YONKERS WATCHDOG.

DELFIM HEUSLER ENDORSEMENT OF RE-ELECTION OF COUNTY LEGISLATOR GORDON BURROWS.
I write this letter of my support and my personal endorsement of  Westchester County Legislator Gordon Burrows in the 15th Legislative District. We need someone up for us in White Plains like Legislator  Burrows. Having run against Gordon twice in the last four years, I  know how much of an advocate he is for our County and our City of  Yonkers in his many years of public service.I have seen in the last two years a better representation in Legislator Burrows and that is why I endorse him 1000% and will be  there to help him in anyway I can to get him re-elected.

I also praise the appointment of his new aide, Carol Bengis who I  believe will continue to help Legislator Burrows moving forward and I  feel Legislator Burrows office is better with Carol Bengis in it.

I will not be running for this seat this year and probably will not  run for office anytime soon due to health issues, but I will remain active in our City and County with my blog The Yonkers Watchdog and my  Yonkers Watchdog radio show on Blog Talk Radio as well. I will look to  serve my City and County via different boards in our City and County to positively give back to the City and County that I love so much. I
will start serving on the Yonkers Board of Education’s Policy Committee starting this month.

Delfim A. Heusler
Yonkers, N.Y.

Yonkers Homelessness, Whatever Happened to a Sharing Community (part 1 of 3).
My name is Laura Case and I am homeless. I currently stay at Sharing Community and for the past two years I have been trying to fix/write about the Westchester county homeless system, a system that often views us as commodities or worse. (it costs far more to have someone in a drop-in then it would to house them) http://contractsearch.westchestergov.com/contractsearch/advsearch.jsp?dept=*&vendor=homeless&amount=&mamount=&CTYPE=EXPENSE&fyear=&tyear=&srch=Often the system is set up to not view us at all, out of site out of mind. I have grown tired of watching one group blame another as part of various political agendas while little is done, and all are responsible. In Yonkers case however, the problems are coming from the city. Yonkers has begun a quiet, ruthless, quest to drive the homeless community out of the downtown area. A little of this has leaked over to the public in the form of a somewhat confused Guardian article as well as several other articles referenced in this one that mention the general state of homelessness, and the closure (due to donor apathy not the city) of the Gospel Mission, an entity that is willing to sell its empty building for sharing communities use if someone will step up and pay for it. However the full story has not been told, mostly because Yonkers refuses to admit what is going on, the county(which has its own issues) hasn’t spoken up beyond a letter, http://www.yonkerstribune.com/2014/12/the-hezitorial-analysis-yonkers-city-hall-takes-issue-with-county-over-homeless-population-at-the-sharing-community-by-hezi-aris and even some supporters of the homeless have not been too forthcoming.Each time the recent closure of the Sharing Community’s basement has been mentioned the city has claims something along the lines of ““The closing of certain illegal occupancies at the Sharing Community’s 1 Hudson Street location,… was not unexpected or without cause, but rather a result of several material code violations and a paramount need to protect the safety of those utilizing the facility.” and that “there is no effort in Yonkers to close facilities serving the City’s (CoY’s) homeless population.”(Yonkers Tribune http://www.yonkerstribune.com/2014/12/the-hezitorial-analysis-yonkers-city-hall-takes-issue-with-county-over-homeless-population-at-the-sharing-community-by-hezi-arisThis is ridiculous, to justify depriving around 70 people of a place to shower, to deprive 40 of a place to sleep, then blame the shelter when it didn’t throw those people on the street is far from humane or the actions of an entity interested in our safety. Especially when the reason the “occupancies” there for 20 years were “illegal” is because of an unconstitutional piece of code.In 2010 the Yonkers zoning code was quietly amended to say the following. http://ecode360.com/1511522743-73-H

“Philanthropic institutions providing social services are neither emergency shelters, overnight shelters for the homeless nor health-care facilities and shall not provide any sleeping accommodations nor health-care services.”

43-35

Offices for philanthropic institutions.

(1)

Permitted offices shall be used for administrative functions only.

(2)

No residential facilities, nor emergency or overnight shelters, shall be provided.

(3)

No food shall be prepared, nor any goods distributed, nor shall health-care services be provided to the population which the philanthropic organization serves.

And

As accessory uses to a place of worship, the provision of social services shall not be permitted in any residential district and shall only be permitted as an accessory use to a place of worship in other districts subject to the special use permit requirements for philanthropic institutions providing social services as provided for in § 43-73H of this chapter.

In other words through the mouth of Christina Gilmartin, the mayor’s secretary “The Zoning ordinance was revised in the year 2000. Chapter 43, section 43-73 H (7) specifically prohibits a homeless shelter causing a requirement for a variance.” I doubt I could have explained it better myself. I will be happy to forward her email as well as any other emails mentioned in this article to anyone who would like to see it.

What all that means in English instead of Legaleeze, is that homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and medical clinics are not allowed in the entire city, at least not unless they want to go without offices. Churches are only allowed to have social services if they adhere by those rules. (Though what social services they can provide without food, shelter or medicine is very murky indeed.)

 

Further as Ms. Gilmartin states, the Sharing Community could NOT have had a Certificate of occupancy without a requirement for variance, i.e. special permission from the city. Mrs. Lyons the director of the sharing community informs me that they asked about one several times and were always turned down. This piece of code passed in 2010 under the Amicone administration when the mayor was trying to review the activities of non-profits in the area. Reviewing nonprofits is good, but this piece of code is not only bad, given the separation church and state it’s unconstitutional! Mrs. Lyons the director of Sharing Community (SC from now on) also told me that SC and other shelters were in no way informed of the minimal process or decision until it was made. It isn’t clear what organizations might have variances from the law, but any that don’t, technically could be shut any time under this, that includes soup kitchens shelters, and clothing distributors. I am shocked this has not provoked a national uproar.

For some background, The Sharing Community at 1 Hudson Street (Getty Square) http://www.thesharingcommunity.org/operates a drop-in for men (or it did)and woman, the last nonreferal shelter in Yonkers after the closure of the gospel mission, a residential shelter, transitional housing as , a day program and a lunch program which is our only source of food that is open seven days a week. (the YMCA serves us dinner Monday to Friday, but while I am thankful the last time I was there diner was a handful of pasta, a handful of string beans, and half a plate full of plain shredded cheese, the kind you use on tacos.) Due to the code and space not all the programs could be in the same building, so we were taken at night on a van trip in a seat belt less rickety van with a seat that until recently fell backward and forward, usually the smallest client (I’m 4’9, so guess who) stands up. Men were taken to Holy Cross Church women to Broadway Manor a Sharing Community Building whose upper floors have housing for formerly homeless clients. In the winter we are picked up at the day program building at 1 Hudson Street. Apparently because of complaints from the restaurant across the street the Yonkers Ballroom as well as others (one women, ironically formerly homeless told me that the site of fifty of us together scares her) we have to walk as soon as the weather gets the least bit of warmth to the chicken island parking lot to be picked up. Some of us have walkers, and medical conditions that make event he short walk painful.

The city accelerated its war on the homeless by closing down Holy Cross Church as a shelter site around October, just as the winter was beginning displacing 35-50 men depending on the night. Holy Cross is a small tight knit family congregation on Locust Hill rd. (http://www.holycrossyonkers.org/) that rented space to the Sharing Community for their men’s drop-in program for years. According to peers I spoke to who stayed there, there were few if any issues with conditions. The city’s excuse for shutting it down was that it was in a church, or as Mrs. Lyons tells me Mrs. Kimball the city’s development commissioner told the vestry board “you can either have a church or a shelter, not both”.

 

A member of the vestry board speaking on the condition of anonymity told me that the board was dragged down to a city meeting where a city official (possibly Mrs. Kimball) said they were in danger of losing their tax exempt status if they did not break their contract. How a city employee could affect federal tax status in unknown but the threat was very effective, certainly. After a short extension period the contract was dropped. It would have been almost impossible to find another building to house the men with the code, so they are sleeping on the floor or in cots at 1 Hudson Street, Unless the city wanted SC to put them out on the street there was nowhere else to go. The congregation was told also according to the vestry board member that in Yonkers it is illegal to have a shelter in a church in Yonkers, by doing so they were breaking the law. The vestry board member told me that the church wanted to help the homeless but felt it had no choice but to terminate the contract. When asked about the situation Mrs. Kimball stated: “As far as we know there is no other issues with the sharing community other than the ones they are currently working to correct. ” which is not really an answer.

Three months ago just as winter was beginning the city issued a building code violation from the basement of the sharing community’s main building at 1 Hudson Street. The basement where the host day program (partially funded by the city) was held, where sharing community has spent money on renovations that according to Mrs. Lyons would make the cities few valid complaints void, and where the showers were located. The cities reasoning printed in the top of this article, is that there was no co the city’s fault mainly as that there were people sleeping in the basement if this occurred it was only because of Holy Cross’s closure and that there were no fire sprinklers. The irony is that if the city was concerned about our safety it would not have closed Holy Cross, nor would it have watched as the homeless went without showers for close to three months now.

Mrs. Lyons told me that when she asked if people could use the basement just for showers she was told that if she tried she would be issued a criminal summons. There is a shower in the residential program upstairs, and I do wonder why that hasn’t been used, however DSS regulations probably prohibit this, as well as the fact that 120 or more people would have to share one shower if this were the case as I will explain I am far more angry that the city has a bathhouse that is refuses to allow the homeless to use, despite the fact that it is supposed to be open to the public. Ironically one of the biggest complaints I encountered from city figures was body odor, or lack of hygiene. The owner of Nawaab and the Yonkers ballroom told me one of the reasons he feels we scare his customers is our offensive body odors and sloppy way of dressing (he has pictures on his phone of us to “prove it”, and told me he has sent them to the city) Because the basement was closed. the day program Host had reduced hours as well, because they are technically not supposed to have us upstairs either. Therefore the program that had once closed at 10 and opened at 2 began to close at eight and open at 5. Because of the bad weather Mrs. Lyons is letting the program open at 2 again, but we are still now out for the morning hours actually increasing our presence in a city that seems to want us gone. It should be pointed out that the city funds half of host (the county the rest), and I believe their funding is coming up so it is possible money is a factor here.

The Yonkers bathhouse has been open to the 1930s and while most people believe it is closed it is not in fact at least not technically, Andrea Velazquez the city’s rec. coordinator said through email: “The bathhouse is open on a limited class schedule.” but there is another function as well. According to several city figures, including Ms. Velasquez over the phone the bathhouse is supposed to be open (according to some sources from) 7-9) for citizens who want to shower or bathe, including the homeless. Ms. Velazquez on the phone seemed unclear about what times the bathhouse is supposed to be open to the public, however she agreed that it is, if one pays two dollars. When I went to the facility it was locked, the lights were on but no one answered the door. This went on about a week, until I started calling city officials. One day (as I was taking pictures of the abandoned seeming facility) a man ran out. He introduced himself as the worker in charge of the bathhouse, and told me that I could come twice a week.

However he said he couldn’t accept any other homeless people, beyond maybe 1 or two, when I asked him why he said with genuine regret that “they” didn’t want people from the sharing community using the facility. He wouldn’t specify who they were, but given who he works for it was pretty clear. Department Officials at first ignored my emails, then told me the building was open for rec. swim hours, then told me it was open for showers and they were not sure why the homeless were not being let in though they said the doors had to stay locked, citing personnel concerns, and that certain people might not be let inside. Ms. Velasquez did seem genuine, telling me that she would try to set up a time with the parks commissioner and sharing community too allow us shower, telling me she would email me later that day ( a Friday two weeks ago. ) .She never did. I do not believe it’s her faulty, however, it’s her bosses the city who don’t want us there. As for the county Mrs. Reynolds the director of housing and homeless services was made aware of the situation after it first occurred by the SC and by emails with me. However when I spoke to Mrs. Reynolds a week or more ago she claimed to be shocked that there were no showers, and resolved to speak to Mrs. Lyons, as if she was to blame. Not that anything has changed since then.

Mrs. Lyons the sharing community’s executive director has been very open with me throughout this whole process, at one holding a meeting with clients and staff to address issues within the shelter and the recent closures. Mrs. Lyons told me told me that the problems with the city began a while ago. The city used to have weekly meeting with the sharing community as the funder of some of their programs including the HOST (day) program. Eventually the meetings stopped, but not before a sit down with Mrs. Kimball, several other officials and Reverend Hamilton the priest who runs Saint John’s Church, the sharing community’s daytime landlord. Local business owners such a certain Yonkers ballroom owner were also present. In the meeting she was told that the homeless would no longer be tolerated in the downtown, and at one point alleges that a city employee turned to father Hamilton and said “why don’t you just break your lease.” (Father Hamilton has not confirmed or denied this for me)

 

There is a definitely a plan to get rid of SC before 2017 as some feel that “One of the goals to improve the downtown area is to relocate the Sharing Community by 2017.” as the notes of the Thursday Lunch Club say. The Thursday Lunch Club is a civic organization whose members include Father Hamilton, Bob Walters, and also Daniel Lipka the head of the bid, while several members do not want to move the Sharing community until a suitable alternative is found such as Father Hamilton and Mr. Walters many want it moved as soon as possible, and one or two expressed views I would describe as scary. (to be related later) http://yonkerstlc.blogspot.com/p/test-page.html At any rate it is a very good resource for the happenings in the city at times hidden from the rest of us. When asked about it Mrs. Gilmartin stated “No city official has come out saying the contract will not be renewed.” which is not really an answer is it?

It appears however that the city can’t even wait until then, since they have taken the Sharing Community to court.

What we know is that the court case concerns the building code violation on the basement. What we don’t know is what a loss in court will mean. An eviction, a fine? Who knows? If the city does it is certainly not taking. I am aware that the next court date is in about 60 days, since the last one was around the 18th of December and “There is a ninety day adjournment in place for the next court appearance for the completion of the Certificate of Occupancy requirements for the Sharing Community.”http://yonkerstlc.blogspot.com/p/test-page.html

But getting information beyond that is immensely difficult, even people open on other topics have been very secretive on this particular issue. The court date is not on the civil, calendar according to the Yonkers court website, and not on the criminal calendar according to an employee at the court house, yet reliable sources and the Thursday Lunch Club Blog quote confirm that it exists, while creating a mystery, what court is it in, and who is presiding? The woman at the court building informed me that is being handled by the corporation council, and those matters are not in fact on the docket for the public to see. When I called the corporation councils office I was told that the man I had to speak to was in court, the receptionist herself was mum on the issue, but she took down my email and told me he would get back to me, this was over a week ago, following a recurrent pattern in this city, he never did. Mrs. Lyons told me that at this point that the sharing community is just trying to get the city to give them until 2017 before kicking them out, hence the 90 day adjournment.

So that is what is happening, which leaves two questions to be addressed in two more articles. First of all why, and secondly, most importantly what can be done about it, and what is being done wrong?

By the way it’s supposed to be in front of Sharing Communicant instead of the title is about the shelter, but it’s also about Yonkers and our society themselves.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

 

SPRING COFFEE
With Your Westchester County Legislator
Catherine Borgia

Do You Have Suggestions? Ideas? Concerns?

Coffees with Catherine Borgia

Saturday, April 25, 2015
The Black Cow Coffee House
4 Old Post Rd S, Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520
10:00AM-12:00NOON

The Black Cow Coffee Co.

 

SPRING COFFEES
With Your Westchester County Legislator
Catherine Borgia

Do You Have Suggestions? Ideas? Concerns?

Coffees with Catherine Borgia Sunday April 19, 2015
Starbucks Coffee
107 N State Rd, Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510
11:30AM-1:30PMSaturday April 25, 2015
The Black Cow Coffee House
4 Old Post Rd S, Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520
10:00AM-12:00NOON

Saturday May 2nd 2015
D’ouro Portuguese Café
123 Main Street, Ossining, NY 10562
10:00AM-12:00NOON

 

Dear Neighbor,

The Board of Legislators Committee on Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing (LPPH) has made a formal request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to suspend the approval process for the expansion of the Algonquin natural gas pipeline that bisects the 1500 acre Blue Mountain Reservation, part of the Westchester County Parks System.  Alongside Legislator Peter Harckham as the Chairman of LPPH Committee, we have been monitoring the Algonquin Pipeline approval process and standing up for Blue Mountain Reserve.

On March 3, 2015 FERC granted a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” to Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC to expand the existing pipeline.

Earlier this week, we requested a rehearing of the application because it is contrary to the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA),the Natural Gas Act (NGA),the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),and NEPA’s implemented regulations.

There are many inadequacies in the FERC report and we believe that there needs to be an intervention to address the following;

•       Lack of a New York State Water Quality Certificate which the CWA expressly requires prior to the issuance of licenses or permits

•       The Environmental Impact Statement did provide sufficient information to allow adequate public review and comment

•       By not adequately considering the numerous adverse impacts of the pipeline project, FERC failed to demonstrate, as the NGA requires, that on balance the projects benefits outweigh the detriments.

As a result of this action I am urging our colleagues at the federal level to take a step back from this fast-tracked approval process.

There are many unanswered questions and concerns from municipal and regional officials as well as the public.  The hasty approval of this certificate to a big natural gas corporation disregards a number of procedural safeguards that exists to ensure the safety and health of our residents.

The folks who live or go hiking around Blue Mountain Reservation may not have the resources of a big energy company but I intend to bring to bear all the influence of my position as a County Legislator to stand up for these residents and protect a local treasure like Blue Mountain Reservation

Sincerely,

_________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Neighbor,

On Friday, January 23 from 9am-12pm at the Westchester County Center, located at 198 Central Avenue, White Plains, the Westchester County Senior Council and the Older Americans Act Advisory Council along with the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services will be hosing the annual Legislative Senior Speak Out to discuss the 2015 New York State and Federal Budgets and the implications for aging services. This event is intended to be a forum for residents to speak their minds and learn more about issues which are important to all members of the community.

Issues to be discussed include Retirement Security, Long-Term Services and Supports, Healthy Aging, Financial Exploitation, Abuse, and Neglect.

For more information please contact the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services at (914) 813-6400 or jsw1@westchestergov.com.

Sincerely,

Dear Neighbor,

Volunteer New York! has teamed up with United Ways in Westchester, Putnam and Rockland to offer over 30 service opportunities in honor of the 2015 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service. The volunteer opportunities that will take place from January 17th-18th will impact and support local causes, such as: Arts & Culture; Children & Youth Education; Civic & Community; Environment; Family Services; Health & Wellness; Hunger & Homelessness; and, Senior services.
Detailed volunteer signup information is at volunteernewyork.org/MLK. This year there are a number of projects that volunteers can do from home, as well as throughout Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam. Many projects are family-friendly and embody the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., like the Share the Dream Collage project that focuses on educating youth through a fun and collaborative hands-on activity. Or the Share the Dream Cake project that can be done from home, and encourages anyone to bake a cake with a ‘confectionary’ message of hope written on it and donate it to a local community organization, like a homeless shelter or police department.
#MLKDay Service Projects taking place Jan. 17-18th:
  • The Sleeping Bag Project (Yonkers)– Create sleeping bags for the homeless.
  • FAFSA Workshop with Latino U College Access, Inc. (White Plains) – Help students secure financial aid by assisting with the complicated application form.
  • 2-1-1 Training (White Plains) – Be prepared to help after a disaster by being pre-trained on United Way of Westchester and Putnam’s 2-1-1 phone system.
  • Reading to End Racism Training Program (Yonkers) – Use literature to end discrimination and bullying.
  • Science Barge Cleanup with Groundwork Hudson Valley (Yonkers) – Help beautify a floating sustainable farm in Yonkers.
  • Create Welcome Bags for My Sisters’ Place (Yonkers) – Support their mission to end domestic violence.
  • Furniture Sharehouse Volunteer (White Plains) – Organize furniture and learn about local income disparity.
  • Arts & Crafts at Burke Rehabilitation (White Plains) – Help patients strengthen their fine-motor skills.
  • CPR Training (Spring Valley) – Learn a life-saving skill with Worldwide Community First Responder, Inc.
  • Pack Cars with Food Deliveries (Pleasantville) – Help Hillside Food Outreach fight hunger by providing food to over 2,100 individuals.
  • Family Volunteer Project to Help the Homeless (Nyack) – Help the Dominican College Alumni Outreach Committee prepare for a Midnight Run.
  • Collect and Sort Donated Food with the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry (Mount Kisco) – A great family opportunity to address hunger in our community head-on.
  • Family Service Project to Help the Homeless (New Rochelle) – Learn about homelessness as a family from Westhab, Inc. and then prepare essentials for children who are staying in shelters.
  • Friendly Visits with Seniors at Somers Nursing Home (Somers) – A great family project for engaging seniors.
  • Intergenerational Project at Atria Rye Brook (Rye Brook) – Create literacy aids for Head Start students with seniors.

For the full list of over 30 active projects which will take place in: Congers, Mount Kisco, New Rochelle, Nyack, Pleasantville, Port Chester, Rye, Rye Brook, Scardsale, Somers, Spring Valley, Stony Point, Valhalla, White Plains, Yonkers, and Yorktown Heights, please visit: http://volunteernewyork.org/MLK

Sincerely,

 

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

This week, the Board of Legislators passed a $1.76 billion budget for 2015. This budget is bad for the people of Westchester because it contains excessive borrowing for operating expenses that will yield big tax hikes, which will be paid with interest, for taxpayers in years to come. Borrowing for operating expenses is like using your credit cards to pay your rent.  It should only be done in the direst of circumstances. Holiday spending is the perfect metaphor for this type of budget: it feels good now but will cost dearly in the near future.

Independent watchdogs like the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee noted the structural imbalance in this “borrow from tomorrow” budget when it was first submitted to the Board of Legislators in November by County Executive Astorino.  Their report cautioned that an unprecedented reliance on borrowing and “one shot” revenue sources to fund current year operating expenses was leading Westchester County to a dangerous, fiscally-irresponsible future.

There is upwards of $25 million in borrowing in the 2015 Budget, including pension costs, raises, and purchase of equipment normally paid for on a pay-when-you-purchase basis. The County Executive’s budget also included  $5 million to replace lost Community Development Block Grant funding from the federal government for our communities (thanks to the County Executive’s intransigence in complying with the housing settlement), and “any other borrowing permitted by law” for operating expenses, according to the County’s budget staff.  This is the very type of borrowing that lead to New York City’s financial crisis in the 1970s.

There are “one shot” revenue sources, such as depleting $6 million of the E911 fund, which is paid for by people on their cell phone bills. Perhaps the biggest omission in the budget is not including money for future labor contract settlements. All of these costs must be burdened by taxpayers in the near future.

These types of gimmicks and short-sighted actions defy the principles of good budgeting. Yet they are the result of a “borrow and spend” budget that offloads the responsibility for today’s spending on to tomorrow’s taxpayers. The Proposed Budget offered no new or innovative program to increase revenue, share services, or find additional ways of conducting the County’s business more efficiently.

And instead of working with one of the two operations who are willing to enter into a public-private relationship to run Playland in 2015, the Administration instead decided to pay an outside consultant $100,000 to study the park, thereby once again delaying the opportunity to make Playland profitable for Westchester.

Democratic Legislators offered $10 million in spending cuts to offset this massive borrowing and begin to make a down payment on a structurally balanced budget. Unfortunately, only a fraction of these cuts are included in the final budget. This $10 million would have forestalled the raid on the E911 reserve and eliminated the need for borrowing for tax certioraris.

I applaud all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for working collaboratively to try to improve this budget. The borrowing for tax certioraris was reduced to $5 million; funding was restored to 2014 levels for Title XX Childcare, a program the keeps low-income families in the labor force and off of more expensive mandated public assistance; a wasteful bond act to fill potholes on county roads was replaced with the restoration of a road crew that will stay on top of road maintenance and save taxpayers money in future years; and funding was increased for alternative programs to juvenile incarceration, which saves taxpayers money and reduces recidivism drastically. I am pleased that the Democratic caucus was able to negotiate to keep these priorities in the final budget.

Elected officials have an obligation to consider the long-term consequences of any government policy or program and its cost to taxpayers, and to find innovative, affordable ways to pay those costs. Living off the county’s credit is just as reckless as living off your family’s credit card.

Due to the structurally imbalanced nature of the 2015 County Budget, with its unsustainable “borrow from tomorrow” strategy, I could not in good conscience vote for it.

Sincerely,

Dear Neighbor,
On Tuesday, December 2, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.
Beginning in 2012 and led by the 92nd Street Y, the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving has become a day to celebrate the American tradition of giving back.  The leaders behind the movement hatched this idea when they collectively took notice that while we had two days to celebrate shopping, we had no day to celebrate giving.
This #GivingTuesday there are many different ways to give back, you can join millions of people celebrating this holiday season by making a donation, posting a #UNselfie, or volunteering your time within your community.
To learn more visit:  http://www.givingtuesday.org/
Sincerely,

Letter to Federal Energy Regulation Committee Demands Additional Review of Project

White Plains, NY – In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) delivered yesterday afternoon, several members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Labor, Parks, Planning & Housing Committee expressed their serious concern with the environmental impacts of the proposed Spectra Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM ) natural gas pipeline expansion project within Blue Mountain Reservation, which is public parkland owned by Westchester County in the Town of Cortlandt, New York.  As a result of their concern, the BOL committee members are calling for a proper assessment of the harm and ruin to natural resources likely to accompany construction.
Information regarding the possible scale of environmental impact from the proposed pipeline project was communicated this week to the BOL Labor, Parks, Planning & Housing Committee (LPPH), chaired by Legislator Pete Harckham (D-North Salem), during two days of meetings and testimony concerning the proposed AIM pipeline expansion within Blue Mountain Reservation from Spectra Energy representatives, County Parks Department staff, County Attorney’s office, local elected officials, and interested persons. 
“It was important to gather all of the stakeholders together and have some important questions about this gas pipeline answered,” said Harckham. “The process has, indeed, generated even more concerns about the unfortunate results that may be caused by the project and how much County park land will be possibly harmed during the course of construction.”
“Before any approvals are made, we’re asking for a closer look at all of the facts and details about what will ensue if a green light is given to Spectra,” said BOL Chairman Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers).
The BOL committee members were troubled to learn that Spectra Energy only met with the County’s professional Parks staff, for the first time, last Friday, November 7, 2014. According to County Parks staff members, this initial walkthrough generated “major concerns” on impacts to the natural resources and recreational uses of the park which would be caused by the large Additional Temporary Workspace Areas and additional clearances sought by Spectra Energy. 
“It is now known, in fact, that the pipeline project would involve clearing a right-of-way and necessitate the removal of many mature trees and create a major disruption to existing wetlands,” said Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson). “Trails and roadways in the park would also be affected. Together, the potential damage to the park is greater than what we were led to believe.” 
The letter sent by the BOL LPPH Committee members notes that the Westchester County Parks Department staff  “has not had adequate time to review, nor have they been presented with any technical drawings or surveys regarding the scope of work proposed by Spectra Energy in its recent meeting and to properly assess the construction impacts to Blue Mountain Reservation.” Testimony at this week’s LPPH meetings also showed that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the AIM Project contains significant inaccuracies and false information regarding the project impacts within Blue Mountain Reservation. 
Added Harckham: “It was shocking to learn that Spectra only contacted and did a first walk through with the County Parks Department last Friday, and so no formal study of impacts to Blue Mountain Reservation has been undertaken by the Parks Department. How, then can to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement say impacts to Park will be minimal?”
“Once again, we’re learning that Spectra is not fully considering the impact of this gas pipeline project on our environment,” said Legislator Catherine Parker, chair of the BOL Environment & Energy Committee. “It’s time for everyone to be as truthful and honest about the harmful effects this project may visit upon us.”
BOL Majority Leader Catherine Borgia, whose legislative district encompasses much of the pipeline’s proposed route, noted that the initial DEIS submitted by Spectra to FERC does not address many of the ecological and infrastructure effects that the pipeline project would have on Blue Mountain Reservation.
“This is why it is important for another, more intensive review of the project be completed by to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission before certification is given to Spectra to proceed,” said Borgia.
So far, the Board of Legislators has not seen a survey of the intended project. 
Attached to the BOL LPPH Committee letter to FERC is a memorandum of a January 28, 2014 meeting between representatives from Spectra Energy and the Astorino Administration that addressed a request for construction in Blue Mountain Reservation and the process for obtaining approval for work space from the County. The memorandum was shared with the BOL LPPH Committee for the first time this week.
The BOL LPPH Committee members request in their letter to FERC, which was addressed to Secretary Kimberly Bose, that because information is lacking in the DEIS regarding removal of many mature trees, impacts to vernal pools and wetlands, full calculation and of edge habitat conversion, a  biodiversity assessment compared to previous research at this location and potential for right-of-way modifications, that “FERC not to issue a certificate for the AIM Project until the impacts within Blue Mountain Reservation and surrounding communities have been properly identified and mitigated…(T)he inaccuracies and omissions within the DEIS warrant a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, or a revision and re-issuance of the DEIS, to adequately identify impacts and necessary mitigation concerning the environment and public health and safety.”
Legislators have previously expressed concern to FERC with the overall AIM Project by enacting a BOL Resolution this summer that requested a stringent review of the project.
“I think that we have lots of reasons to be worried about what this pipeline project will do to Blue Mountain Reservation,” said Legislator Bernice Spreckman (R-Yonkers), a longtime advocate for Westchester County parks. “I’m hoping that a painstaking review of the project is completed before another step is taken toward approving it.”
###

“On November 12th, the BOL Labor/Parks/Planning and housing Committee met with representatives of Spectra Energy, the company who wants to develop the pipeline.  On Novenmber 13th, the Committee met with environmental experts to here about their concerns.  To watch videos of the meetings go to;

November 12th meeting   http://westchestercountyny.iqm2.com/Citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=3410&Format=Agenda

November 13th meeting  http://westchestercountyny.iqm2.com/Citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=3410&Format=Agenda

Letter from FERC

http://westchesterlegislators.com/district-9.html

Hello Friends and neighbors:

This Saturday, April 27, is National Prescription Take Back Day, and I urge you to participate and rid your homes and offices of unused or expired medications, which can present a serious threat to public health and safety, as well as the environment.

National Drug Take Back Day is sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Approximately 250 drop-off sites in communities across New York State will be open from 10 AM to 2 PM to accept prescription drugs for disposal.

To locate designated drop-off sites across the state, go to http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/.

This event provides an opportunity for people to safely dispose of unwanted or unused prescription drugs at local community drop-off sites.

While the State of New York has taken strong steps to combat prescription drug abuse, we also need families and individuals to recognize the potential danger of keeping expired or unused medications in the home and away from children. People should closely track their prescription medications and safely dispose of any drugs that are no longer needed or have passed their expiration date.

I urge all Westchester residents to check their medicine cabinets and visit one of the many drug take back sites this Saturday to discard their unused medications and eliminate the potential dangers associated with these drugs.

If you cannot participate in this event on Saturday, please know that the New York State Department of Health (DOH) established a permanent medication drop box program through state, county and local law enforcement agencies. The program expanded options available for households to safely dispose of expired or unwanted medications. Two of these drop boxes are here in Westchester—one in Croton-on-Hudson, the other in Yorktown Heights. DOH drop box locations can be viewed here: http://www.health.ny.gov/professionals/narcotic/medication_drop_boxes/

Thank you!

Free Financial Education Day at Westcheste​r Community College – Ma​rch 23rd.

Dear Neighbor,

In these challenging economic times, people need all the help they can get to keep their finances on track. That’s why Westchester Community College is offering area residents the chance to participate in the second annual Financial Education Day, a FREE financial conference on Saturday, March 23 from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Gateway Center on the college’s Valhalla campus.

Hosted by the college’s Center for Financial and Economic Education and the Westchester Community College Alumni Association, the conference will offer participants the chance to attend workshops presented by some of the Hudson Valley’s leading financial experts. Partnering with the college to organize this event is the Westchester Financial Education Alliance, which includes prominent community organizations: the United Way of Westchester and Putnam, the Financial Planning Association of the Greater Hudson Valley, and GreenPath Debt Solutions. Also partners in the program are the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services and its Livable Communities initiative, and the Public Private Partnership for Aging Services.

The event begins at 8:30 a.m. with registration and continental breakfast, followed by the keynote address at 9:00 a.m. featuring Kiran Chetry, former host of CNN’s American Morning. The program continues from 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. with twenty-six hour-long workshops targeted to specific financial topics.

Workshop topics include planning for retirement, estate planning, investing basics, elder care, social security, insurance, managing credit and debt, paying for college, and starting a business.  There will also be special sessions focusing on Veterans and Service Members, Seniors in Retirement or Approaching Retirement and Financial Planning for Women.  Two seminars will be provided in Spanish; Planning & Budgeting and Debt Solutions. Private consultations will be available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Credit counselors and experienced professionals from the Financial Planning Association will be on hand to discuss specific questions in these individual sessions.

For registration and schedule information, go to: www.mysunywcc.org  and look for Financial Education Day on the calendar. To register by phone, please call 914-606-6559. For more information, please contact Suzanne Matthews at 914-606-5627.

Sincerely,

Catherine Borgia

Westchester County Legislator

Dear Neighbor,

Currently in its 15th season and the recipient of the Westchester County 2012 Arts Organization of the Year Award, Taconic Opera will be performing the world premiere performance of the oratorio Enoch, in English, by the company’sGeneral and Artistic Director, Dan Montez.

Performances will be conducted under the baton of Dan Montez himself.

Dan Montez’s Enoch is based on the Book of Enoch, lost for almost 2000 years and recently and translated from the original Aramaic.

The work will feature the Taconic Opera chorus, professional lead singers and full orchestra.

The company will be presenting two performances of the oratorio in two locations: Saturday, March 2, 2013, at 7:30pm at the Ossining United Methodist Church, 1 Emwilton Place/corner of Route 9, Ossining, NY; and Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 3:00pm at the White Plains Presbyterian Church, 39 North Broadway, White Plains, NY.  Tickets are $27, $20 for seniors and $15 for students and can be purchased in advance online at www.taconicopera.org or by calling Taconic Opera’s toll-free number 1-855-886-7372.

Sincerely,

Catherine Borgia

Westchester County Legislator

Women from all over Westchester County will be gathering at the Yonkers Riverfront Library on Saturday, March 2 at 8:30 a.m. to confront the issues concerning women in the County—issues including economic development, housing & homeless prevention, violence against women, health & mental health, children’s services, civil & criminal legal services, and immigration.

Their goal is to engage women in creating a stronger, more just, and more egalitarian Westchester.  The event is sponsored by the Westchester Women’s Agenda, with financial support from Eileen Fisher and others.

Keynote speaker for the Summit will be the Rev. Noelle Damico, who serves as the Associate for Fair Food within the Presbyterian Church’s Hunger Program and coordinates the PC (USA) campaign for Fair Food.

A sought-after speaker and educator, Reverend Damico has been a keynote speaker on human trafficking issues and writes and speaks on the church’s role in advancing a human-rights based approach to addressing modern-day slavery.   She lives in White Plains and is active in local food justice, conservation and religious organizations.

State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins will deliver welcoming remarks to the gathering.

Break-out sessions will take place in each of the proposed issue areas, at which participants will discuss specific challenges and decide on priorities for action.  The event is open to the public.  Registration is free, but participants must register to attend.

Tickets are limited.  Attendees can register online at:  www.westwomenssummit.eventbrite.com

For further information on the event and/or on becoming a member of Westchester Women’s Agenda contact: Sheila Klatzky, WWA Summit Coordinator, Email: srklatzky@gmail.com, Phone:  (914) 683-8221

Hello Friends and Neighbors:

The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) will be hosting a public information session on Wednesday, February 13 in consideration of the four proposals to revitalize Playland, the 280-acre County Park and National Historic landmark.

The Playland public information session will be held in the Little Theater at the Westchester County Center, 198 Central Avenue, White Plains.

I hope you’ll consider joining us!

The event will begin at 6:30 PM with trade show-style presentations from representatives of the four revitalization proposals—Sustainable Playland, Standard Amusements, Central Amusements and the Paidia Company—and those in attendance can visit each of the four vendor areas, look at materials and ask questions. At 7:30 PM there will be an hour-long Q & A period in which people can make comments about the proposals as well.

Although I will be moderating the proceedings, it is expected that those representing the four different proposals will be answering most of the questions.

The Board of Legislators moved forward last month with its evaluation of the top four proposals for the revitalization of Playland when the Government Operations Committee outlined goals for the decision process and began in-depth discussions with the four Playland RFP respondents regarding proposed operations, financial viability and intended modifications to the park and infrastructure.

I think this public information session will be an excellent opportunity for concerned residents and business owners to be engaged in the process of revitalizing Playland and see for themselves what each proposal offers in terms of enjoyment and economic viability.

This iconic park has created so many great memories for generations of Westchester residents, so we should ensure that Playland’s long-term future moves in the right direction. Because once the contracts are signed there will be no chance for second-guessing.

In the 2012 Adopted County Budget, Playland expenses were $12.4 million plus $3.6 million of debt service. Departmental revenue for the park was budgeted at $10.3 million. Without the debt service, the park was slated to make a $1.6 million profit.

Links to each of the Playland proposal presentation can be found on the Government Operations Committee page on the BOL website: http://westchesterlegislators.com/committees.html?id=2029

Coffee with Catherine.

January 17, 2013

Hello Friends and Neighbors:

Please come have a cup of coffee with me!

COFFEE WITH CATHERINE.

Come to have coffee with me and to chat about what’s going on in Westchester.

Saturday January 26, 2013

The Black Cow
4 Old Post Road South, Croton-on-Hudson

Morning Session 1…….. 10:00am- 12:00pm

Afternoon Session 2……… 2:00pm- 4:00pm

As your county legislator representing Ossining, Briarcliff, Croton, Cortlandt and Peekskill, it is so important that I hear about the issues that matter to you.

Let’s start the year off by collaborating ways to make our communities better. I’m hosting two informal conversations with your neighbors (with coffee, of course) – Saturday January 26th, 10:00am – 12:00pm and 2:00pm-4:00pm at the Black Cow in Croton.

My staff and I are committed to making sure residents are involved in the process and that their government is working for them and their needs.

Working together, we can find solutions, create opportunities, and build stronger communities. I encourage you to share your thoughts, your concerns, and your ideas with me at any time. As the legislator representing our communities, it is my job to make sure your voice is heard at the county level.

Please feel free to contact me: 914-995-2812 (office) or cxb9@westchestergov.com. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.

I hope to see you at one of the “Coffees with Catherine.”

   

WESTCHESTER COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS
TRAFFIC ADVISORY

ASHFORD AVENUE C.R. 134
VILLAGES OF DOBBS FERRY & ARDSLEY
UTILITY RELOCATION WORK
LANE CLOSURE


ROADWAY: Ashford Avenue

LIMITS: Ashford Avenue between Southfield Avenue and Saw Mill River Road (Rt.9A)

WHAT: Utility relocation work

IMPACTS: The right lane of Ashford Avenue in the westbound direction will be closed to motorists within the above limits. The sidewalk on the north side of the bridge will be closed to pedestrians within the above limits. 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/sidewalk closure will take place on Wednesday, April 22, and Thursday, April 23, 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.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS
TRAFFIC ADVISORY
BRONX RIVER PARKWAY, CR 9992
NORTHBOUND MAIN STREET EXIT 21
SOUTHBOUND CHATTERTON AVENUE EXIT 21
ROAD CLOSURE
BRIDGE REPAIRS

CITY OF WHITE PLAINS


ROADWAY: Bronx River Parkway.

LIMITS: Main Street (Northbound)/Chatterton Avenue (Southbound) Exits 21.

WHAT: Bridge repairs.

IMPACTS: Bronx River Parkway northbound at Main Street (Exit 21) will be closed to motorists within the above limits. Motorists will be diverted to re-enter the northbound Bronx River Parkway at the Westchester County Center (Exit 22). Bronx River Parkway southbound at Chatterton Avenue (Exit 21) will be closed to motorists within the above limits. Motorists will be diverted to re-enter the southbound Bronx River Parkway at Main Street.

WHEN: Tuesday, April 21 & Wednesday, April 22, 2015 between the hours of 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM.

WHO: Westchester County Department of Public Works & Transportation.

For additional information please contact Westchester County Traffic Engineering Division at (914) 995-2555.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Friends and Neighbors,As we all begin our spring cleaning including yard work, I wanted to ask you to join me in protecting our natural environment and safeguarding our children from dangerous chemicals in certain products.

The Great Healthy Yards Project educates people about how the chemicals we put on our yards and gardens wash into our drinking water, explains how these chemicals are harmful, and how even at very small amounts they cause an increase in the population of several significant diseases.  Most importantly, it provides us a way to move forward together and make a big change by educating a large number of people to change their behavior.

I found this project to be extremely valuable and I decided to take the pledge and I hope you’ll join me.

Find out more by clicking on the video below:

Healthy Yard Project video

The Pledge:

I pledge to take care of my yard without synthetic pesticides, weedkillers and fertilizers except on rare occasions to resolve an infestation or to improve habitat for native plants and wildlife.  I also pledge not to throw pharmaceuticals or chemicals down my drains or toilets.

Click here to sign the healthy yard pledge.

Sincerely,

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. BroadwayMon., 4/20, 6-9 pm, SHRUB OAK
Hart Library, 1130 East Main St., Shrub OakThurs., 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

WESTCHESTER COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS
TRAFFIC ADVISORY

BRONX RIVER PARKWAY, CR 9992
NORTHBOUND MAIN STREET EXIT 21
SOUTHBOUND CHATTERTON AVENUE EXIT 21

ROAD CLOSURE
BRIDGE REPAIRS

CITY OF WHITE PLAINS


ROADWAY: Bronx River Parkway.

LIMITS: Main Street (Northbound)/Chatterton Avenue (Southbound) Exits 21.

WHAT: Bridge repairs.

IMPACTS: Bronx River Parkway northbound at Main Street (Exit 21) will be closed to motorists within the above limits. Motorists will be diverted to re-enter the northbound Bronx River Parkway at the Westchester County Center (Exit 22). Bronx River Parkway southbound at Chatterton Avenue (Exit 21) will be closed to motorists within the above limits. Motorists will be diverted to re-enter the southbound Bronx River Parkway at Main Street.

WHEN: Tuesday, April 21 & Wednesday, April 22, 2015 between the hours of 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM.

WHO: Westchester County Department of Public Works & Transportation.

For additional information please contact Westchester County Traffic Engineering Division at (914) 995-2555.

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Last month, I proposed a plan to allow Westchester residents to more easily access two county databases that monitor home improvement contractors.  The proposal would allow consumers the ability to easily check both a contractor’s licensing status as well as if the contractor has any liens and or judgements against them, all on one webpage.  The linking of the Consumer Protection Department to the Westchester County Clerks Judgments and Liens page is now online and it has never been easier to check out a home improvement contractor.

Below are some tips and suggestions for anyone considering a home improvement project.

Sincerely,

Coffee and Conversation
With Your Local Officials

County Legislator Catherine Parker
Senator George Latimer
Assemblyman Steve Otis

Coffees with Catherine Borgia

Stop by for a cup of coffee and
discuss State and County issues.

Saturday April 25, 2015
Ruby’s Oyster Bar and Bistro
45 Purchase Street, Rye, NY
9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Beginning at 11AM, we will discuss any topics related to the newly announced plan for Playland.

Save the Date

Forum on Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Ribbon Thursday, April 23rd,
6p.m. – 8 p.m.

Belsky Auditorium, 53 Valentine Street,
Mount Vernon, NYHosted by Montefiore Mount Vernon

Contact Geneva Jermin, Program Director,
Community Health & Education 914-361-6195Love is not abuse

Montefiore Mount Vernon

EVENT:                     Bicycle Sundays

SPONSORS:              Con Edison and Friends of Westchester County Parks

Bicycle Sundays

WHERE:                    Bronx River Parkway from Westchester County Center in White Plains, south to Scarsdale Road in Yonkers.

WHEN:                      Sundays in May, June and September

SCHEDULE:             May 3, 10, 17 and 31
June 7, 14, 21 and 28
September 13, 20 and 27

TIMES:                      10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

ADMISSION:            FREE

PARKING:                 Parking is available at the County Center lot in White Plains for a fee of $7. You can alternatively bike/jog/walk from the Kensico Dam in Valhalla along the trail to the County Center.

PRESENTED BY:      Westchester County Parks

SPONSORS:               Con Edison and Friends of Westchester County Parks, with support from radio station WHUD 100.7

MORE INFO:             parks.westchestergov.com/ or call County Parks at (914) 864-PARK

Dear Neighbor,

Nothing is more important than ensuring that residents of Westchester County have clean air and water.

Westchester County recently received the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move forward with a $10 million water treatment plan that will bring the County into compliance with the Federal Clean Drinking Water Act. This is welcomed news for Westchester taxpayers who live in Water District 1 (Mount Vernon, Scarsdale, White Plains and Yonkers).

Although the outcome of this process is satisfactory, it did not come easy. The County was engaged in protracted litigation that potentially could have resulted in fines of $37,500 per day beginning in 2012 until the final court proceedings ended. If the case ended in 2016, the penalties could have mounted to $82 million. In addition, if the county lost the court battle, it would still have to build a water filtration plant which was estimated to cost $100 million.

The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) stepped in and requested that the County Attorney commence negotiations with the U.S. Justice Department and the EPA to settle the lawsuit rather than exposing county taxpayers to substantial financial risks of continued litigation.

The County had conducted studies and started design of two ultraviolet facilities to bring the Water District into compliance. However, the EPA had not reviewed or signed off on this solution. The BOL’s Law Committee solicited the input of the four affected municipalities, all of whom agreed that the County should pursue a negotiated settlement of the dispute. The Law Committee decided that the County should obtain the approval of the Federal Government by entering into a Consent Decree before moving forward. As the result of this decision, the County Attorney commenced negotiations and reached tentative agreement in a Consent Decree that is presently before the BOL for its approval.

The consent decree requires the County to pay a civil penalty of $1.1 million. There is still work to do in mitigating this penalty but the substantial financial risks faced by County are now behind us.

We believe it is important for the County to build a cooperative working relationship with the Federal Government to amicably resolve disputes rather than contentious litigation. The resolution of this dispute proves such a relationship is possible while providing county residents safe drinking water and saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

Having this consent decree, in advance of construction, provides assurance that the County can build the water treatment facility within the specified time-frame without the uncertainty of whether the facility is in compliance with Federal Law and still save taxpayers money.

Sincerely,

Lyndon D. Williams, Chairman of the Law Committee

Dear Friends,
LPPH Meeting video
Watch Video

I had hoped that the County Executive’s administration had learned from the SPI debacle, that communication is paramount to a successful process. Communication is paramount to legislators who must perform due diligence, to local officials who must be allowed to voice concern, and to the taxpayers of Westchester County who have a diversity of opinion on Playland, and who should be heard.

This issue of communication would also foster the sense that we are all on the same team, we all want to see a better arrangement for Playland, and we are all eager to see success. Unfortunately, the lack of information, including that contained in the County Executive’s unnecessary $100,000 report, does nothing to quell the sense that there may be those in the administration that are continuing to hamper Playland’s future.  It saddens me to see the jewel of the Westchester County Park system in effect, held for ransom by those individuals.

At the Board of Legislators, we’re going to keep up the pressure on the administration to get the answers that you deserve about one of the County’s most valuable assets.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

Sincerely,

Catherine Parker

Dear Friends and Neighbors,Bicycle Sundays are here again.  Come out and get some exercise and enjoy the warm weather!Please forward this e-news to family and friends who may be interested in this information.Ben Boykin

EVENT: Bicycle Sundays
SPONSORS: Con Edison and Friends of Westchester County Parks
WHERE: Bronx River Parkway from Westchester County Center in White Plains, south to Scarsdale Road in Yonkers.
WHEN: Sundays in May, June and September
SCHEDULE: May 3, 10, 17 and 31
June 7, 14, 21 and 28
September 13, 20 and 27
TIMES: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
ADMISSION: FREE
PARKING: $7 parking at the County Center lot in White Plains
PRESENTED BY: Westchester County Parks
SPONSORS: Con Edison and Friends of Westchester County Parks, with support from radio station WHUD 100.7
MORE INFO: westchestergov.com/parks or call County Parks at (914) 864-PARK

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I would like to invite you to participate in a Public Forum on Family Issues which is being held by The Westchester County Families Task Force.  This Task Force is a consortium of representatives from the County Board of Legislators and various not-for-profit organizations from around the County, working together with the goal of improving the lives of Westchester Families.

The forum is taking place on April 9th beginning at 6:30 at the White Plains Public Library and is the first of several forums being held around the County.  Your Legislators will be able to hear directly from you about the  issues your family is facing and what could make life a little easier for Westchester families.  The Task Force will provide information on available programs and resources and ways to get involved in improving the community. The Task Force will be creating a legislative agenda based on the feedback they receive from the public forums.

Come and make your voices heard.  Please be sure to forward this e-news to your family and friends who may be interested in participating.

Sincerely,

Ben Boykin

WESTCHESTER COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS
TRAFFIC ADVISORY

LANE CLOSURES
BRONX RIVER PARKWAY
NORTHBOUND/SOUTHBOUND
BRIDGE INSPECTION
CITY OF YONKERS

ROADWAY: Northbound/Southbound Bronx River Parkway.

LIMITS: Bronx River Parkway between the Cross County Parkway and the Sprain Brook Parkway.

WHAT: Midland Avenue Bridge Inspection.

IMPACTS: There will be single northbound lane closures within the above limits on Wednesday, April 1, 2015 between the hours of 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM.

There will be single southbound lane closures within the above limits on Thursday, April 2, 2015 between the hours of 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM.

There will be single northbound lane closures within the above limits on Friday, April 3, 2015 between the hours of 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM.

Two travel lanes of will be maintained at all times in each direction during this work.

WHEN: Wednesday, April 1, thru Friday, April 3, 2015 daily between the hours of 9:30 AM and 2:30 PM.

WHO: Westchester County Department of Public Works and Transportation Contract # 14-931.

For additional information please contact Westchester County Traffic Engineering Division at (914) 995-2555.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

WESTCHESTER COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS
TRAFFIC ADVISORY

LANE CLOSURES
BRONX RIVER PARKWAY
NORTHBOUND/SOUTHBOUND
BRIDGE INSPECTION
CITY OF YONKERS

ROADWAY: Northbound/Southbound Bronx River Parkway.

LIMITS: Bronx River Parkway between the Cross County Parkway and the Sprain Brook Parkway.

WHAT: Midland Avenue Bridge Inspection.

IMPACTS: There will be single northbound lane closures within the above limits on Wednesday, April 1, 2015 between the hours of 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM.

There will be single southbound lane closures within the above limits on Thursday, April 2, 2015 between the hours of 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM.

There will be single northbound lane closures within the above limits on Friday, April 3, 2015 between the hours of 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM.

Two travel lanes of will be maintained at all times in each direction during this work.

WHEN: Wednesday, April 1, thru Friday, April 3, 2015 daily between the hours of 9:30 AM and 2:30 PM.

WHO: Westchester County Department of Public Works and Transportation Contract # 14-931.

For additional information please contact Westchester County Traffic Engineering Division at (914) 995-2555.

Dear friends,One of the best things about living on the Sound Shore is our proximity to Playland. Often on summer weekends,  my family and I ride our bikes to Playland after dinner. We ride a few of the rides, have some cotton candy, stroll along the boardwalk, and maybe catch some fireworks. This is summer at its best!Season passes for Westchester County residents makes these visits one of the best bargains around – $80! Now, through April 30th, save 10% when you purchase four or more.Lastly, Whether you celebrate Easter, Passover, or just the arrival of Spring, I hope that it’s a happy occasion.See you at Playland!Catherine Parker2015 Playland Spring Offer

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Ambassador Rendering

I wanted to let you know of an opportunity that exists right here in our district for residents in need of assisted living.

The newly built Ambassador in Scarsdale is offering  suites at affordable prices to individuals with incomes at or less than $43,560.  Located at 9 Saxon Wood Road off of Mamaroneck Avenue, the Ambassador is an assisted living and memory care community offering a suite (shared by two individuals) with all utilities included, three meals a day, weekly housekeeping, transportation, recreation activities, and wellness programs. The monthly cost for the housing and the services per resident is $2,372.50.  This is a market rate development with two affordable suites available to four income qualified individuals.  Applications are due by April 15, 2015.  A lottery will be conducted shortly on April 20. An information sheet and an application (also available in Spanish) are available on the Housing Action Council website:  www.housingactioncouncil.org

Sincerely,

Ben Boykin

Electricians Recruit Apprentices

The Westchester-Fairfield Joint Electrical Apprenticeship Committee, Local Union #3, will conduct a recruitment from April 6, 2015 through April 17, 2015 for 50 electrician apprentices.

Applications can be obtained by sending a registered letter to: Westchester-Fairfield Joint Electrical Apprenticeship Committee, P. 0. Box 509, White Plains, NY 10602. The registered letter must contain the applicant’s name and address including zip code (please print). The request letters will be accepted for 10 business days or until 1,000 registered letters have been received, whichever occurs first. Please do not include any documents or money with your registered letter. It is the responsibility of the applicant to retain the post office receipt for the registered letter. Applications will be accepted by REGISTERED MAIL ONLY. Applications received by any other means, including any other mail classifications, will not be accepted. Registered letters requesting an application must not be postmarked earlier than April 6, 2015, but no later than April 17, 2015. All registered letters postmarked April 6, 2015 will be honored with an application even if the number of letters received exceeds the 1,000 limit.

If you receive an application, there is a non-refundable application fee of $25. Please note, you may request that this fee be waived. Fee waivers will be approved upon showing verifiable proof of financial need. Completed applications must be mailed to Westchester-Fairfield Joint Electrical Apprenticeship Committee, P.O. Box 509, White Plains, NY 10602 and postmarked no later than May 15, 2015.

The Committee requires that applicants:

  • Must be at least 18 years old as of December 31, 2015.
  • Must have a high school diploma or a high school equivalency diploma (such as GED or TASC) including a passing grade for one year of Algebra or High School Regents Math. An official transcript will be required after acceptance into the program.
  • Must be physically able to perform the work required as determined by a complete physical examination by a physician, at the committee’s expense, after selection and prior to indenture.
  • Must be a resident, of at least two years, within the Greater New York Metropolitan area (within a 60 mile radius of White Plains, NY).
  • Must possess a valid driver’s license and have reliable means of transportation to job sites and related instruction classes. Apprentices may be required to drive company-owned vehicles.
  • Must report for the electrical trades’ aptitude test when scheduled.

For further information, applicants should contact their nearest New York State Department of Labor office or Local Union #3 at (914) 946-0472. Apprentice programs registered with the Department of Labor must meet standards established by the Commissioner. Under state law, sponsors of programs cannot discriminate against applicants because of race, creed, color, national origin, age, sex, disability, or marital status. Women and minorities are encouraged to submit applications for apprenticeship programs. Sponsors of programs are required to adopt affirmative action plans for the recruitment of women and minorities.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

BRONX RIVER PARKWAY, CR 9992

SINGLE LANE CLOSURE
TRAFFIC SENSOR RESTORATION
VILLAGE OF SCARSDALE

 

ROADWAY:  Bronx River Parkway Northbound
LIMITS: At the Greenacres Bridge
WHAT: Traffic sensor restoration.
IMPACTS: The Bronx River Parkway will have single lane closures within the above limits.
WHEN: Thursday, January 15, 2015 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.

Dear Neighbor,
The Westchester County Department of Public Safety is accepting applications for seasonal park rangers to patrol county parks this summer. Applications are due by Feb. 20 and are available online at the Department of Public Safety’s web pages: http://www.westchestergov.com/ps.
Uniformed park rangers work under the supervision of county police officers to maintain a safe and enjoyable atmosphere in the county’s parks. They assist park users, provide information on park rules and procedures, help in searches for lost children, perform basic first aid on occasion and make regular security checks of buildings and facilities.
First-time park rangers are paid $14 hourly. Salaries are higher for those who have worked as a ranger for the county before.
To qualify, applicants must be a high school graduate, at least 19 years of age, a U.S. citizen, a resident of Westchester County and possess a valid New York State driver’s license by the time of appointment.
Accepted candidates must attend a three-week training program at the Westchester County Police Academy.
Public Safety Commissioner George Longworth said that many police officers in Westchester, including himself, had their first exposure to a law enforcement career by working as a park ranger. “By receiving Police Academy training and working under the supervision of county police officers, park rangers get a unique view into law enforcement and the career opportunities that exist,” he said.
For more information, please visit www.westchestergov.com/ps.
Sincerely,

 

 

 

 

AG banner_NEW

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES $1.8 MILLION COMMUNITY CLIMATE INITIATIVE TO FUND LOCALLY-BASED RESPONSES TO CLIMATE CHANGE

Competitive Grant Program Will Offer Funds to Local Organizations Statewide To Pilot Climate Initiatives Tailored To Their Communities

Funding For Program Obtained From Court-Ordered Settlement With American Electric Power For Violations Of Clean Air Act

Schneiderman: New York’s Communities Are On The Front Line Of Climate Change, So They Must Be Our First Line Of Defense Against It

NEW YORK — Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that the creation of a new $1.8 million program to fund the development of local responses to climate change. The Community Climate Initiative will provide competitive grants to locally-based organizations across the state to respond to climate change in their communities, from fostering public awareness in fighting air pollution that contributes to climate change to promoting energy efficiency or renewable energy. Funding for the Community Climate Initiative was obtained through a 2007 court-ordered settlement with American Electric Power, the largest U.S. power company, for violations of the federal Clean Air Act.

“The unprecedented risk posed by climate change demands a transformation not only in how we view this threat, but also in how we respond to it,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “This grant program recognizes that New York’s communities are on the front lines of climate change, so they must also be our first line of defense against it. With this funding, we hope to empower local organizations to develop innovative responses to climate change, tailored specifically to their communities.”

To foster local creativity and innovation – as well as to cultivate locally-driven approaches – Attorney General Schneiderman intends to solicit a wide range of proposals from community-based organizations to lead efforts to address climate change in their communities. In general, the Community Climate Initiative will be designed to fund the best ideas that local organizations across the state have for addressing climate change in their communities. However, the program will seek geographic diversity in granting as well as to serve those communities which have traditionally suffered the greatest from environmental impacts.

For example, community-based organizations could propose projects to increase public awareness about climate change or to build new partnerships – such as those among municipal governments, environmental advocates, labor groups, and business to work together to reduce air pollution that contributes to climate change. In addition, organizations could propose programs to reduce climate change pollution, such as by encouraging energy efficiency or conservation, supporting renewable energy, and providing access to clean power or public transportation.

Grants awarded through the Community Climate Initiative – which the Attorney General anticipates beginning to make in the fall of this year – will be made through a competitive a grant process to be run by a program administrator selected by the Attorney General. The selection of the program administrator will also be competitive. All final selections of projects to be funded will be made by the Attorney General’s office.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN URGES BROKERS AND HOME BUYERS IN NEW YORK TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LAW ALLOWING LOWER COMMISSIONS

Recent Change In NYS Law Confirms Real Estate Agents May Rebate Portion Of Commissions To Clients

Schneiderman: I Urge The Real Estate Industry To Embrace This Opportunity And Encourage Buyers And Sellers To Take Advantage Of Your Right To Bargain

NEW YORK — Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued an open letter urging participants in the New York residential real estate market to take advantage of a recent change to the State’s Real Property Law confirming that real estate agents may rebate a portion of their commissions to clients. Attorney General Schneiderman’s letter explains that this change, which his office helped initiate, has the potential to reinvigorate price competition among real estate brokers in New York. His letter also emphasizes that his office will investigate any allegations of discrimination against brokers engaged in rebating.

“Rebating by real estate brokers can greatly reduce the costs of buying and selling property and even facilitate new and innovative business models,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I urge the real estate community to embrace this opportunity to be more competitive, and improve the choices available to New York homeowners. I also encourage buyers and sellers alike to take advantage of your right to bargain with your broker for a lower commission.”

Last year, the Attorney General’s Office worked with members of New York’s real estate community to propose an amendment to Section 442 of the New York Real Property Law clarifying that it is lawful for a broker to pass through, or “rebate,” part of his or her commission to the client. In December, this amendment was signed into law. The legislation was sponsored by Senator Zeldin and Assembly Member Lavine.

In particular, the updated law makes it clear that when a buyer’s agent receives a portion of the transaction commission from the seller or the seller’s agent, he or she is permitted to rebate a portion of those funds to the buyer in the transaction. As Attorney General Schneiderman’s letter explains, because of the way that the real estate market works, this kind of rebating is often the only practical way for a buyer’s agent to offer a discount for his or her services.

The legislative change arose out of an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office into market factors that were preventing greater price competition among residential real estate brokers. Attorney General Schneiderman’s letter stresses that any complaints of boycotting or discrimination against brokers engaged in rebating will also be fully investigated by his office.

For the text of Section 442 highlighting the recent amendment and additional information about competition in New York’s real estate industry, real estate market participants can visit the Attorney General Office’s Antitrust Bureau here.

A full copy of the letter is available below.

April 20, 2015

Dear participant in New York’s real estate industry:

I am writing to alert you to a recent change in New York State’s Real Property Law that was strongly supported by my office. This law has the potential to breathe new life into competition in the residential real estate brokerage industry, to the benefit of all New Yorkers. I urge you take advantage of this law and help reinvigorate price competition among real estate brokers in New York.

In December, a statute was signed into law amending Section 442 of the New York Real Property Law to make it completely clear that it is lawful for a broker to pass through, or “rebate,” part of his or her commission to the client. This legislation arose out of an investigation by my office into competition in the residential real estate brokerage industry. My office worked together with the New York Department of State, the New York State Association of Realtors, and others in the industry to initiate the clarifying legislation.

As you know, for most residential real estate sales in New York State, including New York City, the seller’s broker is usually compensated by receiving a contractually set commission from the seller. The buyer’s broker, however, is not typically paid by the buyer; he or she instead receives a fraction (often half) of the seller’s broker’s commission. Due to this payment structure, often the best way for a buyer’s broker to compete on price is to offer to rebate part of his or her commission to the buyer. Such buyer rebates are legal in most states, including New York. But until recently, some people in the industry may have read Section 442 to suggest that this type of rebating was not permitted in New York. As of December’s legislative fix, there is no room for debate: commission rebating in New York State is legal.

Such rebating is also procompetitive and good for consumers. One reason my office helped initiate this legislative change was because we were concerned that confusion over the legality of rebating may be hindering efforts of real estate brokers to employ more innovative, consumer-friendly business models. For example, the widespread use of sophisticated real-estate search websites now allows buyer-side brokers to offer more limited-service, lower-fee models, under which clients do more of their own legwork when searching for properties. Brokers adopting such models can offer lower commissions (by rebating) and, in principle, may also be able to serve a larger number of clients.

I encourage all real estate brokers and salespersons in New York to consider enhancing the choices available to real estate buyers by offering lower commissions (by means of rebates) to some or all of your clients. I also emphasize that my office will investigate any allegations of boycotting or discrimination against brokers engaged in rebating or other lawful discounting practices. Finally, I urge consumers and other buyers of real estate in New York to take note of your right to bargain with your broker for a lower commission.

For the text of Section 442 highlighting the recent amendment, and additional information about competition in the real estate industry in New York, see my office’s Antitrust Bureau webpage at here.

Sincerely,

Eric T. Schneiderman
Attorney General
State of New York

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES INTRODUCTION OF EXPANDED LEGISLATION TO COMBAT SPREAD OF “ZOMBIE PROPERTIES” ACROSS NEW YORK STATEAbandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act Would Protect Homeowners And Empower Communities To Rein In Spread Of Vacant, Dilapidated Homes

Bill Would Require Mortgage Lenders and Servicers To Notify Homeowners Of Their Rights and Maintain Vacant and Abandoned Properties Earlier; Penalties Would Fund Efforts By Local Government To Address Widening Problem

Schneiderman: This Bill Will Equip Our Local Communities With the Resources They Need To Halt the Spread Of Abandoned And Vacant Homes

SYRACUSE – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today that an expanded version of a bill he proposed last year, the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, has been reintroduced in the New York State Legislature. The modified bill, which addresses so-called “zombie properties” – vacant and abandoned homes that are not maintained during a prolonged foreclosure proceeding – includes several new key provisions to expedite the foreclosure process for properties that are confirmed to be vacant and direct penalties for noncompliance to a fund to aid local enforcement of the law. The bill (A.6932/S.4781), reintroduced this month by Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn) and Senate Coalition Co-Leader Jeffrey D. Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester), comes amid new data showing a troubling increase in the number of zombie properties across New York State. According to data analyzed by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), zombie property foreclosures increased by 50% from 2013 to 2014, bringing the total number of zombie properties in NYS to 16,701. As a result, almost 1 in 5 residential foreclosures is now a zombie property.

“New York will never be able to fully recover from the devastation of the financial crisis until we seriously reckon with the crisis of zombies,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, which enjoys the support of local elected officials, law enforcement, and fair housing advocates all across New York, will equip our local communities with the resources they need to halt the spread of abandoned and vacant homes. Albany can finally alleviate the burden that these blighted properties impose on our towns and cities by passing the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act during this legislative session.”

Attorney General Schneiderman’s bill, the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, would address the problem of zombie properties in several ways.

Since many families do not understand that they have the right to remain in their home until a judge declares the foreclosure complete, the bill would require that homeowners be provided with early notice that they are legally entitled to remain in their homes until ordered to leave by a court. The bill would also make it unlawful for a mortgagee or loan servicing agent, or a person acting on their behalf, to enter a property that is not vacant or abandoned for the purpose of intimidating, harassing or coercing a lawful occupant in order to induce them to vacate the property, thereby rendering it vacant and abandoned.

In the event that homeowners do leave their property before the foreclosure is complete, the bill would require mortgage lenders and their servicers to take responsibility for properties soon after they have been vacated – and not, as under current law, at the end of a lengthy foreclosure process. Under this provision, lenders and their servicers are required to identify, secure, and maintain vacant and abandoned properties and pay for their upkeep. The bill would also establish a periodic inspection requirement for mortgagees and loan servicing agents to determine if property subject to a delinquent mortgage is currently occupied.

To help municipalities secure zombie properties, the bill would require mortgagees or their agents to electronically register these properties with a newly-created statewide Vacant and Abandoned Property Registry to be established and maintained by the OAG. The registry would be supplemented by a toll-free hotline that community residents can use to report suspected vacant and abandoned properties to the OAG and receive information regarding the status of registered properties, including the identity of the mortgagee or agent responsible for maintaining them. Banks that fail to register an abandoned property will be subject to civil penalties.

One of the new provisions of this year’s Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act would direct penalties for noncompliance into a fund for local municipalities to support code enforcement within the municipality where the violations occurred. Another new provision would create an expedited foreclosure process for properties that are confirmed to be vacant.

“The foreclosure crisis left neighborhoods scarred by vacant and abandoned properties. The introduction of the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act brings New York State a step closer to curing the blight these properties bring to neighborhoods by holding banks accountable for their upkeep,” said New York State Senator Jeff Klein, Senate Coalition Co-Chair and sponsor of S.4781. “We expect banks to maintain properties and we will keep a list of empty homes. We want to support towns and counties who have been dealing with the blight of zombie properties for too long. With the support of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, my colleagues in the Senate and the Assembly, I hope we can pass this crucial package of legislation for New Yorkers.”

“In too many neighborhoods across New York State, lenders have permitted vacant and abandoned residential properties to fall into disrepair,” said New York State Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair and sponsor of A. 6932. “These properties are a blight on neighborhoods and bring down the property values in communities. I commend Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for proposing this bill that I am proud to sponsor. I look forward to working with him to help protect our neighborhoods by identifying and ensuring maintenance of properties early on.”

“Improving the quality of life in our neighborhood starts with ensuring we have a good housing stock and this has been a top priority of my administration,” said Syracuse Mayor Stephanie A. Miner. “Vacant, blighted properties become havens for criminal activity and reduce the values of neighboring homes. In Syracuse, we have taken steps to address this issue by starting a vacant property registry and establishing one of the first land banks in New York State. Attorney General Schneiderman appreciates the importance of urban housing needs and has supported our land bank with generous funding and pushed for important legislation, like the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, which has the potential to help address even more abandoned properties. I am pleased to join with the Attorney General in calling on the legislature to pass this important bill.”

“Foreclosed and abandoned properties have become a serious problem in our neighborhoods, affecting quality of life for residents and forcing localities to spend precious resources on maintaining them,” said New York State Senator David J. Valesky. “I commend Attorney General Schneiderman and Senator Jeff Klein for recognizing the seriousness of this issue, and working on legislation to address the problem of zombie properties. I am confident it will make a difference here in Syracuse and across the state.”

“For too long, local communities in Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse have been suffering from the growing plague of zombie properties,” said New York State Assemblyman William Magnarelli. “I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for continuing to work with the state legislature to protect our homeowners and the communities in which they live.”

“The blight of abandoned homes attracts crime, lowers property values and hurts communities, placing an unfair economic burden on local taxpayers who are already struggling,” said New York State Assemblyman Al Stirpe. “This continues to be a problem for Central New York, which has one of the highest incidences of vacant properties in the state. Attorney General Schneiderman’s efforts will help keep more families in their homes, protect taxpayer dollars and revitalize neighborhoods throughout Central New York. I commend him for his leadership and I encourage my colleagues in the Legislature to pass this important legislation necessary to ensure the safety and stability of our communities.”

“Zombie properties are a growing problem in our neighborhoods, and I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership and proactive approach in working with local governments to address this serious issue,” said Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri. “I fully support this legislation and appreciate and thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his efforts.”

“Abandoned and vacant properties attract crime and put the lives of our law enforcement officers and other first responders at risk,” said Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler. “This isn’t just about the tax base or property values or the aesthetic appeal of our neighborhoods; it’s about the basic safety of the people who live and work in these communities, too. The state legislature should pass the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act and give local municipalities the resources they need to keep their streets safe.”

“Land banks are designed to get vacant and abandoned properties back into productive use, but are best equipped to address tax-delinquent vacant properties,” said Katelyn Wright, Executive Director of the Greater Syracuse Land Bank. “About 2/3 of the vacant structures in Syracuse are not tax-delinquent and are more challenging to address. Complementary tools like the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act will better equip communities like ours to address the full range of vacant buildings that negatively impact our neighborhoods.”

“Zombie properties are a scourge on our neighborhoods and frustrate the residents who need to live near them, non-profits and public officials alike,” said Kerry Quaglia, Executive Director of Home HeadQuarters. “One bad property can negatively affect an entire block, so someone or some entity needs to have accountability for that property – it’s just common sense.”

Attorney General Schneiderman’s Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act is one component of his broad strategy to help New York homeowners and communities recover from the foreclosure crisis. He successfully fought for a strong National Mortgage Settlement that delivered more than $2 billion in relief to New York families. He dedicated $100 million from the settlement to create the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), a network of free legal and housing counseling services that has served more than 40,000 families statewide.

Attorney General Schneiderman has also pursued relief for communities by directing funds from the National Mortgage Settlement to community “land banks,” which are nonprofit organizations that can acquire property that is tax delinquent, tax foreclosed, vacant, or abandoned and use it for a variety of purposes to counter neighborhood blight.

In June of 2013, Attorney General Schneiderman announced the Community Revitalization Initiative (CRI), which has provided $33 million in funding to land banks that are working at the local level across New York State to rebuild and revitalize their communities. In the first round of funding, which took place in October 2013, OAG disbursed $13 million to eight land banks. After passing legislation to increase to double the maximum allowable number of land banks, Attorney General Schneiderman disbursed an additional $20 million in a second round of funding in October 2014.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN CELEBRATES EARTH WEEK AND HIGHLIGHTS ENVIRONMENTAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN 2015

A.G. Has Worked Aggressively To Protect The Environment, From Cracking Down On Polluters On Long Island To Enforcing The Bottle Bill In Western New York

Schneiderman: Protecting The State’s Environment Is Important For The Future Health And Strength Of New York

NEW YORK – Kicking off Earth Week, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today showcased a variety of statewide environmental protection initiatives that his office has championed, and provided a map demonstrating the reach and impact of the Environmental Protection Bureau over the past year.

“Having a healthy and sustainable New York is not only important for today’s residents, but also critical to ensuring the well-being and strength of our state for generations to come,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Just this year, my office has taken action against those who polluted our groundwater on Long Island, directed resources to improve water quality in New York City and defended the right of New Yorkers to navigate public waters in Adirondack Park. But while we have made great progress in safeguarding our environment, there is still work to be done. This Earth Week, we must continue to reaffirm our commitment to protecting and improving the natural resources in our state and on our planet.”

Recent environmental victories include:

On Long Island

  • Obtained $5.31 million from owners of industrial facilities in the New Cassel Industrial Area in North Hempstead to recover the costs of the state’s investigation of groundwater pollution emanating from the site and related natural resource damages.  Toxic industrial chemicals from the site had reached local drinking water supply wells.
  • Resolved contempt of court charges against Gerald Cohen, the owner of a former aviation plant in Port Jefferson Station, related to the cleanup of petroleum and hazardous wastes dumped at the site. The settlement gives the state access to the site to perform cleanup, includes a fine and holds Cohen liable for costs.

In New York City

  • Sued New York City landlord Florence Edelstein for widespread violations of state oil spill prevention laws that govern the safe handling and storage of heating oil at residential properties.  Edelstein had been found liable for 90 violations of state laws at 25 properties in the Bronx and Manhattan.
  • Joined by the DEC, reached an agreement with New York City directing $960,000 to improving water quality in the upper East River and Long Island Sound.  The City’s payment is in partial resolution of penalties assessed by the State for falling behind on scheduled upgrades to nitrogen pollution controls at its Tallman Island wastewater treatment plant in Queens.

In the Hudson River Valley:

  • With DEC, reached an agreement with Gary Prato, a Putnam County landowner, to clean up an illegal landfill that discharged pollution into the Croton Falls Reservoir – a waterbody that has historically provided drinking water to New York City. The agreement also requires Prato to pay $245,000 in penalties.
  • Joined the Attorneys General of Connecticut and Vermont in challenging recently-issued rules of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that govern the long-term storage of highly radioactive nuclear wastes on-site at more than 100 reactors around the country – including the three Indian Point reactors in Westchester County – for 60 or more years after the reactors close.

In Central New York:

  • Obtained a court order against a Cortland County property owner for allegedly causing the flooding of a cemetery leading to the desecration of grave sites, and the disinterment and reburial of several bodies. The order requires James C. Stevens, III of Cortlandville to cease diverting stormwater from his property unless he secures a DEC permit to do so. A previous suit filed by Attorney General Schneiderman alleged that Stevens was illegally diverting water from his property in violation of state environmental and public nuisance laws.
  • Resolved a suit brought against Triple Cities Metal Finishing Corp. Zurenda Enterprises, and Binghamton Realty for allegedly contaminating soils and groundwater in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Fenton in Broome County with hazardous substances.  The Consent Decree requires the companies to pay the State a total of $55,000.
  • Won a case against the owners and operators of a car-crushing facility in Town of Volney in Oswego County who illegally discharged petroleum products, metals, PCBs and other chemicals into groundwater and an adjacent wetland
  • Settled a civil case against Gary A. Royce, Jr. for improperly installing septic systems in a subdivision located in the Town of Granby in Oswego County, resulting in odors and raw sewage seeping to a number of yards.  The settlement requires Royce to replace, at his own expense, approximately 35 septic systems in the subdivision.

In The North Country:

In Western New York:

  • Reached a court-ordered settlement requiring The Juice Factory Corp., based in Monroe County, to pay the state nearly $80,000 for repeatedly violating multiple provisions of New York’s Bottle Bill.  Investigations revealed that, for more than two years, the company collected deposits on beverage containers it sold in Monroe and Erie counties but failed to pay the unclaimed deposits to the state, as required by law.
  • Joined the DEC and Livingston County in reaching an agreement with Akzo Nobel addressing environmental impacts relating to the collapse of the company’s salt mine in The agreement requires the company to pay $20 million toward local environmental restoration projects, including drinking water supply protection, water supply infrastructure improvements, environmental monitoring, and other projects.

Statewide:

  • Released a report that, for the first time, details the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events across New York State.  The report, Current And Future Trends In Extreme Rainfall Across New York State, highlights this disturbing weather trend in recent years in virtually every part of the state.  The report underscores the need to focus on greater resiliency planning and response measures in order to respond to climate change’s predicted impacts in New York.

Nationally:

  • Leading a coalition of states, NY joined clean air and public health advocate groups in reaching a court-ordered settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that required the agency to finalize updated air pollution standards for new residential wood heaters.  Wood stoves, pellet stoves, masonry heaters, central wood boilers, forced-air furnaces, and other residential wood heaters have proliferated in many areas of New York.  The final standards, which hadn’t been revised in 25 years, were issued by EPA on February 4th of this year.
  • Reached agreements with two natural gas development companies that will ensure the public disclosure of information on the financial risks that hydraulic fracturing – commonly referred to as fracking – poses to their investors.   Under the agreements, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and EOG Resources committed to providing publicly accessible information on the financial risks associated with of regulation fracking, litigation related to fracking, and the environmental impacts of their fracking operations.
  • Led a 13-member coalition in fighting back against a court challenge – brought largely by coal-producing states – to a 2010 settlement that committed EPA to adopt climate change pollution emissions standards for new and existing fossil-fuel electric generating power plants. The EPA has undertaken the rulemaking process for two rules to establish these standards for power plants, in accordance with the settlement agreement.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ISSUES REPORT SHOWING MICROBEAD “TOXIC-SPONGES” SYSTEMATICALLY PASSING THROUGH TREATMENT PLANTS ACROSS NEW YORK STATE

First-Of-Its-Kind Study Reveals Presence Of Microbeads In 74% Of Samples Taken From Wastewater Treatment Plants Across State

Microbeads Entering Waters Across State From Lake Erie To Long Island Sound

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has released a first-of-its-kind report demonstrating that microbeads, tiny plastic abrasives that are added to many beauty and personal care products, are systematically passing through wastewater treatment plants across New York State and entering bodies of water. The microbeads contained in many personal care products are washed down the drain when used and end up at wastewater treatment plants. When bits of plastic pollute lakes and oceans they act as sponges for toxic-chemicals, attracting these chemicals to their surfaces and threatening the health of wildlife when the plastic bits are ingested. The study, conducted by the Attorney General’s office with the help of Dr. Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia, examined samples provided by 34 municipal and private treatment plants across the state. The study, Discharging Microbeads to Our Waters: An Examination of Wastewater Treatment Plants in New York, detected microbeads in 74% of the samples, across plants of various sizes, treatment types, and locations. The report is accompanied by five fact sheets detailing regional findings in Western New York, Central New York, the Mid-Hudson, Northern New York and Downstate.

Last year, Attorney General Schneiderman sent a program bill to the legislature, the Microbead-Free Waters Act, to prohibit the distribution and sale of personal cosmetic products containing microbeads less than 5 millimeters in size.

“Today’s report confirms that from Lake Erie to the Long Island Sound, microbeads, a harmful form of plastic pollution, are finding their way into waters across New York State,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “New York has been at the forefront of national progress when it comes to combating plastic pollution, and we need to continue this leadership by passing legislation that will prevent microbeads from contaminating our waters, and threatening the health of both New Yorkers and their environment.”

In late 2014, Attorney General Schneiderman’s Office initiated a study to determine whether plastic microbeads were being discharged from sewage and wastewater treatment plants into water across the state. With assistance from Dr. Mason at the State University of New York at Fredonia, the New York Water Environment Association – a nonprofit, educational organization for New York’s water quality professionals — and operators at 34 municipal and private treatment plants from across the state, collected samples from treated waste water for analysis. The study detected microbeads in the effluent samples submitted by 25 of the 34 treatment plants, suggesting that microbeads are being discharged by most of New York’s more than 600 wastewater treatment plants. The study provides direct evidence that microbeads are being released into bodies of water across New York State, including the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes, Lake Champlain, the Hudson River, the Mohawk River, the Delaware River, the Long Island Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean. Microbeads were found in samples provided by treatment plants operating in the following 17 counties: Albany, Chautauqua, Columbia, Delaware, Erie, Essex, Greene, Kings, Monroe, Nassau, Niagara, Orange, St. Lawrence, Tompkins, Warren, Wayne, and Westchester.

There is variation in the shape and size of microbeads found in various consumer products. Products can contain spherical or speckled microbeads, irregularly shaped microbeads, or a combination of both. The overwhelming majority of plastic abrasives in personal care products are irregular microbeads, with only 6% being spherical or speckled. For testing purposes, the study only looked for the easily identifiable spherical or speckled microbeads. Because the study found microbeads in these small-volume, one-time samples, while only testing for 6% of the universe of microbeads, the results suggest that many more irregular microbeads are also slipping past treatment and into New York waters.

The findings also suggest that the problem cuts across regions of the state and that more rigorous waste water treatment employed at some treatment plants may not be effective at removing microbeads.

As a whole, the study results affirm that the only effective way to halt the plastic pollution of New York’s waters by microbeads is to eliminate plastic microbeads in beauty and personal care products and thus prevent these pollutants from entering treatment plants in the first place.

“I applaud the work of the Attorney General to build upon the scientific understanding on the transportation of microbeads from the tube to the environment,” said Dr. Sherri Mason, Professor of Chemistry at the State University of New York at Fredonia, a researcher on the forefront of microplastic pollution. “The field of microplastic pollution is rapidly emerging and this research provides critical information that treatment plants are not designed to capture microbeads and passage through treatment plants is likely pervasive.”

“Wastewater treatment plants across the state are committed to protecting New York’s water resources and we believe that stopping tiny microbeads from ever making their way into the wastewater treatment plants protects public health, the quality of New York State waters and marine life,” said Patricia Cerro-Reehil, Executive Director of the New York Water Environment Association. “We applaud the leadership of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman undertaking this groundbreaking study and thank the operators across the state who volunteered to provide data and demonstrate how necessary it is to pass the The Microbead-Free Waters Act.”

Plastic microbeads from personal care products have been found in alarmingly high levels in the New York surface waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and can persist in the environment for centuries. Last May, Attorney General Schneiderman released a report documenting the threat posed by microbeads, finding that 19 tons of microbeads are being washed down the drain by unsuspecting New York consumers each year. Microbeads are commonly found in more than 100 products, including facial scrubs, soaps, shampoo and toothpaste, where they replace ground walnut shells, sea salt, and other natural materials as an abrasive.

The Attorney General’s Microbead-Free Waters Act (S3932-2015) would prohibit the distribution and sale of personal cosmetic products containing microbeads less than 5 millimeters in size. The bill was greeted by widespread expressions of support from the environmental advocacy, scientific and sport fishing communities across New York State and versions of the bill are currently being considered in the Assembly and Senate.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN OP-ED: DON’T LET TPP GUT STATE LAW

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman wrote an op-ed in Politico today cautioning Congress about the potential for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement to undermine state law and authority. Below are highlights from the op-ed:

ON THE POTENTIAL DANGER THE TPP POSES FOR STATES: One provision of TPP would create an entirely separate system of justice: special tribunals to hear and decide claims by foreign investors that their corporate interests are being harmed by a nation that is part of the agreement. This Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision would allow large multinational corporations to sue a signatory country for actions taken by its federal, state or local elected or appointed officials that the foreign corporation claims hurt its bottom line.
…But it is particularly worrisome to those of us in states, such as New York, with robust laws that protect the public welfare — laws that could be undermined by the TPP and its dispute settlement provision.

ON THE CONSEQUENCES OF SUCH LEGISLATION: Consider a foreign corporation, located in a country that has signed on to TPP, and which has an investment interest in the Indian Point nuclear power facility in New York’s Westchester County. Under TPP, that corporate investor could seek damages from the United States, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars or more, for actions by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Westchester Country Board of Legislators or even the local Village Board that lead to a delay in the relicensing or an increase in the operating costs of the facility.

…The very threat of having to face such a suit in the uncharted waters of an international tribunal could have a chilling effect on government policymakers and regulators.

…The beneficiaries here would be a discrete group of multinational business interests that should be entitled to treatment no better and no different than any other plaintiff receives in the trial and appellate courts of this country.

ON THE SECRECY SURROUNDING THE TPP:

But more than in past trade agreements, a number of the nations expected to participate in TPP have the resources and legal sophistication to exploit the agreement and turn it against our laws and system of justice.

…Maybe that’s why the agreement is being negotiated in secret. If it weren’t for WikiLeaks and a few media outlets, we wouldn’t even know about this dangerous provision. The effort by negotiators to keep their discussions from the public is telling.

The full op-ed can be read here.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN OP-ED: NEW YORK MUST RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGENEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman wrote an op-ed yesterday in the New York Daily News yesterday urging the New York Labor Commissioner to consider raising New York’s minimum wage. Below are highlights from the Op-Ed:

ON THE ENFORCEMENT ACTION AGAINST WAGE THEFT: On Tuesday, my office announced the latest in a string of enforcement actions against unscrupulous employers who cheat their employees out of wages, tips and overtime. Since I took office in January 2011, we’ve recovered more than $20 million for 17,000 workers.

ON THE NEED TO RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE: Morally bankrupt wage practices and laws cannot hold. Enforcement actions by my office and others are having an impact, and pressure is building: Wednesday, fast-food workers across the country protested against unconscionably low minimum wages that leave even fully paid employees below the poverty line, unable to support themselves and their families.

…But progress in New York has stalled: The governor’s proposal to include a modest minimum wage increase in the state budget was not enacted, and Mayor de Blasio’s laudable call for a more substantial minimum-wage hike in the city was embraced only by the state Assembly.

ON THE TOOLS IN WHICH THE STATE CAN ACT: While the statewide minimum wage is set by the Legislature and the governor, state law endows the state’s commissioner of labor with the authority to investigate and increase the minimum wage for any occupation if the commissioner determines that a substantial number of employees “are receiving wages insufficient to provide adequate maintenance and to protect their health.”

…As a practical matter, faced with the real prospect of action by the commissioner of labor, legislators would be much more likely to pass an increase that could otherwise be held up for years. Lawmakers zealously guard their prerogatives and, as much as some might oppose a minimum-wage increase, they will not want to see the issue taken out of their hands.

The full op-ed can be read here.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT WITH ERNST & YOUNG OVER AUDITOR’S INVOLVEMENT IN ALLEGED FRAUD
AT LEHMAN BROTHERS

Agreement Resolves Allegations Firm Enabled Bank To Paint False Picture Of Its Financial Statements By Temporarily Removing Tens Of Billions Of Dollars Of Securities From Its Balance Sheet Without Disclosing Those Transactions On Financial Statements

Schneiderman: Auditors Will Be Held Accountable For Failures To Honestly And Fairly Audit Public Companies

NEW YORK– Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a $10 million settlement of a lawsuit filed against the auditing firm Ernst & Young LLP (“Ernst & Young”) over its involvement in a financial statement fraud at the now-defunct investment bank, Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. That money will be distributed as restitution to investors in Lehman securities, along with some $99 million being paid by Ernst & Young to settle a private federal class action that relied in part on facts uncovered by the Attorney General’s investigation. No other law enforcement authority has brought an enforcement action in connection with the 2008 collapse of Lehman. Moreover, today’s settlement resolves the first lawsuit brought against an auditor of a public company under New York’s securities laws. The case also resulted in an important decision by the Appellate Division’s First Department, which confirmed the Attorney General’s power to obtain disgorgement of professional fees received by a firm, in this case Ernst and Young’s fees.

“The basic duty and legal obligation of auditors is to ensure that the public companies they audit provide reliable and unbiased information about their operations to the investing public. If auditors issue opinions that are unreliable or provide cover for their clients by helping to hide material information, that harms the investing public, our economy, and our country,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Auditors will be held accountable when they violate the law, just as they are supposed to hold the companies they audit accountable.”

Under the terms of the settlement, Ernst & Young will pay $10 million—most of which will go to investors, with the remaining settlement funds to be used to reimburse New York State for investigation and litigation costs.

The Attorney General’s case, People v. Ernst & Young LLP, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court pursuant to the Martin Act and Executive Law § 63(12) in December 2010, concerned Ernst & Young’s role, as Lehman’s auditor, in an alleged fraud involving Lehman’s use of “Repo 105” transactions. Repo 105s were transactions in which Lehman transferred to various overseas counterparties investment grade securities in return for cash, with the binding understanding that Lehman would repurchase the same securities within a very short time, often just a few days. As alleged in the Attorney General’s lawsuit, Lehman, with Ernst & Young’s approval and complicity, treated the Repo 105s as sales, which enabled Lehman to temporarily remove tens of billions of dollars of securities from its balance sheet without requiring Lehman to disclose the Repo 105 transactions as financings on its financial statements. The Repo 105s served no legitimate business purpose. As alleged in the suit, Lehman used the funds derived from the transactions to pay down billions of dollars of liabilities, which had the effect of temporarily and misleadingly reducing Lehman’s leverage ratios, an important metric for analyzing Lehman’s liquidity and financial health.

As alleged by the Attorney General, Ernst & Young approved Lehman’s accounting for the Repo 105 transactions and issued unqualified opinions certifying Lehman’s financial statements, in spite of knowing that Lehman was not disclosing the existence or impact of the Repo 105s in its annual and quarterly consolidated financial statements, all of which Ernst & Young audited or reviewed. Ernst & Young also failed to object when Lehman allegedly misled analysts on its quarterly earnings calls regarding its leverage ratios, and did not inform Lehman’s Audit Committee about a highly-placed whistleblower’s concerns about Lehman’s use of Repo 105 transactions.

The lawsuit charged that Ernst & Young’s assent to Lehman’s failure to include any indication in its financial statements about the Repo 105 transactions was fraudulent and deceptive under the Martin Act and Executive Law § 63(12), as was allowing Lehman to the use the Repo 105s to manipulate its balance sheet and leverage ratios.

The case against Ernst & Young was prosecuted by Senior Trial Counsel David N. Ellenhorn, Assistant Attorneys General Armen Morian and Tanya Trakht, and Bureau Chief Chad Johnson, all of the Investor Protection Bureau, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN OBTAINS SETTLEMENT WITH FOURTH DEBT BUYER VACATING $1.7M IN IMPROPERLY OBTAINED DEBT-COLLECTION ACTIONSAsta Funding, Inc. to Vacate Over 300 Judgments Totaling Over $1.7 Million; Reform Practices; Pay $100,000 in Penalties and Costs

Schneiderman: My Office Will Hold Debt Collectors That Prey Upon New York Consumers Accountable

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has obtained a settlement from debt buyer Asta Funding, Inc. (“Asta”) for bringing improper debt collection actions against hundreds of New York consumers. For years, Asta sued New York consumers and obtained uncontested default judgments against consumers who failed to respond to the lawsuits, even though the underlying claims were untimely under New York law. Under the settlement, Asta will move to vacate more than 300 improperly obtained judgments totaling more than $1.7 million. Asta will also reform its debt collection practices and pay civil penalties and costs in the amount of $100,000.

“Filing lawsuits on debts that have surpassed the statute of limitations is an abuse of the court system and hurts New Yorkers,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “My office will continue to hold debt collectors and lenders accountable, so that New Yorkers can keep more of their hard-earned money where it belongs – in their pockets.”

Asta is a debt buyer that purchases unpaid consumer debts such as credit card debts from the original creditor or from other debt buyers at deeply discounted prices. Asta’s subsidiaries, which include Palisades Collection, LLC and Palisades Acquisition XVI, LLC, then attempt to collect on the debt.

It is unlawful for a debt collector to bring suit against a consumer when the claims are outside of the applicable statute of limitations. Under New York law, for an action to be timely filed it must be commenced not only within New York’s statute of limitations, but also within the statute of limitations of the state where the cause of action accrued, if other than New York. In debt collection actions, a cause of action accrues where the original creditor resides. For example, while New York’s statute of limitations to collect on a debt is generally six years, if the original creditor was located in Delaware, which has a three-year statute of limitations, the shorter statute of limitations would govern the action.

The Attorney General’s investigation found that despite the clear requirements of New York law, Asta brought debt collection actions that were untimely under the statutes of limitations where the causes of action accrued. Because most consumers fail to respond when they are sued by a debt collector, Asta obtained default judgments in its favor based on these time-barred claims.

In addition to seeking to vacate more than 300 improperly obtained judgments and paying $100,000 in civil penalties and costs, Asta has agreed to several important reforms of its current practices in New York. These include:

 

  • Disclosing in written or oral communications that a debt is outside the statute of limitations and that the company will not sue to collect on the debt.
  • Disclosing in written or oral communications that a debt is outside the date for reporting the debt provided for by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and that because of the age of the debt the company will not report the debt to any credit reporting agency.
  • Alleging certain information relevant to the statute of limitations in any debt collection complaint, such as the name of the original creditor, and the date of the consumer’s last payment on the debt.

 

In addition to filing time-barred debt collection actions, from 2006 through 2012, contrary to New York law, Asta permitted its employees to sign affidavits outside the presence of a notary and then deliver them to an employee who would notarize the affidavits in bulk. The settlement requires Asta to ensure that affidavits are notarized in a manner consistent with the requirements of New York law, including that the affidavit or other sworn statement is signed in the presence of a licensed notary.

This settlement is a part of the Attorney General’s continuing efforts to combat unlawful and abusive debt collection activity. In May 2014 and January 2015, Attorney General Schneiderman obtained settlements from three major debt buyers, Portfolio Recovery Associates, Sherman Financial Group, and Encore Capital Group, who filed time-barred debt collection cases. Those settlements resulted in the vacature of more than 7,500 improperly obtained judgments estimated at more than $34 million. More information on those settlements is available here and here.

In addition, in September 2014, New York’s Court System adopted a comprehensive set of reforms related to consumer debt collection actions that incorporate many of the recommendations of the Attorney General’s Office. More information on those reforms is available here.

Consumers facing default judgments arising from debt collection actions brought by Asta or its subsidiaries who believe that the default judgment was improperly obtained because the claim was time-barred should contact the Attorney General’s Office within 60 days. Such judgments may be eligible for vacature pursuant to the settlement.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Melissa O’Neill and Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia, both in the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, and Executive Deputy Attorney General of Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN OBTAINS SETTLEMENT WITH FOURTH DEBT BUYER VACATING $1.7M IN IMPROPERLY OBTAINED DEBT-COLLECTION ACTIONS

Asta Funding, Inc. to Vacate Over 300 Judgments Totaling Over $1.7 Million; Reform Practices; Pay $100,000 in Penalties and Costs

Schneiderman: My Office Will Hold Debt Collectors That Prey Upon New York Consumers Accountable

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has obtained a settlement from debt buyer Asta Funding, Inc. (“Asta”) for bringing improper debt collection actions against hundreds of New York consumers. For years, Asta sued New York consumers and obtained uncontested default judgments against consumers who failed to respond to the lawsuits, even though the underlying claims were untimely under New York law. Under the settlement, Asta will move to vacate more than 300 improperly obtained judgments totaling more than $1.7 million. Asta will also reform its debt collection practices and pay civil penalties and costs in the amount of $100,000.

“Filing lawsuits on debts that have surpassed the statute of limitations is an abuse of the court system and hurts New Yorkers,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “My office will continue to hold debt collectors and lenders accountable, so that New Yorkers can keep more of their hard-earned money where it belongs – in their pockets.”

Asta is a debt buyer that purchases unpaid consumer debts such as credit card debts from the original creditor or from other debt buyers at deeply discounted prices. Asta’s subsidiaries, which include Palisades Collection, LLC and Palisades Acquisition XVI, LLC, then attempt to collect on the debt.

It is unlawful for a debt collector to bring suit against a consumer when the claims are outside of the applicable statute of limitations. Under New York law, for an action to be timely filed it must be commenced not only within New York’s statute of limitations, but also within the statute of limitations of the state where the cause of action accrued, if other than New York. In debt collection actions, a cause of action accrues where the original creditor resides. For example, while New York’s statute of limitations to collect on a debt is generally six years, if the original creditor was located in Delaware, which has a three-year statute of limitations, the shorter statute of limitations would govern the action.

The Attorney General’s investigation found that despite the clear requirements of New York law, Asta brought debt collection actions that were untimely under the statutes of limitations where the causes of action accrued. Because most consumers fail to respond when they are sued by a debt collector, Asta obtained default judgments in its favor based on these time-barred claims.

In addition to seeking to vacate more than 300 improperly obtained judgments and paying $100,000 in civil penalties and costs, Asta has agreed to several important reforms of its current practices in New York. These include:

 

  • Disclosing in written or oral communications that a debt is outside the statute of limitations and that the company will not sue to collect on the debt.
  • Disclosing in written or oral communications that a debt is outside the date for reporting the debt provided for by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and that because of the age of the debt the company will not report the debt to any credit reporting agency.
  • Alleging certain information relevant to the statute of limitations in any debt collection complaint, such as the name of the original creditor, and the date of the consumer’s last payment on the debt.

 

In addition to filing time-barred debt collection actions, from 2006 through 2012, contrary to New York law, Asta permitted its employees to sign affidavits outside the presence of a notary and then deliver them to an employee who would notarize the affidavits in bulk. The settlement requires Asta to ensure that affidavits are notarized in a manner consistent with the requirements of New York law, including that the affidavit or other sworn statement is signed in the presence of a licensed notary.

This settlement is a part of the Attorney General’s continuing efforts to combat unlawful and abusive debt collection activity. In May 2014 and January 2015, Attorney General Schneiderman obtained settlements from three major debt buyers, Portfolio Recovery Associates, Sherman Financial Group, and Encore Capital Group, who filed time-barred debt collection cases. Those settlements resulted in the vacature of more than 7,500 improperly obtained judgments estimated at more than $34 million. More information on those settlements is available here and here.

In addition, in September 2014, New York’s Court System adopted a comprehensive set of reforms related to consumer debt collection actions that incorporate many of the recommendations of the Attorney General’s Office. More information on those reforms is available here.

Consumers facing default judgments arising from debt collection actions brought by Asta or its subsidiaries who believe that the default judgment was improperly obtained because the claim was time-barred should contact the Attorney General’s Office within 60 days. Such judgments may be eligible for vacature pursuant to the settlement.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Melissa O’Neill and Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia, both in the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, and Executive Deputy Attorney General of Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENTS WITH FIVE DOMINO’S PIZZA FRANCHISEES FOR VIOLATING WORKERS’ BASIC RIGHTS IN STORES STATEWIDE

Domino’s Franchisees Must Pay $970,000 In Restitution To Workers At Dozens of Stores In Western New York, Central New York, Hudson Valley, New York City And On Long Island

The A.G. Has Secured Agreements With A Substantial Portion Of New York’s Domino’s Franchise Locations; Franchisees Have Agreed to Pay Nearly $1.5 Million In Restitution In Total To Workers Statewide

Schneiderman: To Protect The Domino’s Brand, Protect The People Who Deliver the Pizzas

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced settlements totaling $970,000 with four current Domino’s Pizza franchisees, who together own 29 stores across New York State, as well as with one former franchisee who owned 6 stores. With stores located in Cortland, Dutchess, Erie, Genesee, Monroe, Nassau, New York, Onondaga, Ontario, Orange, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester counties, the franchisees admitted to a number of labor violations, including minimum wage, overtime or other basic labor law protections. In light of today’s agreements – which follow similar settlements last year with the owners of 26 other Domino’s stores statewide – Attorney General Schneiderman also called on the Domino’s Pizza corporation and Chief Executive Officer Patrick Doyle to exercise increased oversight of Domino’s franchisees’ pay practices.

“In the past two years, the owners of over fifty New York Domino’s franchise locations have admitted to violations of some of the most basic labor law protections – an appalling record of ongoing disregard for workers’ rights,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Franchisors like Domino’s need to step up to the plate and fix this problem. Franchisors routinely visit franchise stores to monitor operations – down to the number of pepperonis on each pizza – to protect their brand, and yet they turn a blind eye to illegal working conditions. My message for Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle is this: To protect the Domino’s brand, protect the basic rights of the people who wear the Domino’s uniform, who make and deliver your pizzas.”

Today’s agreements followed investigations by the Attorney General’s Office into the franchisees, covering the time period from 2008 through 2014. All investigated franchisees admitted to the violations of law outlined in the settlement agreements. The admitted violations varied by location and time period, and included the following:

  • Some stores paid delivery workers below the tipped minimum wage applicable to delivery workers under New York law.
  • Some stores failed to pay overtime to employees who worked over 40 hours in a week, and others under-paid overtime, because they did not combine all hours worked at multiple stores owned by the same franchisee, or because they used the wrong formula to calculate overtime for tipped workers, unlawfully reducing workers’ pay.
  • Delivery workers who used their own cars to make deliveries were not fully reimbursed for their job-related vehicle expenses.
  • Delivery workers who used their own bicycles to make deliveries were typically not reimbursed for any expenses related to maintaining their bicycles, nor were they provided with protective gear as required by New York City law.
  • Some stores violated a state requirement that employers must pay an additional hour at minimum wage when employees’ daily shifts are longer than 10 hours.
  • Some stores also violated a state requirement that employers must pay restaurant workers for at least three hours of work when those employees report to work for a longer shift but are ultimately sent home early because of slow business or other reasons.
  • Some stores took a “tip credit” without tracking tips, and assigned delivery workers to kitchen or other untipped work for more time than legally permitted. Employers may only take a “tip credit” and pay a lower minimum wage to tipped restaurant employees if those employees earn enough in tips and spend most of their time – at least 80 percent –performing tipped work.

A list of all of the Domino’s franchisees and the restaurant locations that have reached settlements with the Attorney General’s Office can be found here.

In addition to payment of $970,000 in restitution funds, the franchisees must also institute complaint procedures, provide written handbooks to employees, train supervisors on the labor law, post a statement of employees’ rights, and designate an officer to submit quarterly reports to the Attorney General’s Office regarding ongoing compliance for three years.

The largest franchisee to reach an agreement today, Robert Cookston, is paying $675,000 to settle the charges against him. In 2013, his Washington Heights store was the subject of a separate investigation for retaliatory discharge, which was ultimately resolved when all 25 discharged employees were reinstated pursuant to an agreement with the Attorney General’s Office. In today’s agreement, in addition to paying restitution to these and other workers, Mr. Cookston agreed to pay for independent monitoring of all of his stores for three years.

Today’s five agreements follow settlements announced last year with six Domino’s pizza franchisees, who together owned 23 stores and agreed to pay a total of $448,000 in restitution, as well as an additional settlement last year with a franchisee, Abdil Karaborklu, who paid $40,000 to resolve a case involving his three stores. Some of the stores investigated by the Attorney General in today’s announcement and last year changed hands among franchisees during the period of the investigation.

In total, franchisees investigated by the Attorney General have admitted violations of basic labor law protections in a total of 57 distinct Domino’s store locations in New York. Collectively, the Attorney General’s agreements have required franchisees to pay nearly $1.5 million in restitution to underpaid employees in Domino’s stores.

There were approximately 130 total Domino’s franchisee store locations statewide in 2014, according to Domino’s disclosure documents. Nationally, over 90 percent of Domino’s locations are franchisee-owned.

The Attorney General continues to investigate additional Domino’s franchisees in New York.

In addition to investigations involving Domino’s restaurants, the Attorney General’s office has brought a number of additional cases in the fast food industry.

  • In February, a judge awarded a judgment of over $2 million in unpaid wages and penalties to the Attorney General against New Majority Holdings, LLC, a New York City-based Papa John’s franchisee, and its owner Ronald Johnson.
  • In January, the Attorney General obtained a judgment for nearly $800,000 against Emmanuel Onuaguluchi, the operator of Emstar Pizza Inc., another New York City-based Papa John’s franchisee.
  • In June 2014, the Attorney General obtained $10,000 in restitution for an employee unlawfully discharged after reporting a gas leak at a McDonald’s franchise located in Lyons, in upstate New York.
  • In March 2014, the Attorney General secured a settlement of almost $500,000 for mostly minimum-wage employees of a group of seven New York City-based McDonald’s franchises.

The cases were handled by Labor Bureau Section Chief Andrew Elmore and Assistant Attorneys General Claudia Henriquez, Kevin Lynch and Haeya Yim, assisted by Assistant Attorney General Justin Deabler of the Civil Rights Bureau.  Terri Gerstein is the Labor Bureau Chief and Alvin Bragg is the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENTS WITH FIVE DOMINO’S PIZZA FRANCHISEES FOR VIOLATING WORKERS’ BASIC RIGHTS IN STORES STATEWIDE

Domino’s Franchisees Must Pay $970,000 In Restitution To Workers At Dozens of Stores In Western New York, Central New York, Hudson Valley, New York City And On Long Island

The A.G. Has Secured Agreements With A Substantial Portion Of New York’s Domino’s Franchise Locations; Franchisees Have Agreed to Pay Nearly $1.5 Million In Restitution In Total To Workers Statewide

Schneiderman: To Protect The Domino’s Brand, Protect The People Who Deliver the Pizzas

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced settlements totaling $970,000 with four current Domino’s Pizza franchisees, who together own 29 stores across New York State, as well as with one former franchisee who owned 6 stores. With stores located in Cortland, Dutchess, Erie, Genesee, Monroe, Nassau, New York, Onondaga, Ontario, Orange, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester counties, the franchisees admitted to a number of labor violations, including minimum wage, overtime or other basic labor law protections. In light of today’s agreements – which follow similar settlements last year with the owners of 26 other Domino’s stores statewide – Attorney General Schneiderman also called on the Domino’s Pizza corporation and Chief Executive Officer Patrick Doyle to exercise increased oversight of Domino’s franchisees’ pay practices.

“In the past two years, the owners of over fifty New York Domino’s franchise locations have admitted to violations of some of the most basic labor law protections – an appalling record of ongoing disregard for workers’ rights,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Franchisors like Domino’s need to step up to the plate and fix this problem. Franchisors routinely visit franchise stores to monitor operations – down to the number of pepperonis on each pizza – to protect their brand, and yet they turn a blind eye to illegal working conditions. My message for Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle is this: To protect the Domino’s brand, protect the basic rights of the people who wear the Domino’s uniform, who make and deliver your pizzas.”

Today’s agreements followed investigations by the Attorney General’s Office into the franchisees, covering the time period from 2008 through 2014. All investigated franchisees admitted to the violations of law outlined in the settlement agreements. The admitted violations varied by location and time period, and included the following:

  • Some stores paid delivery workers below the tipped minimum wage applicable to delivery workers under New York law.
  • Some stores failed to pay overtime to employees who worked over 40 hours in a week, and others under-paid overtime, because they did not combine all hours worked at multiple stores owned by the same franchisee, or because they used the wrong formula to calculate overtime for tipped workers, unlawfully reducing workers’ pay.
  • Delivery workers who used their own cars to make deliveries were not fully reimbursed for their job-related vehicle expenses.
  • Delivery workers who used their own bicycles to make deliveries were typically not reimbursed for any expenses related to maintaining their bicycles, nor were they provided with protective gear as required by New York City law.
  • Some stores violated a state requirement that employers must pay an additional hour at minimum wage when employees’ daily shifts are longer than 10 hours.
  • Some stores also violated a state requirement that employers must pay restaurant workers for at least three hours of work when those employees report to work for a longer shift but are ultimately sent home early because of slow business or other reasons.
  • Some stores took a “tip credit” without tracking tips, and assigned delivery workers to kitchen or other untipped work for more time than legally permitted. Employers may only take a “tip credit” and pay a lower minimum wage to tipped restaurant employees if those employees earn enough in tips and spend most of their time – at least 80 percent –performing tipped work.

A list of all of the Domino’s franchisees and the restaurant locations that have reached settlements with the Attorney General’s Office can be found here.

In addition to payment of $970,000 in restitution funds, the franchisees must also institute complaint procedures, provide written handbooks to employees, train supervisors on the labor law, post a statement of employees’ rights, and designate an officer to submit quarterly reports to the Attorney General’s Office regarding ongoing compliance for three years.

The largest franchisee to reach an agreement today, Robert Cookston, is paying $675,000 to settle the charges against him. In 2013, his Washington Heights store was the subject of a separate investigation for retaliatory discharge, which was ultimately resolved when all 25 discharged employees were reinstated pursuant to an agreement with the Attorney General’s Office. In today’s agreement, in addition to paying restitution to these and other workers, Mr. Cookston agreed to pay for independent monitoring of all of his stores for three years.

Today’s five agreements follow settlements announced last year with six Domino’s pizza franchisees, who together owned 23 stores and agreed to pay a total of $448,000 in restitution, as well as an additional settlement last year with a franchisee, Abdil Karaborklu, who paid $40,000 to resolve a case involving his three stores. Some of the stores investigated by the Attorney General in today’s announcement and last year changed hands among franchisees during the period of the investigation.

In total, franchisees investigated by the Attorney General have admitted violations of basic labor law protections in a total of 57 distinct Domino’s store locations in New York. Collectively, the Attorney General’s agreements have required franchisees to pay nearly $1.5 million in restitution to underpaid employees in Domino’s stores.

There were approximately 130 total Domino’s franchisee store locations statewide in 2014, according to Domino’s disclosure documents. Nationally, over 90 percent of Domino’s locations are franchisee-owned.

The Attorney General continues to investigate additional Domino’s franchisees in New York.

In addition to investigations involving Domino’s restaurants, the Attorney General’s office has brought a number of additional cases in the fast food industry.

  • In February, a judge awarded a judgment of over $2 million in unpaid wages and penalties to the Attorney General against New Majority Holdings, LLC, a New York City-based Papa John’s franchisee, and its owner Ronald Johnson.
  • In January, the Attorney General obtained a judgment for nearly $800,000 against Emmanuel Onuaguluchi, the operator of Emstar Pizza Inc., another New York City-based Papa John’s franchisee.
  • In June 2014, the Attorney General obtained $10,000 in restitution for an employee unlawfully discharged after reporting a gas leak at a McDonald’s franchise located in Lyons, in upstate New York.
  • In March 2014, the Attorney General secured a settlement of almost $500,000 for mostly minimum-wage employees of a group of seven New York City-based McDonald’s franchises.

The cases were handled by Labor Bureau Section Chief Andrew Elmore and Assistant Attorneys General Claudia Henriquez, Kevin Lynch and Haeya Yim, assisted by Assistant Attorney General Justin Deabler of the Civil Rights Bureau.  Terri Gerstein is the Labor Bureau Chief and Alvin Bragg is the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT WITH TRIBECA DEVELOPER OVER UNREGISTERED REAL ESTATE SECURITIES

Developer Peter Moore Disregarded Martin Act Requirements While Blatantly Marketing Investments In TriBeCa Loft Building

Settlement Bars Moore From the Real Estate Securities Industry For Six Months

Schneiderman: Promoters Of Real Estate Investments Need To Follow The Rules And If They Don’t, They Will Be Held Accountable

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has reached a settlement with 39 Lispenard Project, LLC and its former principal Peter Moore – the architect and prolific real estate developer of properties in lower Manhattan – for failing to register numerous real estate investments known as syndications under the Martin Act. The settlement brings to a close a lengthy investigation into Moore’s unlawful public offering of real estate investments in three offerings, including the unlawful offer of condominium units involving 39 Lispenard Street, a luxury loft development in TriBeCa.

“Promoters of real estate investments need to follow the rules and if they don’t, they will be held accountable,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “The Martin Act provides necessary protections to all investors, including homebuyers seeking to purchase a condominium unit. Thanks to our settlement, Mr. Moore will take steps to ensure this important law is upheld, or face permanent consequences.”

The Attorney General’s investigation initially uncovered that Moore solicited and offered investments known as syndications in his company, 39 Lispenard Project, LLC, to members of the public – which would ultimately lead to ownership of a condominium unit – without making necessary filings with the Attorney General’s Office. Under the Martin Act, New York’s blue sky law that regulates securities, both syndications and the offer of condominium units require the filing of prospectuses, which must be provided to investors and purchasers before they decide to invest or buy a condominium unit.

Without making any attempt to comply with the Martin Act, Moore took blatant steps to procure investors in an unregistered syndication. He went so far as to hire a prominent New York luxury real estate brokerage firm – Town Residential – to assist in the public marketing and advertising of the project. Town Residential separately agreed to pay a $7,500 fine and educate its brokers on the requirements of the Martin Act.

Under the settlement obtained by Attorney General Schneiderman, Moore has agreed to a six-month bar from offering or selling securities in the State of New York, in addition to making the required syndication filings with the office. Moore also agreed to conduct his business affairs legally in the future. If Moore violates any term of the settlement agreement, he will be barred from offering or selling securities permanently. In addition, Moore will pay a fine totaling $50,000.

During the course of the initial investigation into 39 Lispenard Project, LLC, it was revealed that Moore was involved in two other unregistered syndication offerings as well. As a part of the settlement, Moore has registered all of these projects with the Real Estate Finance Bureau.

39 Lispenard Project, LLC will also pay a fine of $5,000 and file an offering plan with the Attorney General before delivering condominium unit deeds to existing investors or offering for sale any other units to the public.

A copy of the settlement agreement with Mr. Moore is available here.

A copy of the settlement agreement with 39 Lispenard Project LLC is available here.

The investigation of this matter was conducted by Assistant Attorney General Nicholas J. Minella, Deputy Bureau Chief Andrew H. Meier, and Bureau Chief Erica F. Buckley, all of the Real Estate Finance Bureau, as well as Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Karla G. Sanchez.

THIS WEEK IN THE NEWS

April 6 to April 10, 2015

TOP HEADLINES

Protecting New Yorkers During Tax Scam Season

As Tax Day looms each year, many unsuspecting individuals are targeted by fraudsters and scam artists intending to steal personal and financial information from consumers. With April 15th right around the corner, the Attorney General released tips about how to avoid being fooled by tax prep scammers, reminding New Yorkers that the IRS and legitimate government agencies never contact you by phone, and that you should never give out personal information. The Attorney General also encouraged anyone who believes they were the target of a scam to contact the office.

Standing Up For Working New Yorkers

The Attorney General announced this week that Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle and Senator Patrick Gallivan will sponsor the Attorney General’s bill regulating the use of payroll cards to increase protections for workers. The Payroll Card Act would specifically clarify ambiguities in the law and ensure that payroll cards offer a convenient and beneficial method for workers to access their pay. The legislation was first proposed last year, following recommendations made in a report released by the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau. Several Rochester area labor and community organizations also announced their support for the bill, including the Rochester & Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation, the Rochester Building & Construction Trades, the Rochester Legal Aid Society, Metro Justice, the Worker Justice Center of New York, and Empire Justice.

 

Cracking Down on Wage Theft

The Attorney General has no tolerance for employees who underpay their workers in benefits or wages. As part of his office’s continuing efforts to punish those who commit wage theft, the Attorney General and the NYC DOI announced the arrests of five subcontractors on charges they underpaid wages and benefits to workers at three publicly-funded New York City construction projects. The projects covered three separate projects spanning three New York City boroughs that were subject to prevailing wage requirements. The Attorney General will continue to take aggressive action with our law enforcement partners against employers who ignore their legal obligation to pay workers proper prevailing wages on taxpayer-funded projects.

Holding Non-Profits Accountable

The Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the board of directors of two Brooklyn-based nonprofits, Brooklyn Child & Family Services, Inc. and Project Teen Aid Housing Development Fund Corp., for alleged gross negligence and failed management. The charitable organizations were intended to provide housing and support services for pregnant women, young mothers and their children, but an investigation found that several board members listed the townhouses for sale without necessary approval. The organizations also allegedly evicted the young women who resided at the Rose Kennedy Center and the Rosa Parks Apartments –who the nonprofits were supposed to serve. The Attorney General pledges to continue to hold New York’s entire nonprofit sector to its responsibilities, especially when those obligations are to underprivileged families.

 

*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.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES LAWSUIT AGAINST BOARD OF DIRECTORS ALLEGING MISMANAGEMENT OF TWO BROOKLYN-BASED NONPROFITS SERVING VULNERABLE FAMILIESLawsuit Accuses Board Members Of Trying To Illegally Sell Two Brooklyn Townhouses Operated By The Nonprofits As Housing For Single Mothers And Their Children

Board Members Also Allegedly Pilfered Thousands Of Dollars From Charitable Bank Account, Took Out $600,000 In High-Fee Loans, Forged Signatures And Failed To Pay Employees

Schneiderman: There Is No Excuse For A Charitable Board Using Organizations’ Valuable Assets For Personal Gain

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a lawsuit against the board of directors of two Brooklyn-based nonprofits, Brooklyn Child & Family Services, Inc. and Project Teen Aid Housing Development Fund Corp., for alleged gross negligence and failed management of the organizations – and of two converted townhouses in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The Rose F. Kennedy Family Center, located at 178 Halsey Street, and the Rosa Parks Apartments, located at 243 Hancock Street, have been owned by the jointly operated nonprofits since the 1990s. The charitable organizations were intended to provide housing and support services for pregnant women, young mothers and their children. As set forth in the lawsuit, an investigation by the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau found that several board members listed the townhouses for sale without necessary approval. Supreme Court Justice Genine D. Edwards granted the Attorney General’s Office a temporary restraining order earlier this week that freezes the organization’s assets.

“Lured by a lucrative real-estate market in Brooklyn, the board members of these two charitable organizations allegedly attempted to illegally sell two brownstones that belonged to the charities and were meant to serve as housing for single mothers – kicking out their vulnerable residents along the way,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “There is simply no excuse for a charitable board using its organizations’ valuable assets for the personal gain of board members. We will continue to hold New York’s entire nonprofit sector to its responsibilities, especially when those obligations are to underprivileged families.”

According to a lawsuit filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Monday, the Attorney General’s investigation, which began in February, found that the board of directors of the two organizations ignored the long-standing charitable mission of the groups and led the organizations to financial ruin, resulting in their loss of public funding. The board members who are being sued by the Attorney General’s Office include directors and officers Thomas McKinney and Amuel Renard Hilliard; Gene Baynes, the organizations’ financial manager, whose certification as a financial planner was revoked in 2010 in California; Vivian Munsey-Thomasson, the vice-chair of both boards; and Reggie Wells, a resident of Chicago.

According to the Attorney General’s petition, in August 2013 and at the board’s direction, the organizations evicted the young women who resided at the Rose Kennedy Center and the Rosa Parks Apartments –who the nonprofits were supposed to serve. The board then allegedly attempted to profit personally by marketing the buildings for private sale: The Rose F. Kennedy Family Center was listed by Halstead for $3.6 million in December 2014, and Rosa Parks Apartments was listed by Halstead for $2.1 million in May 2014. According to the allegations, the board also enlisted Vice Chair Munsey-Thomasson’s son, who is a real estate broker, to market both properties, with the prospect of earning six percent commissions.

The complaint also details evidence of several other alleged improprieties by the organizations’ board and its officers, including:

  • pilfering $80,000 from a charitable bank account directly into the personal account of financial manager Gene Baynes;
  • taking out two high-fee loans totaling $600,000, secured by the Rose Kennedy Center’s property on Halsey Street, currently with an annual interest rate of 12 percent and a default rate of 24 percent;
  • forging the signature of the secretary of the board to authorize the high-fee loan on Rose Kennedy Center’s property, without the board member’s permission;
  • failing to pay the wages of their employees; and
  • neglecting corporate filings, including tax returns.

The Asset Management Division of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development noticed suspicious behavior concerning the management of the properties and notified the appropriate authorities in the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau. Upon receiving complaints from the public and from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau worked with Halstead in February 2015 to remove the listings of the two properties and put a stop to the organizations’ attempt to sell the buildings.

“I am grateful that through the diligence and initiative of HPD Assistant Commissioner Allred and his team in the Office of Asset Management and Property Management, this wrongdoing was brought to light,” said HPD Commissioner Vicki Been. “Our partnership with the Attorney General’s office is a great asset in the fight to protect tenants and preserve the stock of affordable housing. I am pleased to learn that this court order was put in place to protect these buildings and look forward to seeing them return to use as much-needed affordable housing.”

The sale of the charities’ two key assets without prior approval by the Charities Bureau or a state court is illegal under state law. New York’s Not-for-Profit Corporation Law requires that such sales include advance approval by either the appropriate court or the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau. In addition, proceeds of such sales must return to the nonprofit to further its charitable purposes or to another charity with similar purposes. The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges that the attempted sales were intended to personally benefit the board members, and not the charities.

Both the Rose Kennedy Center and the Rosa Parks Apartments buildings accumulated numerous buildings code violations and fines, notwithstanding the millions of public dollars invested in them over the course of many years.

Under the temporary restraining order secured by the Attorney General’s Office on Monday, the court directed that certain bank accounts and other assets of the organizations be frozen. In addition, the Attorney General’s lawsuit is asking the court to remove the board of directors and put a temporary receiver in place to manage the organizations. The five directors must appear in Brooklyn Supreme Court on April 22 to explain why they should not permanently be removed from their positions as officers and directors of the organizations.

The Attorney General’s investigation into Brooklyn Child & Family Services, Inc. and Project Teen Aid Housing Development is continuing.

The Attorney General thanked the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, in particular, Assistant Commissioner Christopher Allred of HPD’s Division of Asset Management, for assisting in the investigation.

The Charities Bureau’s civil case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Fitzwater. Assistance was provided by Legal Assistants Carolyn Fleishman and Jacqueline Sanchez. The Bureau’s Enforcement Section is led by Assistant Attorney General Sean Courtney. The Charities Bureau is led by Deputy Bureau Chief Karin Kunstler Goldman and Bureau Chief James G. Sheehan. The Attorney General’s Division of Social Justice, of which the Charities Bureau is a part, is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg.

The Attorney General’s Charities Bureau regulates nonprofit organizations, and is charged with protecting them and the public from unscrupulous practices in the management of charitable assets and in the solicitation of donations. The Charities Bureau also ensures that funds and other assets of charitable organizations are properly used in accordance with their charitable purposes.

The charges in this lawsuit are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES LAWSUIT AGAINST BOARD OF DIRECTORS ALLEGING MISMANAGEMENT OF TWO BROOKLYN-BASED NONPROFITS SERVING VULNERABLE FAMILIES

Lawsuit Accuses Board Members Of Trying To Illegally Sell Two Brooklyn Townhouses Operated By The Nonprofits As Housing For Single Mothers And Their Children

Board Members Also Allegedly Pilfered Thousands Of Dollars From Charitable Bank Account, Took Out $600,000 In High-Fee Loans, Forged Signatures And Failed To Pay Employees

Schneiderman: There Is No Excuse For A Charitable Board Using Organizations’ Valuable Assets For Personal Gain

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a lawsuit against the board of directors of two Brooklyn-based nonprofits, Brooklyn Child & Family Services, Inc. and Project Teen Aid Housing Development Fund Corp., for alleged gross negligence and failed management of the organizations – and of two converted townhouses in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The Rose F. Kennedy Family Center, located at 178 Halsey Street, and the Rosa Parks Apartments, located at 243 Hancock Street, have been owned by the jointly operated nonprofits since the 1990s. The charitable organizations were intended to provide housing and support services for pregnant women, young mothers and their children. As set forth in the lawsuit, an investigation by the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau found that several board members listed the townhouses for sale without necessary approval. Supreme Court Justice Genine D. Edwards granted the Attorney General’s Office a temporary restraining order earlier this week that freezes the organization’s assets.

“Lured by a lucrative real-estate market in Brooklyn, the board members of these two charitable organizations allegedly attempted to illegally sell two brownstones that belonged to the charities and were meant to serve as housing for single mothers – kicking out their vulnerable residents along the way,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “There is simply no excuse for a charitable board using its organizations’ valuable assets for the personal gain of board members. We will continue to hold New York’s entire nonprofit sector to its responsibilities, especially when those obligations are to underprivileged families.”

According to a lawsuit filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Monday, the Attorney General’s investigation, which began in February, found that the board of directors of the two organizations ignored the long-standing charitable mission of the groups and led the organizations to financial ruin, resulting in their loss of public funding. The board members who are being sued by the Attorney General’s Office include directors and officers Thomas McKinney and Amuel Renard Hilliard; Gene Baynes, the organizations’ financial manager, whose certification as a financial planner was revoked in 2010 in California; Vivian Munsey-Thomasson, the vice-chair of both boards; and Reggie Wells, a resident of Chicago.

According to the Attorney General’s petition, in August 2013 and at the board’s direction, the organizations evicted the young women who resided at the Rose Kennedy Center and the Rosa Parks Apartments –who the nonprofits were supposed to serve. The board then allegedly attempted to profit personally by marketing the buildings for private sale: The Rose F. Kennedy Family Center was listed by Halstead for $3.6 million in December 2014, and Rosa Parks Apartments was listed by Halstead for $2.1 million in May 2014. According to the allegations, the board also enlisted Vice Chair Munsey-Thomasson’s son, who is a real estate broker, to market both properties, with the prospect of earning six percent commissions.

The complaint also details evidence of several other alleged improprieties by the organizations’ board and its officers, including:

  • pilfering $80,000 from a charitable bank account directly into the personal account of financial manager Gene Baynes;
  • taking out two high-fee loans totaling $600,000, secured by the Rose Kennedy Center’s property on Halsey Street, currently with an annual interest rate of 12 percent and a default rate of 24 percent;
  • forging the signature of the secretary of the board to authorize the high-fee loan on Rose Kennedy Center’s property, without the board member’s permission;
  • failing to pay the wages of their employees; and
  • neglecting corporate filings, including tax returns.

The Asset Management Division of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development noticed suspicious behavior concerning the management of the properties and notified the appropriate authorities in the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau. Upon receiving complaints from the public and from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau worked with Halstead in February 2015 to remove the listings of the two properties and put a stop to the organizations’ attempt to sell the buildings.

“I am grateful that through the diligence and initiative of HPD Assistant Commissioner Allred and his team in the Office of Asset Management and Property Management, this wrongdoing was brought to light,” said HPD Commissioner Vicki Been. “Our partnership with the Attorney General’s office is a great asset in the fight to protect tenants and preserve the stock of affordable housing. I am pleased to learn that this court order was put in place to protect these buildings and look forward to seeing them return to use as much-needed affordable housing.”

The sale of the charities’ two key assets without prior approval by the Charities Bureau or a state court is illegal under state law. New York’s Not-for-Profit Corporation Law requires that such sales include advance approval by either the appropriate court or the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau. In addition, proceeds of such sales must return to the nonprofit to further its charitable purposes or to another charity with similar purposes. The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges that the attempted sales were intended to personally benefit the board members, and not the charities.

Both the Rose Kennedy Center and the Rosa Parks Apartments buildings accumulated numerous buildings code violations and fines, notwithstanding the millions of public dollars invested in them over the course of many years.

Under the temporary restraining order secured by the Attorney General’s Office on Monday, the court directed that certain bank accounts and other assets of the organizations be frozen. In addition, the Attorney General’s lawsuit is asking the court to remove the board of directors and put a temporary receiver in place to manage the organizations. The five directors must appear in Brooklyn Supreme Court on April 22 to explain why they should not permanently be removed from their positions as officers and directors of the organizations.

The Attorney General’s investigation into Brooklyn Child & Family Services, Inc. and Project Teen Aid Housing Development is continuing.

The Attorney General thanked the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, in particular, Assistant Commissioner Christopher Allred of HPD’s Division of Asset Management, for assisting in the investigation.

The Charities Bureau’s civil case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Fitzwater. Assistance was provided by Legal Assistants Carolyn Fleishman and Jacqueline Sanchez. The Bureau’s Enforcement Section is led by Assistant Attorney General Sean Courtney. The Charities Bureau is led by Deputy Bureau Chief Karin Kunstler Goldman and Bureau Chief James G. Sheehan. The Attorney General’s Division of Social Justice, of which the Charities Bureau is a part, is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg.

The Attorney General’s Charities Bureau regulates nonprofit organizations, and is charged with protecting them and the public from unscrupulous practices in the management of charitable assets and in the solicitation of donations. The Charities Bureau also ensures that funds and other assets of charitable organizations are properly used in accordance with their charitable purposes.

The charges in this lawsuit are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN AND DOI COMMISSIONER PETERS ANNOUNCE ARREST OF FIVE PUBLIC WORKS CONTRACTORS CHARGED WITH UNDERPAYMENT OF NEARLY $1 MILLION IN WAGES TO WORKERS

Subcontractors Working On City School And Affordable Housing Projects Allegedly Underpaid Workers During A Two-Year Period

AG and DOI Commissioner Spearhead Effort To Crack Down On Wage Violations

Schneiderman: We Will Take Aggressive Action Against Employers Who Cheat Workers and Abuse Taxpayer Money

NEW YORK – As part of an ongoing focus on widespread allegations of wage theft at public works projects in New York City, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters today announced the arrests of five subcontractors on charges they underpaid wages and benefits to workers at three publicly-funded New York City construction projects.

The arrests stem from an investigation into underpayment and kickback schemes that allegedly took place at P.S. 7X, an elementary school in the Bronx, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s (HPD) Sugar Hill Houses in Harlem, and the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Pomonok Houses project in Fresh Meadows, Queens, between January 2012 and November 2014. The Manhattan case includes a top count felony of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree against Sergio Raymundo and his New Paltz-based construction company for allegedly cheating eight workers at the Sugar Hill housing project out of approximately $800,000 in wages during a 17-month period.

“Employers who cheat workers out of the wages and benefits they deserve are breaking the law and will face the consequences, including criminal charges,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Like all workers across America, New York City’s construction workers do not deserve to be cheated out the wages they earned from building schools for our children and affordable housing for our families. My office will continue to take aggressive action with our law enforcement partners against employers who ignore their legal obligation to pay workers proper prevailing wages on taxpayer-funded projects.”

Today’s arrests are part of an ongoing effort to root out prevailing wage underpayment practices in New York City. In December, three other subcontractors were arrested for allegedly violating prevailing wage laws. Those arrests involved work done at P.S. 196K in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the NYCHA Pomonok Houses development in Fresh Meadows, Queens.

NYC Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters said, “Prevailing wage theft steals paychecks from honest workers’ pockets and compromises the integrity of construction sites on City-funded projects. I look forward to continuing to work together with the Attorney General and our partner agencies to expose and prosecute this pernicious crime.”

NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been said, “After months of hard work I am pleased to see this case moving forward, and I thank the Attorney General, the Department of Investigation, and their teams for their continued partnership on this investigation.”

Federal and state prevailing wage laws seek to ensure that government contractors pay wages and benefits that are comparable to the local norms for a given trade, typically well above the state and federal minimum wage, and hold general contractors responsible for underpayments by their subcontractors. Today’s arrests covered three separate projects spanning three New York City boroughs that were subject to prevailing wage requirements.

One of the cases, which spans three indictments filed in Bronx Supreme Court, charges three business owners and their respective companies for allegedly underpaying masonry workers on an exterior renovation project at P.S. 7X in the Bronx during different time periods between January 2012 and November 2012. The defendants are Shamas Mian, 51, and his company, United Construction Field, Inc., located in Brooklyn; Tariq Mahmood, 56, and his company, Peral General Contractor LLC, located in Fresh Meadows, Queens; and Baldev Singh, 39.

Mian is accused of underpaying workers by more than $25,000 and covering up the underpayments by allegedly submitting falsified payroll records to New York City’s School Construction Authority. He is charged with Failure to Pay Prevailing Wages and Benefits in Excess of $25,000, Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, and Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree.

Mahmood and Singh are accused of underpaying workers by more than $100,000. They are charged with Failure to Pay Prevailing Wages and Benefits in Excess of $100,000. They each face seven years in prison if convicted.

The second case, filed in Manhattan Criminal Court, charges a subcontractor for allegedly underpaying eight carpentry workers approximately $800,000 for work done at the NYC HPD’s Sugar Hill Houses, a mixed-use, commercial and low-income residential project in Harlem, from April 2013 through August 2014. The defendants are Sergio Raymundo, 28, and his company Lalo Drywall, Inc., located in New Paltz.

Raymundo is accused of underpaying eight workers by approximately $800,000 and attempting to conceal the underpayments by signing false checks drawn on his company’s account indicating that employees on the job were paid properly under the law. According to court papers, those checks were never given to the workers.

Raymundo is charged with counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree and Failure to Pay Wages. Raymundo faces four years in prison if convicted.

The third case, lodged in Queens Criminal Court, charges a subcontractor and his company with allegedly demanding kick-backs and underpaying workers for scaffolding work done at the NYCHA Pomonok Houses in Fresh Meadows between August 2014 and November 2014. The defendants are Jagdish Singh, 57, and his company, Navico B & S Construction Corp., located in Jamaica, Queens. Navico has multiple contracts with NYCHA to provide scaffolding at various construction projects across New York City.

Singh is accused of demanding $6,000 in kick-backs from two workers. The alleged kickbacks were required by Singh in exchange for the workers keeping their jobs. One employee returned $5,785 of his wages, another $1,006. A third worker was allegedly underpaid by $2,520. Singh is charged with Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, Kick-Back of Wages Prohibited, and Failure to Pay Wages. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

In addition to the criminal actions announced today, OAG and the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) Inspector General’s Office have also pursued civil recovery of the back wages related to the December indictments. Under the civil provisions of the New York State prevailing wage law, a general contractor is financially responsible for any underpayment of wages and benefits by its subcontractors.

The general contractor on the Brooklyn exterior renovation at P.S. 196K, Pro-Metal Construction, Inc. of Brooklyn, New York, entered into an Assurance of Discontinuance with the Office of the Attorney General on December 16, 2014 guaranteeing payment to eight of the subcontractor’s workers. Pro-Metal has paid $323,000 to cover the alleged underpayment of wages and benefits for work performed by its subcontractors at the Brooklyn school. One of the laborers on the job is being paid over $70,000, while another five are being made whole with payments in excess of $35,000.

The alleged underpayments for the school projects at P.S. 7X in the Bronx and P.S. 235K in Brooklyn will be paid by general contractor Dean Builders Group, Inc. of Great Neck, New York. Dean entered a settlement agreement with the New York City School Construction Authority on January 14th, 2015 wherein it agreed to assign $201,946.00 in funds to the SCA to cover the underpayment in wages and benefits. As to benefits, Dean has paid over an additional $90,000.00 to the Mason Tenders Benefit Fund for benefits owed to the workers on the two jobs.

The Attorney General thanks the Inspectors General for the School Construction Authority, the New York City Housing Authority and Housing Preservation and Development, all of whom report to the Department of Investigation, and their staffs for their assistance on this investigation.

The SCA cases were investigated by William O’Brien and Lee Callier of the School Construction Authority, Office of the Inspector General under the supervision of First Assistant Inspector General Gerard McEnroe and Inspector General Maria Mostajo. The HPD case was investigated by Deputy Inspector General David Jordan and Assistant Inspector General Ondie Frederick under the supervision of Inspector General Jessica Heegan. The NYCHA case was investigated by Special Investigator Robert Diienno of the New York City Housing Authority, Office of the Inspector General under the supervision of Inspector General Ralph Ianuzzi. The Department Investigation’s effort to combat prevailing wage violations was overseen by Senior Associate Commissioner Michael Carroll and Associate Commissioner William Jorgenson.

Attorney General investigators working on these cases are Elsa Rojas, Sixto Santiago, Edward Ortiz, Ismael Hernandez, Brian Metz, Michael Leahy, Naomi Jimenez, Michael Yun and Senior Investigators Salvatore Ventola and Lawrence Riccio with assistance by Supervising Investigators John M. Sullivan and Michael Ward. The investigation was conducted under the supervision of Supervising Investigators Luis Carter, under the direction of Deputy Chief Investigator John McManus. The Attorney General’s Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Investigator Dominic Zarrella.

The criminal cases are being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ross, Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Holt and Richard Balletta, the Attorney General Labor Bureau’s criminal section chief, with assistance from Stephanie Swenton, the Deputy Bureau Chief of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau.

The Labor Bureau Chief is Terri Gerstein. The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg and Kelly Donovan is the Executive Deputy Attorney General For Criminal Justice.

All charges are accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

MAJORITY LEADER MORELLE & SENATOR GALLIVAN TO SPONSOR A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN’S PAYROLL CARD ACT

Rochester Community And Labor Leader Announce Support For Legislation To Regulate Payroll Cards; Protect Workers From Unfair Fees And Coercion

Schneiderman: Workers Shouldn’t Have To Pay To Get Their Pay

ROCHESTER – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle and Senator Patrick Gallivan will sponsor the Attorney General’s program bill regulating the use of payroll cards to increase protections for workers, clarify ambiguities in the law, and ensure that payroll cards offer a convenient and beneficial method for workers to access their pay. Several Rochester area labor and community organizations also announced their support for the bill, including the Rochester & Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation, the Rochester Building & Construction Trades, the Rochester Legal Aid Society, Metro Justice, the Worker Justice Center of New York, and Empire Justice. The Attorney General’s Payroll Card Act requires clear disclosure of payroll card fees, and restricts certain fees. The legislation was first proposed last year, following recommendations made in a report released by the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau.

“Workers shouldn’t have to pay to get their pay,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “While payroll cards can be helpful for employees without bank accounts, too often workers see their hard-earned wages chipped away by fees. The Payroll Card Act will ensure that workers have free and clear access to their wages, and provide clarity to employers about how to offer payroll cards in compliance with the law.”

“As public officials we have an obligation to protect the interests of New York State’s hard working men and women and ensure that employers are doing the same,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph D. Morelle. “The Payroll Card Act delivers meaningful protections for workers by eliminating unreasonable fees, ensuring that they receive every dollar they have rightfully earned, and establishes clear guidelines for employers to follow when distributing payroll cards. I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership on this issue and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the legislature toward the passage of this bill.”

“We want to ensure that hard working New Yorkers have easy access to their wages and are protected from excessive fees. We also need to protect employers from overly burdensome regulations. We can achieve both by clarifying the rules regarding the use of payroll cards and the options available to workers and businesses,” said Senator Patrick Gallivan.

“I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for leading the fight to protect the hard earned wages of working New Yorkers,” said Assembly Member Harry Bronson. “As more employers continue to adopt payroll card programs, it is critical to give employees an informed choice in how they are paid, provide clear disclosure of any fees associated with payroll cards, and make it easy to avoid those fees.”

“Payroll Cards have grown increasingly common across New York State, but our laws have not kept up with this trend,” said Jim Bertolone, President of the Rochester & Genesee Valley Labor Federation. “That has left low wage workers exposed to unexpected and costly fees. By updating the law, Attorney General Schneiderman’s Payroll Card Act will ensure that workers have a fair chance to receive all of the wages they earn.”

Stuart Appelbaum, President of the RWDSU said, “For low-wage workers, unregulated payroll card fees can bring their earnings below the minimum wage. There must be clear language on fees, and workers must be provided in writing the terms and conditions of the card, including all fees that may be assessed. This bill will require that the card has access to at least one network of ATMs providing no-cost cash withdrawals, balance inquiries, and other fee-free services. We stand with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in calling for passage of this bill that will regulate employer use of payroll cards.”

“For workers who are living paycheck to paycheck, a surprise fee taken out of their pay can leave them short on the rent at the end of the month. That’s just not fair,” said Carla Palumbo, President & CEO of the Legal Aid Society of Rochester. “The legislature should pass Attorney General Schneiderman’s Payroll Card Act, so that every worker will be clearly informed of how they can receive their wages without paying any fees.”

“Both workers and employers deserve clear guidelines for how payroll cards can be used fairly,” said Lewis Papenfuse, Executive Director of the Worker Justice Center of New York. “Attorney General Schneiderman’s Payroll Card Act will ensure that employers can enjoy greater efficiency without saddling workers with unfair fees.”

“Lower-wage workers are increasingly receiving their wages on payroll cards, and can ill afford to see their hard-earned pay drained by unfair fees and charges that benefit the big financial institutions that issue these cards. It is vital that New York implement strong protections to ensure that workers have fair and unobstructed access to their wages,” said Liz Fusco, staff attorney at New Economy Project.

“This bill would go a long way toward ensuring that workers have a choice in how to be paid, and that they won’t be nickel-and-dimed out of their wages,” said Chuck Bell, programs director for Consumers Union, the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. “These reforms would help promote fair, safe, and effective methods for workers to access their pay.”

A payroll card is a prepaid debit card used by employers to pay wages to employees, typically as an alternative to direct deposit or a paper check. Each payday, a cardholder employee’s wages are deposited electronically into an account at a bank selected by the employer or by the payroll card vendor. The employee can obtain access to the funds in the account by using the payroll card. Similar to a bank-issued debit card, the payroll card can be used to withdraw funds from an ATM, make point-of-sale purchases, and electronically transfer funds, among other functions.

Use of payroll cards has increased significantly in recent years. Nationally, an estimated 5.8 million workers received their wages via payroll cards in 2013, and that number is expected to increase to 10.8 million by 2017, according to research reported in Forbes. Often cited benefits of payroll cards include cost savings for employers; payroll cards’ usefulness in weather-related disasters when paper checks are hard to deliver to employees; payroll cards’ limited environmental impact, compared with paper checks, and the lower transactional cost to employees of payroll cards, when compared with check-cashing outlets. These benefits however cannot be used as an excuse to charge onerous fees or withhold basic information to participant wage earners.

The Attorney General’s office began looking into payroll card programs utilized in New York State in 2013 after receiving complaints from employees and other information indicating that certain payroll card programs were potentially in violation of state labor law, or did not provide adequate disclosures regarding the terms and conditions of the card. In response to requests from the Attorney General’s Office, 38 national and regional employers submitted information on their use of payroll cards. Last year, the Attorney General released a report detailing the findings of his office’s review of the information provided.

The Attorney General Labor Bureau Report revealed the following:

  • Cardholder employees were often given insufficient information about how to obtain their wages without incurring a fee and, where the employer provided detailed fee data, approximately 75% of cardholder employees incurred some kind of fee while attempting to access their wages.
  • In some programs, fees reached as high as $20 per employee per month, on average. Workers were steered or required to be paid by payroll card: 40% of employers surveyed did not provide employees with the option of receiving their wages by a traditional paper check, and an additional 31% discouraged the selection of a paper check.
  • Many programs failed to provide sufficient means for workers to withdraw wages without incurring fees. One employer’s payroll card vendor brought in almost $70,000 in fees for fewer than 5,000 cardholder employees during a one year period, of which over $60,000 were for ATM transactions alone, the majority of them to access wages or check account balances.
  • More than one-third of employers used payroll card programs that included overdraft fees. One payroll card vendor received over $200,000 in overdraft fees from August 2012 to July 2013, with an average of 2,570 accounts open each month.

The report recommended a range of reforms, some of which have subsequently been adopted by a number of the surveyed employers as a result of the Attorney General’s inquiry and report. These reforms are included in the Payroll Card Act to address these problems more broadly and ensure that payroll cards can be a convenient and beneficial method of payment for workers to access their pay. Its provisions would protect the rights of workers and prevent the unfair reduction of their wages through fees, including:

  • Requiring employers to allow employees to elect whether to be paid through a payroll card, direct deposit, or to receive a paper check;
  • Mandating that employees receive clear and appropriate notice of payroll card program terms and conditions, including potential fees and how to avoid them; and
  • Prohibiting employers from using payroll card programs that charge certain types of fees, and requiring employers to use payroll card programs with at least one network of ATMs where employees can obtain access to their wages without paying a fee.MAJORITY LEADER MORELLE & SENATOR GALLIVAN TO SPONSOR A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN’S PAYROLL CARD ACTRochester Community And Labor Leader Announce Support For Legislation To Regulate Payroll Cards; Protect Workers From Unfair Fees And CoercionSchneiderman: Workers Shouldn’t Have To Pay To Get Their PayROCHESTER – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle and Senator Patrick Gallivan will sponsor the Attorney General’s program bill regulating the use of payroll cards to increase protections for workers, clarify ambiguities in the law, and ensure that payroll cards offer a convenient and beneficial method for workers to access their pay. Several Rochester area labor and community organizations also announced their support for the bill, including the Rochester & Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation, the Rochester Building & Construction Trades, the Rochester Legal Aid Society, Metro Justice, the Worker Justice Center of New York, and Empire Justice. The Attorney General’s Payroll Card Act requires clear disclosure of payroll card fees, and restricts certain fees. The legislation was first proposed last year, following recommendations made in a report released by the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau.“Workers shouldn’t have to pay to get their pay,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “While payroll cards can be helpful for employees without bank accounts, too often workers see their hard-earned wages chipped away by fees. The Payroll Card Act will ensure that workers have free and clear access to their wages, and provide clarity to employers about how to offer payroll cards in compliance with the law.”“As public officials we have an obligation to protect the interests of New York State’s hard working men and women and ensure that employers are doing the same,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph D. Morelle. “The Payroll Card Act delivers meaningful protections for workers by eliminating unreasonable fees, ensuring that they receive every dollar they have rightfully earned, and establishes clear guidelines for employers to follow when distributing payroll cards. I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership on this issue and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the legislature toward the passage of this bill.”“We want to ensure that hard working New Yorkers have easy access to their wages and are protected from excessive fees. We also need to protect employers from overly burdensome regulations. We can achieve both by clarifying the rules regarding the use of payroll cards and the options available to workers and businesses,” said Senator Patrick Gallivan.“I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for leading the fight to protect the hard earned wages of working New Yorkers,” said Assembly Member Harry Bronson. “As more employers continue to adopt payroll card programs, it is critical to give employees an informed choice in how they are paid, provide clear disclosure of any fees associated with payroll cards, and make it easy to avoid those fees.”

    “Payroll Cards have grown increasingly common across New York State, but our laws have not kept up with this trend,” said Jim Bertolone, President of the Rochester & Genesee Valley Labor Federation. “That has left low wage workers exposed to unexpected and costly fees. By updating the law, Attorney General Schneiderman’s Payroll Card Act will ensure that workers have a fair chance to receive all of the wages they earn.”

    Stuart Appelbaum, President of the RWDSU said, “For low-wage workers, unregulated payroll card fees can bring their earnings below the minimum wage. There must be clear language on fees, and workers must be provided in writing the terms and conditions of the card, including all fees that may be assessed. This bill will require that the card has access to at least one network of ATMs providing no-cost cash withdrawals, balance inquiries, and other fee-free services. We stand with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in calling for passage of this bill that will regulate employer use of payroll cards.”

    “For workers who are living paycheck to paycheck, a surprise fee taken out of their pay can leave them short on the rent at the end of the month. That’s just not fair,” said Carla Palumbo, President & CEO of the Legal Aid Society of Rochester. “The legislature should pass Attorney General Schneiderman’s Payroll Card Act, so that every worker will be clearly informed of how they can receive their wages without paying any fees.”

    “Both workers and employers deserve clear guidelines for how payroll cards can be used fairly,” said Lewis Papenfuse, Executive Director of the Worker Justice Center of New York. “Attorney General Schneiderman’s Payroll Card Act will ensure that employers can enjoy greater efficiency without saddling workers with unfair fees.”

    “Lower-wage workers are increasingly receiving their wages on payroll cards, and can ill afford to see their hard-earned pay drained by unfair fees and charges that benefit the big financial institutions that issue these cards. It is vital that New York implement strong protections to ensure that workers have fair and unobstructed access to their wages,” said Liz Fusco, staff attorney at New Economy Project.

    “This bill would go a long way toward ensuring that workers have a choice in how to be paid, and that they won’t be nickel-and-dimed out of their wages,” said Chuck Bell, programs director for Consumers Union, the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. “These reforms would help promote fair, safe, and effective methods for workers to access their pay.”

    A payroll card is a prepaid debit card used by employers to pay wages to employees, typically as an alternative to direct deposit or a paper check. Each payday, a cardholder employee’s wages are deposited electronically into an account at a bank selected by the employer or by the payroll card vendor. The employee can obtain access to the funds in the account by using the payroll card. Similar to a bank-issued debit card, the payroll card can be used to withdraw funds from an ATM, make point-of-sale purchases, and electronically transfer funds, among other functions.

    Use of payroll cards has increased significantly in recent years. Nationally, an estimated 5.8 million workers received their wages via payroll cards in 2013, and that number is expected to increase to 10.8 million by 2017, according to research reported in Forbes. Often cited benefits of payroll cards include cost savings for employers; payroll cards’ usefulness in weather-related disasters when paper checks are hard to deliver to employees; payroll cards’ limited environmental impact, compared with paper checks, and the lower transactional cost to employees of payroll cards, when compared with check-cashing outlets. These benefits however cannot be used as an excuse to charge onerous fees or withhold basic information to participant wage earners.

    The Attorney General’s office began looking into payroll card programs utilized in New York State in 2013 after receiving complaints from employees and other information indicating that certain payroll card programs were potentially in violation of state labor law, or did not provide adequate disclosures regarding the terms and conditions of the card. In response to requests from the Attorney General’s Office, 38 national and regional employers submitted information on their use of payroll cards. Last year, the Attorney General released a report detailing the findings of his office’s review of the information provided.

    The Attorney General Labor Bureau Report revealed the following:

    • Cardholder employees were often given insufficient information about how to obtain their wages without incurring a fee and, where the employer provided detailed fee data, approximately 75% of cardholder employees incurred some kind of fee while attempting to access their wages.
    • In some programs, fees reached as high as $20 per employee per month, on average. Workers were steered or required to be paid by payroll card: 40% of employers surveyed did not provide employees with the option of receiving their wages by a traditional paper check, and an additional 31% discouraged the selection of a paper check.
    • Many programs failed to provide sufficient means for workers to withdraw wages without incurring fees. One employer’s payroll card vendor brought in almost $70,000 in fees for fewer than 5,000 cardholder employees during a one year period, of which over $60,000 were for ATM transactions alone, the majority of them to access wages or check account balances.
    • More than one-third of employers used payroll card programs that included overdraft fees. One payroll card vendor received over $200,000 in overdraft fees from August 2012 to July 2013, with an average of 2,570 accounts open each month.

    The report recommended a range of reforms, some of which have subsequently been adopted by a number of the surveyed employers as a result of the Attorney General’s inquiry and report. These reforms are included in the Payroll Card Act to address these problems more broadly and ensure that payroll cards can be a convenient and beneficial method of payment for workers to access their pay. Its provisions would protect the rights of workers and prevent the unfair reduction of their wages through fees, including:

    • Requiring employers to allow employees to elect whether to be paid through a payroll card, direct deposit, or to receive a paper check;
    • Mandating that employees receive clear and appropriate notice of payroll card program terms and conditions, including potential fees and how to avoid them; and
    • Prohibiting employers from using payroll card programs that charge certain types of fees, and requiring employers to use payroll card programs with at least one network of ATMs where employees can obtain access to their wages without paying a fee.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ISSUES CONSUMER ALERT WARNING NEW YORKERS ABOUT COMMON TAX SEASON SCAMSScammers Are Impersonating Tax Authorities And Threatening Consumers Over Bogus Debts

Schneiderman: New Yorkers Should Have the Information They Need to Avoid These Scams and Report Them

NEW YORK – With this year’s tax deadline looming and April marking Financial Literacy Month, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today offered New Yorkers tips to avoid falling victim to reported tax prep scams. The Attorney General also asked taxpayers to notify his office of any suspected fraudulent schemes designed to steal personal and financial information from consumers.

“Unfortunately, there are scammers who will shamelessly take advantage of vulnerable consumers as they try to file their taxes on time,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “My office wants to ensure that consumers have the information they need to avoid these scams and report them to the appropriate authorities.”

Each year, the Office of the Attorney General receives complaints from consumers about various tax preparation schemes. This year, the Attorney General’s Office has received numerous complaints about scammers who are impersonating IRS officials and attempting to collect bogus tax debts. The scammers often threaten lawsuits or arrest if consumers fail to turn over money or provide sensitive personal information. Often the scammers claim consumers owe past tax debts and insist that consumers pay using a pre-paid credit card. Pre-paid credit cards are generally difficult to trace and that is why many scammers insist that would-be scam victims pay using these products.

In an effort to help New Yorkers avoid tax-themed scams, the Attorney General’s Office offers the following tips:

  • The IRS and legitimate government agencies never demand payment by phone;
  • If you owe money, you will receive a legitimate notice in writing that identifies the agency and the reason you owe money;
  • Do not give out personal information, including your Social Security number or bank account information, to telephone callers;
  • Legitimate government organizations will never threaten arrest or deportation for failure to pay a debt;
  • Legitimate government agencies will never insist that consumers pay a debt only via a pre-paid credit card.

The following suggestions will help consumers file their tax returns safely and keep more of their return:

  • If you use a tax-preparation service, use only established and recognizable companies;
  • Check the tax preparer’s qualifications and history through the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org);
  • Ask for a written estimate of all fees; avoid those who base their fees on a percentage of your refund;
  • Make sure the tax preparer is accessible, even after the April due date;
  • Never sign a blank return;
  • Review entire return before signing;
  • Make sure the preparer signs the tax form and includes a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN);
  • Consult New York’s “Consumer Bill of Rights Regarding Tax Preparers.”

Consumers should also beware of refund anticipation loans (RALs) and refund anticipation checks (RACs). RALs are often marketed as “instant” or “24-hour” refunds but are actually high-cost loans that come with fees and interest that reduce the amount of any refund. New York State’s General Business Law section 372 (known as the Consumer Bill of Rights regarding Tax Preparers), requires RALs to be marketed as loans – not refunds. RACs are temporary bank accounts established on behalf of a taxpayer into which a direct-deposit refund can be received –but these also come with fees that will reduce the consumer’s refund. The tax preparer must give the consumer a written disclosure that explains:

  • That consumers are not required to take out a refund anticipation loan or refund anticipation check in order to receive your tax refund;
  • The amount of fees and interest consumers will have to pay for a refund anticipation loan or refund anticipation check;
  • The amount consumers will receive after the fees and interest are deducted;
  • The annual percentage rate of interest that consumers will be charged;
  • The amount the refund will be without a refund anticipation loan.

Consumers can avoid the costs of refund anticipation loans and checks by filing their return electronically and having refunds mailed or directly deposited into their own bank accounts.

Consumers may report suspected instances of consumer fraud by calling Attorney General Schneiderman’s Office at 1-800-771-7755 or by visiting www.ag.ny.gov.

The Attorney General also reminds New Yorkers that there are Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites where consumers can get their tax returns prepared free of charge. For more information about how to qualify and identify VITA location sites, go to www.irs.gov.

Consumers whose income is $60,000 or less may qualify for FreeFile and can use free tax preparation and e-filing software. Information on free e-filing is available at: www.tax.ny.gov.

Some additional websites with helpful information include:

Internal Revenue Service
www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc254.html

NYS Consumer Bill of Rights Regarding Tax Preparers
www.tax.ny.gov/pdf/memos/income/m08_7i.pdf

NYC Department of Consumer Affairs
www.nyc.gov/html/dca/html/home/home.shtml

Attorney General Schneiderman is urging New Yorkers to be vigilant consumers and to report instances of fraud to his Office. Consumers who feel they’ve been victims of any tax preparation scams are urged to file complaints by visiting the Office’s website or calling 1-800-771-7755. Consumers can also file an online complaint with the United States Treasury Inspector General at http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml.

THIS WEEK IN THE NEWS

April 6 to April 10, 2015

TOP HEADLINES

Calling For Increased Federal Oversight Over the Herbal Supplements Industry

The Attorney General along with Attorney General Greg Zoeller of Indiana, are leading a bi-partisan group of 14 attorneys general calling on Congressional leaders to launch a comprehensive inquiry into the herbal supplements industry. The group has sent a letter asking for Congress to consider a more robust oversight role for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with respect to herbal supplements. The letter follows New York State’s investigation that raised serious concerns about the marketing and safety of these products, which are regularly consumed by millions of Americans. 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, and the Attorney General is proud to stand with a bipartisan group of attorneys general calling for a Congressional inquiry into whether stronger FDA oversight of the herbal supplements industry is needed.

Promoting Safety And Oversight In The Herbal Supplements Industry

This week the Attorney General 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. GNC will be required to implement a variety of 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. 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.

 

Guaranteeing Equal Access to Junior College Athletic Programs

New York State’s educational programs should be open to all students, regardless of background. In pursuance of this cause, the Attorney General 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. The rule had a particularly negative impact upon urban junior college systems that serve a large number of immigrant students. For example, in the Fall of 2013, 39% of students enrolled at junior colleges within the City University of New York system were born outside the mainland United States.

Protecting Consumers Against Fraudulent Subscription Solicitations

New York was one of five states to file 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. The lawsuit 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.

 

Protecting Immigrants From Fraud and Scam Artists

In advance of the implementation of the president’s executive action on immigration, the Attorney General has partnered with Mayor de Blasio to form a new joint task force to target those who prey on immigrants, while encouraging victims of fraud to come forward without fear. The Attorney General is committed to making New York a state where immigrants have the opportunity to succeed and realize the promise of the American dream, and this partnership does exactly that. Together with the Mayor, the Attorney General is sending a powerful message that New York has zero tolerance for anyone who seeks to prey on immigrants and their families. Through this partnership, the Attorney General will hold accountable those who take advantage of vulnerable immigrants and help make the goals of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration a reality for thousands of New Yorkers.

Holding Nursing Homes Accountable

People suffering from disabilities deserve the best assistance available when exploring the option to stay in their home. But Keli House Community Services used unqualified individuals to provide services to Medicaid recipients who participated in the Home and Community Based Services Program. 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. As a result of violating the trust of these patients and their families, the Attorney General has reached a settlement with Keli House to reimburse Medicaid $363,643.

 

Promising That People Suffering From Disabilities Have The Best Help Available

When a vulnerable member of society with a disability enters into the care of a nurse or nursing home, it is the Attorney General’s job to ensure that these individuals are under safe and protective care. That is why nurses like Marie Jeanty, who allegedly pushed and hit the resident multiple times in the arm and shoulder with a closed fist and forcibly pushed her into the side of the bed rail, must be arrested and prosecuted.  When New Yorkers place those who mean the most to them in a nursing home, they should have confidence that their loved ones are not in danger of severe physical abuse, and the Attorney General will bring criminal charges against nurses who violate the trust of the residents in their care and their family members.

 

Protecting Consumers Against Identity Theft  

The Attorney General is committed to cracking down on brazen identity-theft crimes which target unsuspecting consumers. This week, the Attorney General announced prison sentences for Tyrone “Reece” Lee, 28, and Anthony “Sug” Davis, 29, both of the Bronx, who had previously pleaded guilty to participating in a brazen identity-theft ring that targeted customers of local banks. The ring stole over $850,000 by using bank tellers to fraudulently obtain the personal information of hundreds of customers, and then creating fake identification cards to withdraw money from the accounts. Lee orchestrated the hiring of corrupt bank tellers at Westchester and New York City-area banks. He directed the bank tellers to target customers with common names and over $50,000 in their accounts. After the customer information was smuggled to him, Lee conspired with Davis to create fraudulent checks and identification documents using the stolen customer information. Lee arranged for other ring members to impersonate bank account holders to withdraw money at area banks. The Attorney General wants to send a clear message that those who steal New Yorkers’ personal financial information will pay a steep price, and that he will do all we can to protect innocent businesses and their customers from the growing threat of identity theft.

 

Punishing Those Who Raid and Steal From Non-Profits

Daniel Dominguez thought he could get away with stealing from a Volunteer Ambulance Corps to fund his own extravagant lifestyle and adventures. But Dominguez, who stole over $300,000 from the Corona Community Volunteer Ambulance Corps (CCAC) in Queens, has been caught and been sentenced to serve four months in jail and five years probation, and to pay full restitution. According to the Attorney General’s felony complaint filed in September 2013, from March 2009 to May 2011, Dominguez used his position as a board member and treasurer of CCAC to steal more than $300,000 from CCAC bank accounts. Dominguez used his access to CCAC bank accounts to transfer funds directly into his own personal accounts. He then used that money for extravagant jaunts to Walt Disney World and Niagara Falls, as well as purchases of luxury car service trips, theater tickets, rent, car payments and fancy meals. This defendant is not only headed to jail, but also must repay every dollar that he stole from the nonprofit. Our message is clear: Crime doesn’t pay.

*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.

THIS WEEK IN THE NEWS

April 6 to April 10, 2015

TOP HEADLINES

Calling For Increased Federal Oversight Over the Herbal Supplements Industry

The Attorney General along with Attorney General Greg Zoeller of Indiana, are leading a bi-partisan group of 14 attorneys general calling on Congressional leaders to launch a comprehensive inquiry into the herbal supplements industry. The group has sent a letter asking for Congress to consider a more robust oversight role for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with respect to herbal supplements. The letter follows New York State’s investigation that raised serious concerns about the marketing and safety of these products, which are regularly consumed by millions of Americans. 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, and the Attorney General is proud to stand with a bipartisan group of attorneys general calling for a Congressional inquiry into whether stronger FDA oversight of the herbal supplements industry is needed.

Promoting Safety And Oversight In The Herbal Supplements Industry

This week the Attorney General 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. GNC will be required to implement a variety of 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. 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.

 

Guaranteeing Equal Access to Junior College Athletic Programs

New York State’s educational programs should be open to all students, regardless of background. In pursuance of this cause, the Attorney General 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. The rule had a particularly negative impact upon urban junior college systems that serve a large number of immigrant students. For example, in the Fall of 2013, 39% of students enrolled at junior colleges within the City University of New York system were born outside the mainland United States.

Protecting Consumers Against Fraudulent Subscription Solicitations

New York was one of five states to file 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. The lawsuit 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.

 

Protecting Immigrants From Fraud and Scam Artists

In advance of the implementation of the president’s executive action on immigration, the Attorney General has partnered with Mayor de Blasio to form a new joint task force to target those who prey on immigrants, while encouraging victims of fraud to come forward without fear. The Attorney General is committed to making New York a state where immigrants have the opportunity to succeed and realize the promise of the American dream, and this partnership does exactly that. Together with the Mayor, the Attorney General is sending a powerful message that New York has zero tolerance for anyone who seeks to prey on immigrants and their families. Through this partnership, the Attorney General will hold accountable those who take advantage of vulnerable immigrants and help make the goals of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration a reality for thousands of New Yorkers.

Holding Nursing Homes Accountable

People suffering from disabilities deserve the best assistance available when exploring the option to stay in their home. But Keli House Community Services used unqualified individuals to provide services to Medicaid recipients who participated in the Home and Community Based Services Program. 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. As a result of violating the trust of these patients and their families, the Attorney General has reached a settlement with Keli House to reimburse Medicaid $363,643.

 

Promising That People Suffering From Disabilities Have The Best Help Available

When a vulnerable member of society with a disability enters into the care of a nurse or nursing home, it is the Attorney General’s job to ensure that these individuals are under safe and protective care. That is why nurses like Marie Jeanty, who allegedly pushed and hit the resident multiple times in the arm and shoulder with a closed fist and forcibly pushed her into the side of the bed rail, must be arrested and prosecuted.  When New Yorkers place those who mean the most to them in a nursing home, they should have confidence that their loved ones are not in danger of severe physical abuse, and the Attorney General will bring criminal charges against nurses who violate the trust of the residents in their care and their family members.

 

Protecting Consumers Against Identity Theft  

The Attorney General is committed to cracking down on brazen identity-theft crimes which target unsuspecting consumers. This week, the Attorney General announced prison sentences for Tyrone “Reece” Lee, 28, and Anthony “Sug” Davis, 29, both of the Bronx, who had previously pleaded guilty to participating in a brazen identity-theft ring that targeted customers of local banks. The ring stole over $850,000 by using bank tellers to fraudulently obtain the personal information of hundreds of customers, and then creating fake identification cards to withdraw money from the accounts. Lee orchestrated the hiring of corrupt bank tellers at Westchester and New York City-area banks. He directed the bank tellers to target customers with common names and over $50,000 in their accounts. After the customer information was smuggled to him, Lee conspired with Davis to create fraudulent checks and identification documents using the stolen customer information. Lee arranged for other ring members to impersonate bank account holders to withdraw money at area banks. The Attorney General wants to send a clear message that those who steal New Yorkers’ personal financial information will pay a steep price, and that he will do all we can to protect innocent businesses and their customers from the growing threat of identity theft.

 

Punishing Those Who Raid and Steal From Non-Profits

Daniel Dominguez thought he could get away with stealing from a Volunteer Ambulance Corps to fund his own extravagant lifestyle and adventures. But Dominguez, who stole over $300,000 from the Corona Community Volunteer Ambulance Corps (CCAC) in Queens, has been caught and been sentenced to serve four months in jail and five years probation, and to pay full restitution. According to the Attorney General’s felony complaint filed in September 2013, from March 2009 to May 2011, Dominguez used his position as a board member and treasurer of CCAC to steal more than $300,000 from CCAC bank accounts. Dominguez used his access to CCAC bank accounts to transfer funds directly into his own personal accounts. He then used that money for extravagant jaunts to Walt Disney World and Niagara Falls, as well as purchases of luxury car service trips, theater tickets, rent, car payments and fancy meals. This defendant is not only headed to jail, but also must repay every dollar that he stole from the nonprofit. Our message is clear: Crime doesn’t pay.

 

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES JAIL SENTENCE FOR EMT WHO STOLE FROM QUEENS VOLUNTEER AMBULANCE CORPS

EMT Daniel Dominguez Used More Than $300,000 Stolen From Nonprofit Volunteer Ambulance Corps For Personal Travel, Luxury Car Service And Theater Tickets

Schneiderman: This Defendant Is Headed To Jail And Will Repay Every Dollar That He Stole From This Nonprofit

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that Daniel Dominguez, a volunteer emergency medical technician who stole over $300,000 from the Corona Community Volunteer Ambulance Corps (CCAC) in Queens, has been sentenced to serve four months in jail and five years probation, and to pay full restitution. In the event that Dominguez fails to pay the full restitution amount, he faces up to seven years in prison.

“Daniel Dominguez used this charity dedicated to providing medical services to New Yorkers as his own personal piggy bank,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “This defendant is not only headed to jail, but also must repay every dollar that he stole from the nonprofit. Our message is clear: Crime doesn’t pay.”

Dominguez pleaded guilty on January 14, 2015 to Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a Class D felony. Dominguez was sentenced today before the Honorable Justice Joel Blumenfeld in Queens County Supreme Court.

According to the Attorney General’s felony complaint filed in September 2013, from March 2009 to May 2011, Dominguez used his position as a board member and treasurer of CCAC to steal more than $300,000 from CCAC bank accounts. Dominguez used his access to CCAC bank accounts to transfer funds directly into his own personal accounts. He then used that money for extravagant jaunts to Walt Disney World and Niagara Falls, as well as purchases of luxury car service trips, theater tickets, rent, car payments and fancy meals.

Founded in 1960, CCAC is a non-profit volunteer ambulance organization whose EMTs and paramedics provide basic medical care to patients and transport them to hospitals. CCAC responds to 911 calls as well as community requests to transport patients to hospital and medical appointments.

The Attorney General’s investigation commenced with a complaint from CCAC board members to the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau about possible missing or misappropriated funds from CCAC bank accounts. An investigation conducted by attorneys and an accountant in the Charities Bureau uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars embezzled from the not-for-profit.

Separate felony complaints filed by the Attorney General’s Office in September 2013 alleged that two other CCAC board members, Daryl Adeva and David Moretti–who served as a board member and President of CCAC–also stole thousands of dollars from CCAC between September 2008 and May 2011. Adeva and Moretti were each convicted of Attempted Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree (a Class A Misdemeanor).

The Attorney General thanked the New York State Police and Commissioner Joseph D’Amico for their assistance in the case.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Lee Bergstein of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau. The bureau is led by Bureau Chief Gary T. Fishman and Deputy Bureau Chiefs Stephanie Swenton and Meryl Lutsky. The Division of Criminal Justice is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan.

This case was investigated by Supervising Investigator Michael Ward, Deputy Chief of Investigations John McManus. The Investigations Division is led by Chief Investigator Dominick Zarrella.

.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES PRISON TERMS FOR IDENTITY THIEVES WHO TARGETED BANK CUSTOMERS IN WESTCHESTER, NYC & LONG ISLAND

Defendant Tyrone Lee Sentenced to 4 ½ To 9 Years In Prison And Defendant Anthony Davis Sentenced to 2 To 6 Years In Prison For Stealing Over $850,000 From Personal Accounts Of Hundreds Of Innocent Customers

Schneiderman: Those Who Steal New Yorkers’ Personal Financial Information Will Pay A Steep Price

WESTCHESTER — Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced prison sentences for Tyrone “Reece” Lee, 28, and Anthony “Sug” Davis, 29, both of the Bronx, who had previously pleaded guilty to participating in a brazen identity-theft ring that targeted customers of local banks. The ring stole over $850,000 by using bank tellers to fraudulently obtain the personal information of hundreds of unsuspecting customers, and then creating fake identification cards to withdraw money from the accounts.

“Today’s prison sentences show that those who steal New Yorkers’ personal financial information will pay a steep price,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “We will do all we can to protect innocent businesses and their customers from the growing threat of identity theft.”

Lee, who was the scheme’s ringleader, was sentenced today by the Honorable Justice Barry E. Warhit in Westchester County Supreme Court, to four and a half to nine years in state prison. Lee previously pleaded guilty before Justice Warhit to the entire 37-count indictment against him, including two counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (a class C felony), 11 counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a Class D felony), 18 counts of Identity Theft in the First Degree (a Class D felony), three counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree (a Class D felony), and three counts of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (a Class E felony).

Davis, who was the scheme’s fraudulent document maker, was sentenced by Justice Warhit to two to six years in state prison. Davis had also previously pleaded guilty before Justice Warhit to one count of Identity Theft in the First Degree (a Class D felony) and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (a Class E felony). Davis is currently serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison on a federal identify theft case.

This identify-theft ring operated between July 2010 and June 2014. Corrupt bank tellers fraudulently accessed and stole personal information, including account numbers and Social Security numbers, from hundreds of customers at Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, HSBC, TD Bank and Wachovia in Westchester and New York City.

Lee orchestrated the hiring of corrupt bank tellers at Westchester and New York City-area banks. He directed the bank tellers to target customers with common names and over $50,000 in their accounts. After the customer information was smuggled to him, Lee conspired with Davis to create fraudulent checks and identification documents using the stolen customer information. Lee arranged for other ring members to impersonate bank account holders to withdraw money at area banks.

Davis created an array of fake documents using the stolen personal and financial data, including forged checks and driver’s licenses that contained victims’ personal information, but displayed the photographs of other ring members. These fake documents were then used to impersonate the account holders and to withdraw money at bank branches in Westchester County, New York City and Long Island, as well as Connecticut and Massachusetts.

This prosecution was the culmination of a long-term investigation by the Attorney General’s Crime Proceeds Strike Force, including court-authorized wiretaps and search warrants. In intercepted telephone calls and text messages, co-conspirators spoke in code about customer accounts, which they referred to as “joints,” and to the “bands” of money they would steal, referring to $1000 stacks of cash. They also used code names to refer to the banks they targeted, including “touchdown” for TD Bank and “Yase” for JP Morgan Chase.

The three bank tellers who conspired with Davis and Lee in this scheme have also been convicted. Kalika Arline, Venise Cole and Nadia Figueroa have all pleaded guilty to their roles in the ring.

Among the New York bank branches whose customers were victimized by this identify theft ring are:

  • Bank of America: 206 Main Street, White Plains, NY;
  • JP Morgan Chase: 235 Main Street, White Plains, NY;
  • JP Morgan Chase: 410 South Broadway, Yonkers, NY;
  • JP Morgan Chase: 5 West Burnside Avenue, Bronx, NY;
  • HSBC: 1 East Fordham Road, Bronx, NY;
  • Bank of America: 50 West Fordham Road, Bronx, NY;
  • Bank of America: 479 North Broadway, Jericho, NY; and
  • Wachovia (now Wells Fargo): 43 North Plank Road, Newburgh, NY

Attorney General Schneiderman thanks the New York State Department of Financial Services and the White Plains Police Department for their assistance in this matter.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Tyler Reynolds and Rhonda Greenstein of the Attorney General’s Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crime Bureau. The bureau is led by Bureau Chief Gary T. Fishman and Deputy Bureau Chiefs Meryl Lutsky and Stephanie Swenton. The Division of Criminal Justice is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan.

The investigation was conducted by Legal Support Analyst Theo Davidson, Investigators Steve Pratt, Vincent Gisonti, Sylvia Rivera, Israel Hernandez, Ryan Fannon and Dave Negron and Larry Riccio, Senior Investigator Dennis Maddalone, Supervising Investigator John Sullivan, and Deputy Chief Investigators John McManus and Greg Stasiuk. The Investigations Division is led by Chief Investigator Dominick Zarrella.

.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES ARREST OF AIDE ACCUSED OF ASSAULTING QUEENS NURSING HOME RESIDENT

Certified Nurse Aide Charged With Repeatedly Striking 80-Year-Old Resident

Schneiderman: New Yorkers Deserve To Know That Loved Ones In Nursing Homes Are Not In Danger Of Severe Physical Abuse

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the arrest of certified nurse aide Marie Jeanty on felony charges that she assaulted an 80-year-old, bedridden resident of West Lawrence Care Center, a nursing home located at 1410 Seagirt Boulevard in Far Rockaway, N.Y. If convicted on the top count, the defendant faces up to seven years in state prison.

“When New Yorkers place those who mean the most to them in a nursing home, they should have confidence that their loved ones are not in danger of severe physical abuse,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “My office will bring criminal charges against nurses who violate the trust of the residents in their care and their family members.”

Court documents filed in the case allege that, on or about August 15, 2014, Jeanty, 59, of Far Rockaway, N.Y., instructed the resident to move so that she could change the resident’s clothing and bed linens. Jeanty then allegedly pushed and hit the resident multiple times in the arm and shoulder with a closed fist and forcibly pushed her into the side of the bed rail, causing her face to hit the bed rail. As a result, the resident suffered a black eye and significant bruising and swelling to her left arm, right temporal area, and right orbital area, which required treatment at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital. Jeanty no longer works at the facility.

A felony complaint filed in Queens County Criminal Court by the Attorney General’s Office charges Jeanty with Assault in the Second Degree, a class D violent felony offense, for intent to cause physical injury, being ten years younger than such person and assaulting a person who is 65 years or older; Endangering the Welfare of a Vulnerable Elderly Person, or an Incompetent or Physically Disabled Person in the Second Degree; Endangering the Welfare of an Incompetent or Physically Disabled Person, class E felonies; and Wilful Violation of Health Laws, a misdemeanor.

The defendant, who pleaded not guilty, was arraigned today in Queens County Criminal Court before the Honorable Judge David Hawkins and released on her own recognizance.

The case was investigated by Special Investigator Kimara Bradley of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) with the assistance of Supervising Special Investigator Mitchell Scher and Deputy Chief Investigator Kenneth Morgan.

The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Travis Hill of the MFCU’s New York City Regional Office, with the assistance of New York City Deputy Regional Director Larissa Payne and Regional Director Christopher M. Shaw. Thomas O’Hanlon is the MFCU Chief of Criminal Prosecutions–Downstate. MFCU is led by Acting Director Amy Held. The Division of Criminal Justice is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan.

The charges in the criminal complaint are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN AND MAYOR DE BLASIO ANNOUNCE JOINT TASK FORCE TO COMBAT IMMIGRATION SERVICES FRAUD

Coordinated Enforcement Effort Will Hold Fraudsters Accountable & Encourage Victims To Come Forward

Part of Nationwide Effort To Support President Obama’s Immigration Reform by Combatting Those That Take Advantage Of Vulnerable Immigrants

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced the formation of a new joint task force to target those who prey on immigrants, while encouraging victims of fraud to come forward without fear.

The task force, led by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, together with the Office of Attorney General, will dedicate enforcement resources and conduct a public awareness campaign to stop predators from taking advantage of immigrant communities in advance of the full implementation of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

“Together we are sending a powerful message that New York has zero tolerance for anyone who seeks to prey on immigrants and their families,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “As the president’s executive action goes into effect, New York is taking the lead to root out fraud against those looking for a better life. Through this strategic partnership, we will hold accountable those who take advantage of vulnerable immigrants and help make the goals of the president’s action a reality for thousands of New Yorkers.”

“The president’s immigration reforms will initiate an economic, political and social transformation of our cities and our country, but unfortunately, this progress also brings new opportunities for criminals who prey on the most vulnerable among us,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Our joint city-state anti-fraud task force will stop fraudsters in their tracks and provide a safe place for immigrant fraud victims to come forward. While New York is taking bold action, we are also working in collaboration with cities and states across the country to prevent fraud and protect families nationwide.”

“The president’s bold action gives thousands of New Yorkers a path toward security and stability, but that promise can be threatened by fraudsters looking to profit from immigrant vulnerability,” said Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal. “Immigrants should be careful to avoid fraud by going to high-quality trusted services, including those supported by the city. By committing the resources of our city and state agencies as part of this task force, New York is taking a leading role to ensure the new process is enacted with integrity.”

“Too many immigrant New Yorkers have been victims of predatory immigration service providers who fleece consumers of thousands of dollars while failing to provide bona fide services. These providers often leave immigrants more vulnerable than they were before,” said DCA Commissioner Julie Menin. “Mayor de Blasio has committed to protecting all of New York City’s immigrants, and DCA is proud to be partnering with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to engage in public outreach and appropriate enforcement actions to ensure that our City’s immigrants are protected.”

 

“For too long, scam artists have taken advantage of the vulnerability of new immigrants,” said Assemblyman Francisco Moya. “This new anti-fraud task force sends a strong message that New York is prepared for the President’s immigration reforms and that we will not tolerate immigration-related fraud. As a lawmaker who has spent many years advocating for anti-fraud measures that protect new immigrants from predatory employment agencies, I am intimately aware of how fraudsters seek to exploit immigrants. I commend Mayor Bill de Blasio and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for taking this innovative and pro-active approach to combating fraud. This initiative helps demonstrate that New York is a welcome home for immigrants.”

“Immigrants across New York will welcome this new Task Force as a much-needed effort to bring new energy to this issue throughout New York City and State,” said Javier H. Valdés, co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. “As New Yorkers prepare for the administrative relief that President Obama announced last November, it’s critical that New York steps up its enforcement of unscrupulous notarios who take advantage of our communities. Make the Road New York applauds the Mayor and Attorney General for this new effort, and we are eager to work with the Task Force to ensure its success.”

“For organizations like La Fuente, the fight against fraudulent legal service providers who target immigrants aspiring to legal status has been daunting,” said Lucia Gomez, Executive Director, La Fuente. “The announcement that Mayor de Blasio and State Attorney General Schneiderman will launch a joint Anti-Immigration Fraud Task Force demonstrates a commitment to addressing head-on an issue that has plagued our immigrant communities for decades. This laudable effort will provide immigrant communities across the state a more robust effort to ensure predators are reported and dealt with by the proper authorities. With this announcement, New York has once again demonstrated its commitment to advancing immigrant rights and recognizing the value of its diverse population.”

“New York City truly stands as example of inclusion for our immigrant residents, yet too often newly arrived New Yorkers stay in the shadows despite being victims of fraud that threaten their well-being and financial stability,” said Grace Bonilla, President for The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families. “CHCF whole heartedly supports and congratulates Mayor de Blasio and Attorney General Schneiderman for addressing these injustices and providing communities that give so much to this city an avenue to come forward, stop these abuses and advocate for themselves.”

“We applaud Mayor de Blasio and Attorney General Schneiderman for their bold leadership in protecting immigrants from fraudulent actors, by the creation of this very important task force. We at Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights have seen the life-shattering damage that unscrupulous immigration providers have wreaked on our community members,” said Angela Fernandez, Esq., Executive Director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. “We look forward to working closely with the task force on behalf of all immigrants throughout New York State.”

“Without any pity for those who desperately seek the safety of legal residency for themselves and their families, agents of exploitation have for too long reigned with impunity,” said Luis Garden Acosta, Founder and President of El Puente. “We welcome Mayor De Blasio’s defense of our community’s defenseless and join with our Attorney General and President Obama in declaring, once and for all, Basta Ya!”

 

The joint task force will focus on rooting out a variety of abuses targeting immigrants, but particularly the unauthorized practice of law, commonly known as “notario fraud,” or “immigrant service provider fraud.”

New York State’s Immigration Assistance Service Enforcement Act establishes protections for immigrants who use the services of individuals or businesses that falsely represent themselves as certified legal advisors for citizenship and other issues. The law, which went into effect on February 6, 2015, stiffens penalties and adds new penalties, both criminal and civil, for violations of the Act.

The president’s recent executive action will lead many immigrants to search for legal assistance to navigate the new rules, potentially creating an opportunity for service providers or scam artists to take advantage of immigrants. Unauthorized immigration consultants can create delays in the application process, cost applicants unnecessary fees and possibly even lead to removal proceedings.

The task force is committed to undertaking the following actions:

  • Targeted enforcement and/or investigations against immigrant service providers who may be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. These investigations could occur in partnership, where feasible, or independently by each agency.
  • Improved information-sharing to identify illegal activity and coordinate enforcement efforts. In collaboration with community organizations, the task force will establish an information pipeline to connect on-the-ground reports of immigration fraud hotspots to city agencies and the Attorney General’s Office to stop problematic service providers or practices.
  • Increased public awareness outreach to engage vulnerable communities and encourage victims to come forward. City agencies and the Attorney General’s Office will collaborate on public education campaigns to bring attention to potential abuses wherever they exist.
  • Continual expansion to include other relevant governmental entities and provide a blueprint for cities and states across the country to adopt best practices. As part of Cities United for Immigration Action, New York City is working in close collaboration with partner cities to develop a national model to combat immigration services fraud.

Attorney General Schneiderman has a strong track record for combating immigration services fraud and other actions that ensure equal opportunity for immigrant communities. Recent examples of actions taken by his Civil Rights Bureau include the establishment of a $2.2 million restitution fund for victims of one of the nation’s largest immigration services schemes, action to combat fraud perpetrated by employment agencies that target vulnerable immigrant communities; and efforts to ensure equal educational opportunity for unaccompanied minors and undocumented youth regardless of immigration status.

The de Blasio administration has a proven track record for welcoming immigrant New Yorkers. From access to federal immigration benefits, citizenship and U-visa application assistance, to the city’s response to the unaccompanied child migrant crisis and new Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer legislation to dramatically reduce deportations, the city has led a movement that cements the notion that a city’s prosperity and strength depends upon its new American residents having ample opportunities to reach their fullest potential and contribute to the well-being of our communities.

On April 12th, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs will co-host an executive action legal screening for immigrant New Yorkers who might be eligible for the DACA/DAPA programs. While implementation of these programs is temporarily on hold, providing reliable information and combatting abuse is more important than ever. This legal screening event will mark an important citywide collaboration between the city’s largest legal service providers and immigration advocacy groups to create a large-scale legal clinic.

The event will be held on April 12th, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Temple Emanu-El, located at East 65th Street, Manhattan. For more information: nyc.gov/deferredaction.

To report complaints regarding immigration services, contact the Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov.

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN AND MAYOR DE BLASIO ANNOUNCE JOINT TASK FORCE TO COMBAT IMMIGRATION SERVICES FRAUD

Coordinated Enforcement Effort Will Hold Fraudsters Accountable & Encourage Victims To Come Forward

Part of Nationwide Effort To Support President Obama’s Immigration Reform by Combatting Those That Take Advantage Of Vulnerable Immigrants

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced the formation of a new joint task force to target those who prey on immigrants, while encouraging victims of fraud to come forward without fear.

The task force, led by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, together with the Office of Attorney General, will dedicate enforcement resources and conduct a public awareness campaign to stop predators from taking advantage of immigrant communities in advance of the full implementation of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

“Together we are sending a powerful message that New York has zero tolerance for anyone who seeks to prey on immigrants and their families,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “As the president’s executive action goes into effect, New York is taking the lead to root out fraud against those looking for a better life. Through this strategic partnership, we will hold accountable those who take advantage of vulnerable immigrants and help make the goals of the president’s action a reality for thousands of New Yorkers.”

“The president’s immigration reforms will initiate an economic, political and social transformation of our cities and our country, but unfortunately, this progress also brings new opportunities for criminals who prey on the most vulnerable among us,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Our joint city-state anti-fraud task force will stop fraudsters in their tracks and provide a safe place for immigrant fraud victims to come forward. While New York is taking bold action, we are also working in collaboration with cities and states across the country to prevent fraud and protect families nationwide.”

“The president’s bold action gives thousands of New Yorkers a path toward security and stability, but that promise can be threatened by fraudsters looking to profit from immigrant vulnerability,” said Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal. “Immigrants should be careful to avoid fraud by going to high-quality trusted services, including those supported by the city. By committing the resources of our city and state agencies as part of this task force, New York is taking a leading role to ensure the new process is enacted with integrity.”

“Too many immigrant New Yorkers have been victims of predatory immigration service providers who fleece consumers of thousands of dollars while failing to provide bona fide services. These providers often leave immigrants more vulnerable than they were before,” said DCA Commissioner Julie Menin. “Mayor de Blasio has committed to protecting all of New York City’s immigrants, and DCA is proud to be partnering with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to engage in public outreach and appropriate enforcement actions to ensure that our City’s immigrants are protected.”

 

“For too long, scam artists have taken advantage of the vulnerability of new immigrants,” said Assemblyman Francisco Moya. “This new anti-fraud task force sends a strong message that New York is prepared for the President’s immigration reforms and that we will not tolerate immigration-related fraud. As a lawmaker who has spent many years advocating for anti-fraud measures that protect new immigrants from predatory employment agencies, I am intimately aware of how fraudsters seek to exploit immigrants. I commend Mayor Bill de Blasio and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for taking this innovative and pro-active approach to combating fraud. This initiative helps demonstrate that New York is a welcome home for immigrants.”

“Immigrants across New York will welcome this new Task Force as a much-needed effort to bring new energy to this issue throughout New York City and State,” said Javier H. Valdés, co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. “As New Yorkers prepare for the administrative relief that President Obama announced last November, it’s critical that New York steps up its enforcement of unscrupulous notarios who take advantage of our communities. Make the Road New York applauds the Mayor and Attorney General for this new effort, and we are eager to work with the Task Force to ensure its success.”

“For organizations like La Fuente, the fight against fraudulent legal service providers who target immigrants aspiring to legal status has been daunting,” said Lucia Gomez, Executive Director, La Fuente. “The announcement that Mayor de Blasio and State Attorney General Schneiderman will launch a joint Anti-Immigration Fraud Task Force demonstrates a commitment to addressing head-on an issue that has plagued our immigrant communities for decades. This laudable effort will provide immigrant communities across the state a more robust effort to ensure predators are reported and dealt with by the proper authorities. With this announcement, New York has once again demonstrated its commitment to advancing immigrant rights and recognizing the value of its diverse population.”

“New York City truly stands as example of inclusion for our immigrant residents, yet too often newly arrived New Yorkers stay in the shadows despite being victims of fraud that threaten their well-being and financial stability,” said Grace Bonilla, President for The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families. “CHCF whole heartedly supports and congratulates Mayor de Blasio and Attorney General Schneiderman for addressing these injustices and providing communities that give so much to this city an avenue to come forward, stop these abuses and advocate for themselves.”

“We applaud Mayor de Blasio and Attorney General Schneiderman for their bold leadership in protecting immigrants from fraudulent actors, by the creation of this very important task force. We at Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights have seen the life-shattering damage that unscrupulous immigration providers have wreaked on our community members,” said Angela Fernandez, Esq., Executive Director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. “We look forward to working closely with the task force on behalf of all immigrants throughout New York State.”

“Without any pity for those who desperately seek the safety of legal residency for themselves and their families, agents of exploitation have for too long reigned with impunity,” said Luis Garden Acosta, Founder and President of El Puente. “We welcome Mayor De Blasio’s defense of our community’s defenseless and join with our Attorney General and President Obama in declaring, once and for all, Basta Ya!”

 

The joint task force will focus on rooting out a variety of abuses targeting immigrants, but particularly the unauthorized practice of law, commonly known as “notario fraud,” or “immigrant service provider fraud.”

New York State’s Immigration Assistance Service Enforcement Act establishes protections for immigrants who use the services of individuals or businesses that falsely represent themselves as certified legal advisors for citizenship and other issues. The law, which went into effect on February 6, 2015, stiffens penalties and adds new penalties, both criminal and civil, for violations of the Act.

The president’s recent executive action will lead many immigrants to search for legal assistance to navigate the new rules, potentially creating an opportunity for service providers or scam artists to take advantage of immigrants. Unauthorized immigration consultants can create delays in the application process, cost applicants unnecessary fees and possibly even lead to removal proceedings.

The task force is committed to undertaking the following actions:

  • Targeted enforcement and/or investigations against immigrant service providers who may be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. These investigations could occur in partnership, where feasible, or independently by each agency.
  • Improved information-sharing to identify illegal activity and coordinate enforcement efforts. In collaboration with community organizations, the task force will establish an information pipeline to connect on-the-ground reports of immigration fraud hotspots to city agencies and the Attorney General’s Office to stop problematic service providers or practices.
  • Increased public awareness outreach to engage vulnerable communities and encourage victims to come forward. City agencies and the Attorney General’s Office will collaborate on public education campaigns to bring attention to potential abuses wherever they exist.
  • Continual expansion to include other relevant governmental entities and provide a blueprint for cities and states across the country to adopt best practices. As part of Cities United for Immigration Action, New York City is working in close collaboration with partner cities to develop a national model to combat immigration services fraud.

Attorney General Schneiderman has a strong track record for combating immigration services fraud and other actions that ensure equal opportunity for immigrant communities. Recent examples of actions taken by his Civil Rights Bureau include the establishment of a $2.2 million restitution fund for victims of one of the nation’s largest immigration services schemes, action to combat fraud perpetrated by employment agencies that target vulnerable immigrant communities; and efforts to ensure equal educational opportunity for unaccompanied minors and undocumented youth regardless of immigration status.

The de Blasio administration has a proven track record for welcoming immigrant New Yorkers. From access to federal immigration benefits, citizenship and U-visa application assistance, to the city’s response to the unaccompanied child migrant crisis and new Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer legislation to dramatically reduce deportations, the city has led a movement that cements the notion that a city’s prosperity and strength depends upon its new American residents having ample opportunities to reach their fullest potential and contribute to the well-being of our communities.

On April 12th, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs will co-host an executive action legal screening for immigrant New Yorkers who might be eligible for the DACA/DAPA programs. While implementation of these programs is temporarily on hold, providing reliable information and combatting abuse is more important than ever. This legal screening event will mark an important citywide collaboration between the city’s largest legal service providers and immigration advocacy groups to create a large-scale legal clinic.

The event will be held on April 12th, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Temple Emanu-El, located at East 65th Street, Manhattan. For more information: nyc.gov/deferredaction.

To report complaints regarding immigration services, contact the Attorney General’s Immigration Services Fraud Unit Hotline at (866) 390-2992 or Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov.

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.

4th STREET RESURFACING
RESCHEDULED FOR WEEK OF APRIL 27 

Resurfacing of the roadway along West 4th Street between Franklin and South Columbus Avenues HAS BEEN RESCUEDULED. WORK WILL BEGIN ON MONDAY, APRIL 27th AND LAST UNTIL FRIDAY, MAY 1st

Milling and repaving of streets along this section of the Con Edison gas pipeline route will be between the hours of 7am and 5pm. No parking restrictions will be posted. This rescheduling has become necessary because the Mount Board of Water Supply must repair a broken water main in the area.

4th Street Paving to Begin

4th STREET RESURFACING MONDAY
BETWEEN FRANKLIN & COLUMBUS

Resurfacing of the roadway along West 4th Street between Franklin and South Columbus Avenues will take place on Monday, April 20 through Friday, April 24 between the hours of 7am and 5pm. No parking restrictions will be posted.

This final stage of construction in this area will give the roadway back to the community.

OFFICE OF CONSUMER PROTECTION MOTORIST ALERT

 

Safety at the Pump