under 5 admitted free.
  • Seniors pay $2 on weekdays only (except holidays) with a valid Westchester County Senior Citizen Park Pass.
  • Parking $5 — Westchester County Park Pass required for admittance

Playland Beach at Playland Park, Playland Parkway, Rye – (914) 813-7010 Schedule:

  • June 21 –Aug. 18:  open Wednesday through Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday)*
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., no admittance after 6 p.m.

Fees:

  • $4 adults and $3 children ages 5 to 11 with a valid Westchester County Park Pass; under 5 years old are free.
  • $3 Seniors on weekdays only (except holidays) with a Westchester County Senior Citizen Park Pass
  • Park Pass not required for entry.
  • Parking: $5 weekdays ($1 seniors with a senior I.D.), $7 weekends and $10 holidays
POOLS

Saxon Woods Park, White Plains – (914) 995-4480 Schedule:

  • June 21 – Aug. 18: open seven days a week*
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., no admittance after 6 p.m.
  • Park Pass or proof of county residency required

Fees:

  • $6 for adults, $4 for children 12 and under with a valid Westchester County Park Pass, $4 for seniors on weekdays only with a valid Westchester County Senior Park Pass (includes parking)

The Brook at Tibbetts Brook Park, Yonkers – (914) 231-2865 Schedule:

  • June 21 – Aug. 18: open seven days a week*
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., no admittance after 6 p.m.
  • Park Pass or proof of county residency required

Fees:

  • $8 for adults, $5 for children under 12 with a valid Westchester County Park Pass, and $5 for seniors weekdays only with a valid Westchester County Senior Park Pass
  • Parking: $5

Willson’s Waves at Willson’s Woods Park, Mount Vernon – (914) 813-6990 Schedule:

  • June 21 – Aug. 18: open seven days a week*
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., no admittance after 6 p.m.
  • Park Pass or proof of county residency required

Fees:

  • $8 for adults, $5 for children under 12 with a valid Westchester County Park Pass, and $5 for seniors weekdays only (parking included) with a valid Westchester County Senior Park Pass

Playland Pool at Playland Park, Rye – (914 813-7010 Schedule:

  • June 21 – Aug. 18: open Wednesday through Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday) Hours: 11 a.m. – 6:30 p.m., no admittance after 6 p.m.

Fees:

  • $6 adults, $5 with a Park Pass; $4 children 12 and under, $3.50 with a Park Pass; children under 5 are free.
  • Seniors with a Westchester County Senior Citizen Park Pass pay $3 on weekdays only (except holidays).
  • Parking: $5 weekdays ($1 seniors with a senior I.D.), $7 weekends and $10 holidays

*Schedule changes Aug. 19. Check for updates at westchestergov.com/parks. County Park Pass holders are eligible for a Season Swim Pass, which allows unlimited admission to Glen Island beach and all pools except Playland. For more information, go to westchestergov.com/parks. For public bus transportation availability, visit westchestergov.com/beelinebus. In order to do additional pavement repairs in the northbound travel lane, the NB Bronx River Parkway (BRP) will be closed from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM on Monday May 20 and Tuesday May 21, 2013. The NB BRP will be closed at the Sprain Brook Parkway, but some local access is being maintained  The details are as follows:

  • There will be no access from the 6 lane portion of the NB Bronx River Parkway to the 4 lane portion of the NB Bronx River Parkway at the Sprain Brook Parkway.
  • All Traffic will be diverted onto the Sprain Brook Parkway and then Central Park Avenue (NY 100) all the way to White Plains. [This is designed to lessen the impact and the volume of diverted traffic to Harney Road, Scarsdale Avenue and East Parkway in Eastchester & Scarsdale.]
  • NB BRP will be accessible to local traffic at the following locations (between the Sprain Brook Parkway and Harney Road) at all times:
    • Entrances from Paxton Ave, Elm Street, Scarsdale Road, Thompson Street and Leewood Drive will be open.
    • All NB traffic will be diverted at Harney Road to Scarsdale Avenue and East Parkway, reentering the NB BRP at Crane Road.
    • The NB BRP will be open to traffic at Crane Road and all points north.

Dear Neighbor, Today, Thursday May 2, 2013 the southbound joint on the Warburton Avenue Bridge is being repaired. As a result, the following parking restrictions are in place: On Thursday May 2, 2013 from 9AM to 3 PM  No Parking will be allowed on the southbound side of the Warburton Avenue Bridge from West Main Street to the mid span of the Warburton Avenue Bridge. Additionally, in order to accommodate residents and business owners the alternate side of the street parking for this day will be suspended. Thank you for your cooperation, Dear Neighbors, Major portions of both the Northbound (NB) and Southbound (SB) Bronx River Parkway will be closed from 10 PM Friday May 3 to 8 PM Saturday May 4.  These closures are necessary to shift traffic to allow for the construction of Piers 1, 2 & 3 as well as construction of drilled soldier piles for the West Abutment and subsequent construction of drilled mini-piles for the South Abutment. Upon opening the roadway at 8 PM on Saturday May 4, there will be only 1 lane open in each direction for the duration of the project (until 2015).  In addition, Exit 12 from the NB BRP to Crane Road will be closed, also until the completion of the project. This area of the Bronx River Parkway will be fully available for Bicycle Sunday (10 AM to 2 PM on May 5) although bicycles will also be restricted to one lane in each direction.


Weekend Closure As stated above, major portions of both the Northbound and Southbound Bronx River Parkway will be closed from 10 PM Friday May 3 to 8 PM Saturday May 4.  This closure is necessary to shift the roadway into a new traffic pattern (one lane in each direction for the duration of the project) and to facilitate construction activities on the south end of the project.

  • Northbound Closure
    • NB BRP will be accessible to local traffic at the following locations (between the Sprain Brook Parkway and Harney Road) at all times:
    • Entrances from Paxton Ave, Elm Street, Scarsdale Road, Thompson Street and Leewood Drive will be open.
    • All NB traffic will be detoured at Harney Road to Scarsdale Avenue and East Parkway, reentering the NB BRP at Crane Road.
    • The NB BRP will be open to traffic at Crane Road and all points north.
  • Southbound Closure
    • There will be no access to the SB BRP, in White Plains, south of the County Center.
    • All Traffic will be detoured onto Central Avenue, south to the Sprain Brook Parkway.
    • Entrances to the Southbound BRP at Main Street & Fenimore Road will be closed.
    • The SB Bronx River Parkway will be open at Ardsley Road and points south.

Traffic Pattern Changes

  • Exit Ramp Closure
    • Starting Saturday May 4 at 8 PM Northbound Exit 12 at Crane Road will be closed until construction completion in 2015.
    • SB BRP Exit 12 at Crane Road will remain open.
    • The Entrance to the NB Bronx River Parkway at Crane Road will remain open.
  • NB & SB Lane Closures on the Bronx River Parkway
    • One lane will be closed in both the northbound and southbound direction of the Bronx River Parkway approaching the Crane Road Bridge.  These lanes remain closed until construction completion in 2015.
    • Delays can be expected Northbound during the weekday AM peak period and Southbound during the weekday PM peak period.
    • Two Variable Message Signs, displaying anticipated travel times will be running during these hours.

Sincerely, Dear Neighbor: Motorists who utilize the Bronx River Parkway are advised that all northbound lanes of the parkway will be closed daily between 9:30 am and 3:30 pm from Tuesday, April 23 through Friday, April 25 between Harney Road (Exit 10) and Crane Road (Exit 12) to facilitate subsurface investigations for the Bronx River Parkway Crane Road bridge replacement.  With that stretch of the parkway northbound lanes closed, it could severely impact the few alternate routes on local roads, particularly Scarsdale Avenue and Garth Road, and including the Ardsley Road / Popham Road corridor.

For additional information, please contact the Traffic Engineering Division at 914-995-2555, or visit www.westchestergov.com/dpw
Sincerely,

Dear Neighbor, It’s time to register for the Great Saw Mill River Clean-Up!  Pitch in for some serious spring cleaning. Help us remove trash and invasive vines that are damaging habitat along the Saw Mill River. Saturday, May 11, 2013 from 10am-1pm Here’s how to Register. Two simple steps: Step 1: If you already know what site you are interested in or where your group or family and friends want to work, skip ahead to Step 2! If not, click on the following link (Google Map) to find a site. Google Map of Cleanup Sites  Note: The map shows ALL the Riverkeeper Sweep 2013 partner sites INCLUDING ours. The Great Saw Mill River Cleanup sites are the GREEN pins on the map and are grouped together toward the middle of the list. Step 2: Click below on your site choice to register. Great Saw Mill River Cleanup: Woodlands Lake/VE Macy Park, Irvington Great Saw Mill River Cleanup: Lawrence Street, Dobbs Ferry/Ardsley Great Saw Mill River Cleanup: Bridge Street, Ardsley Great Saw Mill River Cleanup: Farragut Avenue, Hastings-on-Hudson Great Saw Mill River Cleanup: Odell Avenue & South County Trailway, Yonkers Great Saw Mill River Cleanup: Walsh Road, Yonkers Great Saw Mill River Cleanup: Ann Street, Yonkers Other Details: ·     We will provide all of the tools you need. They will be at the site location ready-to-go at 10am on Cleanup Day. ·     If you register with us by April 26th we can put your group’s name on the back of our event T-shirt. Each registered group will get a few shirts. ·     You can order shirts for $7/each. Call or email Ann-Marie to arrange (914) 375-2151 or annmarie@groundworkhv.org If you don’t find your site listed, or know of other sites where trash has collected and want to set up that site, call or email Ann-Marie(914) 375-2151 or annmarie@groundworkhv.org. Sincerely, Dear Friends and Neighbors, The Westchester County Charter Revision Commission will hold a public forum on Wednesday April 3, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. at the Westchester County Center, conference room “H.”  The Commission will present a summary of its work to date and accept public comment on the issues being discussed by the Commission.  I invite all interested residents to attend and share their thoughts on that date. Established by Act of the County Board of Legislators in March, 2011, the Commission was appointed to study, review and recommend changes to the Westchester County Charter and Administrative Code (“Charter”).  The Commission established four Focus Groups to examine discrete aspects of the structure of County government under the Charter: 1. Budget/Finance 2. Charter/Code 3. Local Government/County Government 4. Executive Branch/Legislative Branch Each Focus Group has completed a report outlining proposals for consideration by the entire Commission.  Among the issues recommended for Commission discussion are Budget Process Reforms; County-wide Assessment; the Appointment Confirmation Process; the Role of the County Attorney in Representing both the County Executive and County Board of Legislators; Changing the Office of County Clerk from an Elected to an Appointed Position; Public Participation in the Legislative Process through Initiative and Referendum; Restructuring of the Executive Function; Creation of the Position of Intergovernmental Relations Liaison; Establishment of a Council of Governments; Mandating Periodic Charter Review; and the Municipal Guarantee of County Tax Collections. The Focus Group Reports are available online at http://westchesterlegislators.com/sub-committees.html. During the next several months, the Commission will debate these and other issues, and prepare its recommendations for Charter change.  The Commission’s final report is to be submitted to the County Board of Legislators and the County Executive on or before December 15, 2013. Your perspective on Charter change and the proposals set forth above will be of great value to the Commission’s work.  We look forward to your participation at the April 3, 2013 forum. Sincerely, Infrastruc​ture Projects for Westcheste​r’s Rivertowns Need to Move Forward. Dear Neighbor, Along with Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Chairman Ken Jenkins, I called on County Executive Rob Astorino last week to quickly move forward on important infrastructure projects, including bridge and road repairs, slated for the county’s municipalities along the Hudson River. At question are a number of capital projects—big and small, some new and others with funding approved several years ago—aimed at providing repairs and upgrades to bridges and roadways in Hastings-on Hudson, Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry and Irvington. The projects have been approved by the BOL, and in some cases the design for the projects has been completed but otherwise the projects have not advanced very far or even commenced yet. The lack of progress on the Warburton Avenue Bridge in Hastings-on-Hudson presents cause for concern. The bridge, rated a 4.5 on the New York State Department of Transportation’s 1-7 scale, is in need of serious repair.  Work was supposed to begin in 2012, and then was moved to spring 2013.  Now, with spring 2013 just a week away, design is not yet 100% complete, preconstruction meetings have not been scheduled, and the construction contractor has not been selected. This bridge has structural problems that need addressing now, before more extensive work is required because of the passage of time and further neglect. We don’t want the Warburton Avenue Bridge to turn into a second Ashford Avenue Bridge—with an repair bill now estimated to be $23 million. And safety issues with the bridge on Warburton Avenue, including low railings and crumbling sidewalks, put people on the bridge and those underneath it at risk. The history of the Ashford Avenue Bridge suggests a pattern of neglect with bridge repair projects. After putting this repair project on hold after taking office in 2010, the Astorino Administration moved the construction start date back to 2015.  Since June 22, 2012, when chunks of concrete fell on the New York State Thruway, and damaged six cars (but thankfully causing no injuries), the County has been forced to spend over a million dollars on temporary repairs and pier stabilization.  Meanwhile, the bridge must hold together for two more years before the main repair project can begin. The taxpayers must risk enduring extensive emergency closures of one of the most important traffic arteries in the Rivertowns, and the expenditure of more taxpayer dollars for temporary fixes, if the Ashford Avenue bridge is further weakened by hard winters and regular use before construction takes place. In 2011, the BOL added over $5 million to the 2012 Capital Projects Budget for the Ashford Avenue project; and the Board already approved over $9 million for construction on the Warburton Avenue span. But only a small amount of the money, or none of it, has been spent. It’s time for these projects to start moving forward.  And I promise that, as your Legislator, I will continue to shine light on these and other neglected projects around our County. Sincerely, Mary Jane Shimsky Westchester County Legislator, 12th District. Improving Utilities’ Storm Emergency Response. Dear Neighbor, I’d like to update my constituents on recent efforts on the County level, to improve utilities’ responsiveness to natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. The Environment and Energy Committee of the Board of Legislators called in officials from Con Ed and NYSEG (the electric company in Northern Westchester) late last year, to discuss problems with the utilities’ response. I presented some of the ideas discussed at this meeting to the Moreland Commission at its January 24 hearing at SUNY Purchase.  Governor Cuomo established the commission to investigate utilities’ response and recommend reforms. Dozens of elected officials, and representatives of homeowners associations and civic associations, recounted their constituents’ experiences, identified problem areas and suggested improvements. My Moreland Commission testimony focused on three major areas.  First, overreliance on “mutual aid” from utilities across the country has added many days to the average amount of time customers must wait for their power to be restored.  This delay is unacceptable; utilities must replenish their local labor supplies. Second, organization — including the dispatching of crews — was woefully inadequate.  Now, not the next storm, is the time to learn from experience and refine organizational flow charts, devise a system of zones which makes sense, and so on. Third, communication, in all directions and among all levels, was abysmal in Sandy’s aftermath.  Improvements in technology and corporate culture are needed to improve the flow of accurate information to customers, government officials and first responders. Given current climate trends, we can count on having to deal with widespread power outages due to severe storms in the future.  Utility companies are corporations, whose main mission is to generate profit for shareholders; they cannot be trusted to perform in-depth study and implement fundamental change on their own. It is therefore the job of government to make sure that utilities do everything possible to minimize service disruptions to their customers. I thank the Governor and the members of the Moreland Commission for their efforts, and wish them success in their efforts to keep our region functioning. Shortly after the Moreland Committee hearing, our local media reported on Con Ed’s request for nearly $400 million in rate increases, which the utility claimed were needed to fund improvements to their emergency response. Not surprisingly, most consumers are outraged, because there should be plenty of funds available in the corporate coffers to provide acceptable service – including prompt restoration of power after a storm.  I plan to monitor the rate application process on behalf of my constituents. Click here for my full statement – http://westchesterlegislators.com/media-center/2226-westchester-legislator-shimsky-calls-for-major-improvements-to-storm-emergency-response.html. Sincerely, MaryJane Shimsky Westchester County Legislator – 12th District. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, at the request of the State of New York, has approved a 30-day extension for survivors to register for federal disaster assistance. The new registration deadline for Hurricane Sandy survivors in New York is Feb. 27, 2013. How to register: Individuals also can register with FEMA online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or via smartphone or tablet by going to m.fema.gov or by downloading the FEMA app. Survivors also can call 800-621-3362 (TTY 800-462-7585). People who use 7-1-1 Relay or Video Relay Services (VRS) should call 800-621-3362. The toll-free telephone numbers operate 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. EST, seven days a week until further notice. Survivors who have questions regarding the registration process, the status of their application and available disaster assistance programs are encouraged to contact FEMA. Dear Neighbor, Once again, The Volunteer Center of United Way  and Westchester County call on those who live and work in Westchester to use volunteer service as a way to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On Saturday, January 19, 2013, people from all walks of life will gather together through volunteer projects throughout Westchester. Join hundreds of volunteers to help address pressing issues like hunger, poverty, environmental justice and health education through service to seniors, youth, the disabled, veterans and victims of domestic violence. With 21 different local projects to choose from, most are family-friendly and a great way to introduce the value of service to everyone. Presented below, is a partial list of the projects in our part of the County, commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Assist with “I have a dream” Mobiles – The Institutes of Applied Human Dynamics 10:00AM to 12:30PM – Tarrytown Bake Friendship Cookies – The Institutes of Applied Human Dynamics 10:30AM to 12:30PM – Tarrytown Cards for Veterans and more – Grinton I. Will Library 2:30PM to 4:00PM – Yonkers Create Clay Bowls for Hunger 10:00AM to 11:00AM – Greenburgh Nature Center, Scarsdale 11:00AM to 12:00PM – Greenburgh Nature Center, Scarsdale 11:00AM to 12:30PM – Arts Westchester, White Plains (Closed – Full) 1:00PM to 2:30PM – Arts Westchester, White Plains Help Youth Create an MLK Banner – White Plains Youth Bureau 10:00AM to 2:00PM – White Plains Martin Luther King Jr. Learning Project – My Sister’s Place (Closed – Full) 9:00AM to 12:00PM – Yonkers Painting Residences – YMCA of White Plains (2 Shifts) 9:30AM to 12:00PM – White Plains 1:00PM to 4:00PM – White Plains Science Barge Clean Up – Groundwork Hudson Valley 10:00AM to 2:00PM – Yonkers Visit www.volunteer-center.org or call 914.948.4452 for more information. This is an opportunity for folks of all ages so please help spread the word. Looking forward to working with you on the 19th. Dear Neighbors and Friends: I, along with all of my colleagues on the Westchester County Board of Legislators, am sympathetic to the plight of Ferncliff Manor, a residential school for severely disabled children, which has outgrown its current home in Yonkers. Although Ferncliff is not under the jurisdiction of Westchester County, we remain committed to ensuring that the school’s disabled students find a new home. To this end, I have been contacted by a number of my constituents about the future use of a six acre parcel of land in Greenburgh which is the former WestHELP site (WestHELP ran a shelter for homeless families there). This parcel of land is owned by Westchester County, which leased it to the Town of Greenburgh for over 20 years, on the condition that if the shelter ever shut down, the site was to be used for low and moderate income housing. WestHELP vacated the site in September 2011, after the Astorino Administration cancelled the County’s contract with that organization. For the past 15 months, the site – which had provided Greenburgh taxpayers with roughly $20 million in revenues over the life of the lease — has sat unoccupied, not providing any revenue. Since that time, the Town has lobbied the County to permit Ferncliff Manor, a private corporation under contract with the State, to take over this site. It has been stated that the Town will be paid $500,000 annually by the State of New York. However, Ferncliff has acknowledged that the ultimate decision on the rent amount will be made by the State of New York, which will fund the project. As of now, the Town has no written commitment from the State, either approving the site for the new school or guaranteeing the amount of rent that our taxpayers can expect. Moreover, Ferncliff will have to tear down all of the residential buildings on the site, at a time when multiple affordable housing developers have expressed an interest, in response to the Town’s Request for Proposals, to rehabilitate those buildings for their intended use as low and moderate income housing. There is no question that the children of Ferncliff need a new home. Further, it would be best for everyone concerned — children, staff, and families — if their home remains in Westchester County. A lease with Ferncliff would entail the demolition of the taxpayer-funded residential buildings currently on the site, without a penny’s compensation; and, judging from the interest expressed in them by other developers, those buildings are still eminently usable. If, on top of losing most of the fixed assets on the site, the State cannot pay the $500,000 annual rent, we taxpayers will be all the poorer: a site that used to net the Town over a million dollars in rent a year will result in no appreciable gain for Town or County taxpayers, and a valuable income-generating asset – the housing – will be lost. As a County Legislator, with a fiduciary obligation to maintain the value of County property, and as a Town and County taxpayer myself, I know that we cannot afford such a result. If the State and Ferncliff were to agree that the school should be moved to the WestHELP site, obtaining written assurances from the State that they would pay the $500,000 figure would go a long way in ensuring that the taxpayers would be properly taken care of. Further, the structuring of any such deal must ensure that the taxpayers don’t lose all value from the $14 million of residential buildings that would have to be torn down to make room for Ferncliff. It is important to add that Ferncliff has asked the Board of Legislators to continue the fact-finding process on a second potential site for the school, Site “D” on the County’s Valhalla campus. Continuing to consider all options until a final commitment is made by the State is the only prudent thing for Ferncliff to do, and we are working together to help achieve this important goal. However, it should be clear to all concerned that no agreement to begin any demolition on the WestHELP site would be appropriate until all relevant commitments have been made by Ferncliff and the State. That is why I have asked the Town to include a “hold harmless” clause in any agreement they make with Ferncliff. Such a clause would guarantee that County taxpayers will be compensated if Ferncliff were to demolish existing buildings and thereafter not occupy the site. Supervisor Feiner has been receptive to this suggestion (and to the rent guarantee as well). There are still other unanswered questions that will ultimately play a role in deciding who will occupy the former WestHELP site, including the Governor’s office’s statement that the use of the property is “a local question”; and federal contempt of court litigation concerning the good faith of Westchester County in promoting fair and affordable housing, good faith that might be called further into question if the County agrees to tearing down existing housing for another purpose. This second issue is of major importance to taxpayers, as a finding that Westchester violated its affordable housing settlement with the federal government could be financially ruinous to the County. I promise to keep you informed as these issues move forward. As complex as this issue appears to be, please be assured I will do all I can to make certain that Ferncliff finds a new home in Westchester County, that the taxpayers receive value from the former WestHELP site, and that the County manages to maintain its commitment to fair and affordable housing. Sincerely, Westchester County Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, 12th District

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