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ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES FCC TO TAKE ACTION AGAINST ROBOCALLS AND SPOOFING

~ Coalition of 42 attorneys general press FCC to act further to reduce spoofed calls and texts ~

RICHMOND (May 6, 2019) – Today, Attorney General Mark R. Herring joined 41 other attorneys general in calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take further action to stop the growing proliferation of illegal robocalls and spoofing. In formal legal comments, the attorneys general urged the FCC to adopt its proposed rules on enforcement against caller ID spoofing on calls to the United States originating from overseas, while also addressing spoofing in text messaging and alternative voice services. These provisions are included in the FCC's appropriations authorization bill also known as the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018.

The number of spoofed calls and the consumer financial losses tied to these scams have increased by nearly 50 percent in recent years. 

“Robocalls and spoof phone calls are not only annoying but they are also potentially dangerous and could scam Virginians out of hundreds or thousands of dollars,” said Attorney General Herring. “As Attorney General, it is my job to protect Virginia consumers, which is why I have joined my colleagues today to call on the FCC to take further actions against these obnoxious and illegal scam calls.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Virginia was the 7th highest state in the nation for Do Not Call Registry complaints with 181,936 complaints in 2018. Additionally, Virginians made more than 118,000 complaints to the FTC about robocalls alone.

Americans received almost 18 billion scam robocalls in 2018 and overall, robocalls increased in the U.S. by 57 percent from 2017 to 2018. The FCC reports that imposter scams have reportedly cost consumers $488 million just in 2018.

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending the comments to the FCC were the attorneys general from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

Attorney General Mark Herring supports bill to make D.C. the 51st state

By Kal Weinstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is urging support for federal legislation to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state.

Herring joined 19 other state attorneys general -- all Democrats -- in issuing a “first-of-a-kind” statement in favor of the idea.

The statement was issued Monday just ahead of D.C.’s April 16 Emancipation Day celebration. It cited the holiday as a reminder of limits on the District’s freedom and autonomy.

“The District’s over 700,000 residents work hard, raise families and pay the highest federal taxes per capita, and yet they are deprived of the fundamental right to participate meaningfully in our representative democracy,” the statement read.

U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the nonvoting delegate representing D.C. in Congress, introduced H.R 51 in January. More than 200 House members are  co-sponsoring the proposal.

Holmes has previously introduced legislation to make D.C. a state; however, this marks the first time that state attorneys general across the country have united to support the idea.

“The District’s residents deserve equal voting rights and autonomy under the law. We support Statehood for the District of Columbia and urge passage of H.R. 51 to accomplish this goal,” the statement read.

In the statement, Herring announced he is pleased to stand beside Karl Racine, the attorney general for D.C., and 18 other state attorneys general to support the initiative.

“Washington, D.C., already acts as an important state in so many ways, and it is well past time that their contributions to our country are reflected in statehood,” Herring said. “District residents are hardworking, taxpaying Americans who deserve to have their voices heard and their votes counted.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has also expressed support for Holmes’ proposal.

“Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has been a tireless voice on this important issue, and her introduction of H.R. 51 is a critical step in righting this historic wrong,” Pelosi said.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, head of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has pledged to hold a hearing on the bill later this year. If it passes, D.C.’s addition as a state would add two senators and one representative with full voting rights to Congress.

Those who oppose the nation’s capital earning its statehood argue that it would inherently create a conflict of interest for legislators who serve in D.C. to represent constituents back home in their respective states. In the Federalist Papers, James Madison stated that if D.C. were to become a state, its voting members would wield higher power than other states through its proximity to Congress.

In 1971, passage of the 23rd Amendment gave members of the District votes in the electoral college. If renewed support fails to pass H.R. 51 when it comes up for a hearing later this year, the federal government will continue to maintain jurisdiction over the capital city, just as it has since its founding in 1790.

ATTORNEY GENERAL MARK HERRING HONORS VICTIMS’ ADVOCATES FROM AROUND THE COMMONWEALTH

~ AG Herring presented awards to six honorees at the 3rd annual Unsung Heroes Awards ceremony this afternoon ~

RICHMOND (April 11, 2019) – This afternoon, Attorney General Mark R. Herring commemorated National Crime Victims’ Rights Week by honoring six victims’ advocates at the third annual Unsung Heroes Awards ceremony in Richmond. The Unsung Heroes Awards honor Virginians who have dedicated themselves to serving victims and fighting for their rights.

“Today, we are honoring the men and women who have dedicated their time and efforts to victims’ services, but who too often go un-thanked, with theUnsung Heroes Award,” said Attorney General Herring. “These kind, generous Virginians have put in countless hours to make sure that victims know they have someone to turn to when they may feel lost or alone. Each person honored today has provided unmeasurable comfort and support to victims or survivors during their darkest time. It is my honor to recognize these incredible men and women today and thank them for their crucial work.”

Below are the recipients of this year’s Unsung Heroes Awards:

Lalita Brim-Poindexter, Attorney, Poindexter Law LLC

Lalita Brim-Poindexter is the attorney/owner of Poindexter Law, LLC in Southwest Virginia. She has been in the legal field for 15 years and began her career as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Roanoke City, where she prosecuted crimes against children and victims of domestic violence.  Now, she devotes her work to assisting victims with protective orders and in child custody disputes. She is also a certified Guardian ad litem for children. Over the past year, she has volunteered for TAP (Total Action for Progress), providing legal consultations and pro bono services. She has also partnered with TAP and the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as part of their Project for the Empowerment of Survivors (PES) to ensure that victims in the Roanoke Valley obtain adequate and affordable representation for civil and family law cases when they need it. 

Steve W. Edwards, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney for Isle of Wight County

Steve Edwards is Deputy Commonwealth Attorney for Isle of Wight County. He has prosecuted crimes against children and sexual assault cases for over 20 years. Along with his daughter, Ashley, he has conducted training programs and demonstrations using horses to teach effective means of communication with severely traumatized witnesses and victims. These sessions are available to law enforcement, prosecutors, social workers, victim witness advocates, guidance counselors and all others whose occupation brings them into contact with people who have suffered brutal trauma. He often brings victims out to his farm to interact with the horses as part of trial preparation. As Executive Director of Gwaltney Frontier Farm, a non-profit equine breed conservation program, he has conducted free weekly sessions working with horses for inpatient PTSD survivors from the Hampton Veterans Hospital.

Anita Gonzalez, Founder, Peninsula Families United Together

Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Anita relocated to Virginia in 2014 with her family to escape crime and gangs, only to have her 17-year-old son, Jermell Hayes, shot and killed in 2016. Following this tragedy, Anita saw opportunity and wanted to work to promote healing and curb the violence by turning towards advocacy and connecting with the Catalyst Effect. She talked with leaders involved with the Pastors’ Dialogue on Racism, Poverty and Violence, where she had served on a panel with other mothers of murdered children, and launched “Peninsula Families United Together”, a support group of mothers that meets monthly to help participants work through trauma, forgiveness, accountability and restorative justice. The group works to provide a network for families, responding quickly to offer support during times of tragedy and has met with local law enforcement, prosecutors, faith leaders, funeral homes and human service providers. They are also engaged in outreach and speaking engagements throughout the community to help curb violence and to reach out to others.

Carly Mee, Senior Staff Attorney, SurvJustice

Carly Mee is an attorney who provides direct legal assistance to survivors in the campus, civil, and criminal systems. She has represented many survivors in Title IX campus hearings since joining SurvJustice in 2016 and has significantly increased the rate of success for survivors in campus proceedings. In 2017, she also assisted international law firm Steptoe & Johnson in establishing a historic new victim-advocate privilege in federal court. Carly also serves as a liaison to the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence. As an undergraduate at Occidental College, she spoke publicly about her own experience of reporting sexual violence and went on to co-found the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition with other students and professors.

Brad Roop, Detective, Washington County Sheriff’s Office

Brad is a native of Radford, VA and currently serves as the Crimes Against Children Detective for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Brad began his law enforcement career 21 years ago after being honorably discharged from the United States Air Force. Early in his career, Brad realized that he possessed a passion for helping children and saw the need for someone to specialize in the investigation of crimes against them. Brad is a graduate of the Virginia Forensic Science Academy and was trained as a Child Forensic Interviewer at the National Children’s Advocacy Center. He has received extensive training related to child abuse investigations, child physical abuse reconstruction techniques and perpetrator behaviors. His specialized skills, passion and dedication have aided in bringing countless children to safety and their abusers to justice.

Kristina Vadas, Victim Services Programs Manager, Department of Criminal Justice Services

Kristina Vadas is the manager of the Victims Services Team at the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), where she provides oversight of all Victims Services initiatives and monitors victim-related legislation, conducts studies, and promotes best practices in service delivery for victims of crime. Kristina represents DCJS on statewide committees and task forces that address human trafficking, underserved victims of crime, services for victims of sexual and intimate partner violence, and other related issues. Previously, Kristina served as the Sexual Assault Program Coordinator for DCJS, where she managed the statewide sexual assault victim services programs, including the Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence Grant Program (SADVGP) and the Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP). She provided technical assistance, consultation, and training to victim advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors, and others requesting information and resources on sexual assault. She also developed resources, policies, and procedures to improve services to sexual assault victims, including those related to Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs). 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING CONTINUES TO DEFEND THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT IN COURT

RICHMOND (March 25, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general in filing an opening brief in Texas v. U.S., defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the healthcare of tens of millions of Americans. Today’s brief, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, argues that every provision of the ACA remains valid. It also details the harm that declaring the ACA invalid would have on the tens of millions of people who rely on it for access to high-quality, affordable healthcare, as well as the broader damage that it would do to the nation’s healthcare system. In June, Attorney General Herring intervened to defend against the suit, leaving him and his colleagues to defend Americans’ healthcare after President Trump switched sides and joined with Republican state attorneys general in trying to strike down the law.

“This politically motivated lawsuit is dangerous, reckless and risks the health of Americans,” said Attorney General Herring. “Millions of Virginians rely on the Affordable Care Act for quality, affordable healthcare and when the Trump Administration refused to defend the ACA in court I knew I had to step in. I will continue to join my colleagues in fighting to make sure that healthcare is not ripped away from Americans.” 

The plaintiffs, two individuals and 18 States led by Texas, filed this lawsuit in February 2018, challenging one provision of the Affordable Care Act—the requirement that individuals maintain health insurance or pay a tax. Texas’ lawsuit came after Congress reduced that tax to zero dollars December 2017. Opponents of the ACA had attempted and failed to repeal the ACA over 70 times since its instatement. The plaintiffs argued that this change made the minimum coverage provision unconstitutional. They further argued that the rest of the ACA could not be “severed” from that one provision, so the entire Act must be struck down.

On December 14, 2018, Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas issued his decision agreeing with the plaintiffs. In response, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues filed a motion to stay the effect of that decision and to expedite resolution of this case. The District Court granted that motion on December 30, 2018. On January 3, 2019, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues continued their legal defense in the ACA and formally filed a notice of appeal, challenging the District Court’s December 14 opinion in the Fifth Circuit.

Today’s filing continues the legal defense of the ACA. In their brief, the attorneys general argue that the plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the minimum coverage provision, because the individual plaintiffs are not injured by a provision that now offers a lawful choice between buying insurance and paying a zero-dollar tax. The attorneys general further argue that the state plaintiffs also lack standing, because there is no evidence that the amended provision will require them to spend more money. Lastly, the District Court wrongly concluded that the minimum coverage provision was unconstitutional, and even if it were there would be no legal basis for also declaring the rest of the ACA invalid—including its provisions expanding Medicaid, reforming Medicare, and providing protections to individuals with preexisting health conditions.

The brief also highlights the consequences of upholding the district court’s decision, which would wreak havoc on the entire American healthcare system and risk lives in every state. If affirmed, the district court’s decision would affect nearly every American, including:

  • 133 million Americans, including 17 million kids, with preexisting health conditions;

  • Young adults under 26 years of age, who are covered under a parent’s health plan;

  • More than 12 million Americans who received coverage through Medicaid expansion;

  • 12 million seniors who receive a Medicare benefit to afford prescription drugs; and

  • Working families who rely on tax credits and employer-sponsored plans to afford insurance.

If successful, Texas’ lawsuit would harm Virginia by:

  • Halting Medicaid expansion, which was signed into law in Virginia last year, with the goal of covering an additional 400,000 Virginians;

  • Allowing insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charge them more;

  • Allowing insurance companies to discriminate against women by charging them higher premiums;

  • Taking away seniors’ prescription drug discounts;

  • Ending $1.15 billion in tax credits that helped 335,000 Virginians afford insurance in 2017 alone;

  • Ending the healthcare exchange where more than 410,000 Virginians purchased their healthcare in 2017;

  • Stripping funding from our nation’s public health system, including work to combat the opioid epidemic; and

  • Ending billions in federal aid for healthcare, including $458 million in FY 2019 and $1.9 billion in FY 2020.

HERRING HIGHLIGHTS PROTECTIONS FOR VIRGINIA STUDENT LOAN BORROWERS

~ Protecting student borrowers has been a priority for Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section, which has recovered more than $10.3 million for more than 5,000 student borrowers ~

RICHMOND (March 6, 2019) – As part of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Mark R. Herring is highlighting protections and resources for student borrowers, as well as the work he and his team have done to protect Virginia student loan borrowers. Attorney General Herring and his team have reached multiple settlements with for-profit colleges for using deceitful tactics against student borrowers, as well as continuously challenged Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education in court to uphold the federal protections in place to protect student borrowers from predatory, for-profit schools. The Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $10.3 million for more than 5,000 student borrowers in Virginia.

“Over the past few years, we have seen the Trump Administration fail to protect student borrowers, instead implementing policies that have favored for-profit colleges who take advantage of them to line their own pockets,” said Attorney General Herring. “My Consumer Protection Section and I will continue to fight against policies that harm student borrowers and hold for-profit colleges accountable when they mislead and deceive their students.”

In October 2018, Attorney General Herring announced that a federal judge rejected the Trump Administration’s challenge to the Borrower Defense Rule, ordering its immediate implementation for students nationwide. This ruling followed a victory Attorney General Herring won in federal court after he and a coalition of state attorneys general challenged the U.S. Department of Education’s plan to abruptly rescind its Borrower Defense Rule which was designed to hold abusive higher education institutions accountable for cheating students and taxpayers out of billions of dollars in federal loans. The immediate implementation of the Borrower Defense rule meant that the U.S. Department of Education had to automatically discharge $381 million in loans for students whose schools closed.

Attorney General Herring has taken major actions against for-profit colleges for misleading students. In November 2015, for-profit education companyEducation Management Corporation announced it would significantly reform its recruiting and enrollment practices and forgive more than $2.29 million in loans for approximately 2,000 former students in Virginia through an agreement with the Attorney General and a group of state attorneys general. Nationwide, the agreement required the for-profit college company to forgive $102.8 million in outstanding loan debt held by more than 80,000 former students.

In December 2016, the Attorney General announced that more than 5,000 Virginia students formerly enrolled in schools operated by Corinthian Colleges, Inc. may be eligible for loan forgiveness. This came after the U.S Department of Education found that Corinthian College and its subsidiaries published misleading job placement rates for many programs between 2010 and 2014. Following this announcement, Attorney General Herring urged Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education to follow through on their commitment to cancel student debt for students in Virginia and around the country who were victimized by Corinthian Colleges' practices.

Attorney General Herring announced in January of this year that he and 48 other attorneys general reached a settlement with for-profit education company Career Education Corporation. The terms of the settlement required CED to reform its recruiting and enrollment practices and forgo collecting about $493.7 million in debts owed by 179,529 students nationally. In Virginia, 3,094 students will receive relief totaling $8,022,178.

Below are some tips for student loan borrowers to keep in mind:

(1) Financing Options

  • Check First for Grants and Scholarships – Resources include:

  • the financial aid office at a college or career school

  • a high school or TRIO counselor

  • the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool

  • federal agencies

  • your state

  • your library

  • foundations, religious or community organizations, local businesses, or civic groups

  • organizations related to your field of interest, like professional associations

  • ethnicity-based organizations

  • your employer or your parents’ employers

  • Evaluate Whether Private or Federal Loans Are Right for You:

  • Federal Loans Include:

  • Direct Loans, where the U.S. Department of Education is the lender;

  • Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), where private lenders make loans backed by the federal government;

  • Federal Perkins Loans, low-interest federal student loans for undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need; and

  • PLUS loans, federal loans that graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students can use to help pay for college or career school.

  • Private loans, sometimes called “alternative loans,” are offered by private lenders, like banks and credit unions, and do not include the benefits and protections that come with federal loans.

  • Review the Federal Trade Commission’s Comparison of Federal and Private Loans at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/1028-student-loans.

 (2) Paying Back Your Student Loans

  • Federal Loans

  • The U.S. Department of Education has repayment programs that can ease the burden of paying for your education, including:

  • income-driven repayment plans — your monthly payment is based on how much money you make

  • deferment and forbearance — you can postpone making payments, if there’s a good reason you can’t repay right away, though interest might cause what you owe to increase

  • loan forgiveness or loan discharge — in some circumstances, you don’t have to repay some or all of your loans. You might qualify if, for instance, you work for a government or not-for-profit organization, if you become disabled, or if your school closed or committed fraud. Also, under certain income-driven repayment plans, any balance that remains after 20 or 25 years of payments is forgiven. In some cases, you may owe income taxes on the forgiven or discharged amount.

  • Learn more at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans.

  • Private Loans

  • With private student loans, you typically have fewer repayment options, especially when it comes to loan forgiveness or cancellation. To explore your options, contact your loan servicer directly. If you don’t know who your private student loan servicer is, look at a recent billing statement.

  • Free Federal Loan Consolidation

  • Consolidating federal loans with the federal government is FREE. There are companies that may offer to help you consolidate your federal loans with the federal government, for a fee, but you DON’T have to pay for this service. Consolidating with the federal government is a process you can do on your own, at no cost.

  • Review the Federal Trade Commission’s recommendations on whether loan consolidation is right for you athttps://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/1028-student-loans.

  • Avoid Student Loan Debt Relief Scams

  • Only scammers promise fast loan forgiveness.

  • NEVER pay an up-front fee for help.

  • Scammers will often fake a government seal, so be vigilant of scammers trying to appear like a government agency. If you have federal student loans, work with the Department of Education directly at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans.

  • If you have federal student loans, do NOT share your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID with any company offering debt relief assistance.

Virginians who have a question, concern, or complaint about a consumer matter should contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:

Since 2014, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $292 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. The Section has also transferred more than $33 million to the Commonwealth’s General Fund. Following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016, the OAG’s Consumer Protection Section has been even more effective in fighting for the rights of Virginians.

 

*SCAM ALERT* HERRING WARNS VIRGINIANS ABOUT TECH SUPPORT AND REPAIR SERVICES SCAMS

~ Warning comes as part of a nationwide crackdown on scams of this nature ~

RICHMOND (March 7, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring is warning Virginians about scammers who try to trick consumers into buying costly tech support and repair services as part of a nationwide crackdown on these scams. Attorney General Herring, in coordination with attorneys general from across the country through the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), has joined the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other regulators to combat tech support scams. As part of this effort, NAAG and the Department of Justice today announced a sweep of elder fraud cases and focused particular attention on tech support scams as a major threat to senior citizens.

“Unfortunately, fraudsters are ever-evolving and always coming up with new and relevant ways to scam consumers,” said Attorney General Herring. “I would encourage Virginians to be vigilant about anyone contacting them with threats or high pressure sales tactics, whether by mail, phone, or online and remember to never send money to a company or person who you are not sure is trustworthy.”

These scams work in similar ways. Scammers use phone calls and online ads resembling security alerts from major technology companies to trick consumers into contacting the operators of these schemes and providing access to the consumers’ computers. The scammers will claim consumers’ computers are infected with viruses or experiencing other problems. They then try to pressure consumers into buying unnecessary computer repair services, service plans, anti-virus protection or software, and other products and services.

Here are some tips to avoid tech support scams:

  • Be on the lookout for scams which try to make you believe you have a serious problem with your computer, like a virus;

  • Do not pay for services by wiring money, putting money on a gift card, iTunes card, prepaid card or cash reload card, or using a money transfer app because these types of payments can be hard to reverse;

  • Beware of fake computer technicians pretending to be from a well-known company requesting remote access to your computer and then pretending to run a diagnostic test;

  • If you get a phone call you didn’t expect from someone who says there’s a problem with your computer, hang up;

  • Beware of scammers who try to lure you with a pop-up window that appears on your computer screen, which might look like a security issue or error message from your operating system or antivirus software, and which might use logos from trusted companies or websites;

  • If you get this kind of pop-up window on your computer, don’t call the number as real security warnings and messages will never ask you to call a phone number;

  • Look out for illegitimate websites that show up in online search results for tech support, or other ads;

  • If you think there may be a problem with your computer, update your computer’s security software and run a scan;

  • If you need help fixing a problem, go to someone you know and trust, for instance the company you purchased the software from or a store that sells computer equipment and offers technical support in person;

  • If you paid a tech support scammer with a credit or debit card, contact your credit card company or bank right away, tell them what happened and ask if they can reverse the charges;

  • If you paid with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away and ask if they can refund your money;

  • If you gave a scammer remote access to your computer, update your computer’s security software, run a scan and delete anything it identifies as a problem; and

  • If you gave your user name and password to a tech support scammer, change your password right away and on any other sites that have the same password.

Virginians who have a question, concern, or complaint about a consumer matter should contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:

Since 2014, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $292 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. The Section has also transferred more than $33 million to the Commonwealth’s General Fund. Following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016, the OAG’s Consumer Protection Section has been even more effective in fighting for the rights of Virginians.

 

Virginia Joins States to Sue Trump Over Wall Funding

By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia has joined a coalition of 15 other states to challenge President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency and to block the diversion of congressional funding to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

“Concocting a fake emergency to build a needless wall goes against the Constitution and the values America was built on,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement.

“President Trump’s ill-advised plan could divert critical funds from actual national security priorities, including military construction projects at bases and facilities throughout Virginia. We must stand up to this administration when it violates the law and attacks our values.”

According Herring’s statement, the complaint was filed to block Trump’s “fabricated” national emergency declaration and the “unconstitutional” diversion of appropriated federal funding to pay for the construction of the border wall.

On Friday, Trump said he would declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress to fund the construction of a wall along the southern border.

The White House released a statement stating that the president has “clear authority” to declare a national emergency and that Trump is taking “necessary steps” to “ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at our Southern Border.”

“We fight wars that are 6,000 miles away, wars that we should have never been in in many cases, but we don’t control our own border,” Trump said in his speech Friday at the White House. “So we are going to confront the national-security crisis on our southern border. And we are going to do it one way or the other.”

The administration estimated that the national emergency declaration will make over $8 billion in taxpayer funds available to build the border wall.

Other states participating in the lawsuit includes Hawaii, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and California.

The states contend that Trump’s emergency declaration is only a means to justify using federal funding to pay for his border wall.

“The states allege that the Trump Administration’s action exceeds the power of the executive office, violates the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes, and would illegally and unconstitutionally divert federal funds appropriated by Congress for other purposes,” Herring’s statement said.

“The suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to block the emergency declaration, the construction of the wall, and any illegal diversion of congressionally-appropriated funds.”

According to the attorney general’s statement, Virginia could potentially lose over $130 million in military construction funding — money that is currently allocated for projects at Dam Neck, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Belvoir, Humphreys Engineer Center, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, and the Pentagon.

Trump said that he expected his contentious national emergency declaration to prompt lawsuits. He remains confident, however, that his decision will be upheld by the Supreme Court, similar to the way his 2017 travel ban was upheld by the court in a 5-4 decision.

“We will have a national emergency and we will then be sued,” Trump said. “Hopefully we will get a fair shake and win in the Supreme Court just like the ban.”

Republicans, Democrats Clash Over ‘Disturbing’ Abortion Bill

By Kathleen Shaw and Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia Republicans voiced outrage Thursday to a failed proposal by Democrats that would have expanded abortion rights -- even moments before birth -- as one GOP legislator shed tears and another called the proposal “extremely disturbing.”

“I didn't quite arrive on time, but I lived. Had this legislation been in place, who knows how things could have turned out,” said Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk.

Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, sponsored HB 2491, which would have eliminated certain requirements before undergoing an abortion, such as approval from three physicians and an ultrasound. At Monday’s subcommittee hearing on the bill, a Republican lawmaker asked Tran whether the bill would allow for an abortion to occur when a woman is in labor and about to give birth; Tran said yes. The subcommittee voted 5-3 to table the measure.

On Thursday, Tran corrected herself. “I should have said: ‘Clearly, no because infanticide is not allowed in Virginia, and what would have happened in that moment would be a live birth.’”

Republicans seized on Tran’s initial comments -- and Gov. Ralph Northam’s support for a woman’s right to choose an abortion -- as evidence that the Democrats would allow infanticide.

In an unorthodox move on Monday, House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, stepped down from the House chamber dais to speak in opposition to Tran’s legislation. Cox, who has advocated anti-abortion legislation since 1990, said 61,012,997 abortions have been performed since 1973.

“It was extremely disturbing that essentially you have legislation that does not protect the unborn at all, that you can have an abortion up to the point of birth. And I guess what truly disturbed me was that the other side almost seems to be celebrating that position,” Cox said.

Originally, 23 Democrats co-sponsored Tran’s bill, but some, including Del. Dawn Adams of Richmond, said they would pull their support. The controversy has made national headlines and drawn widespread condemnation from Republicans. President Donald Trump criticized Northam for speaking in favor of Tran’s bill.

Northam and Democratic legislators held a press conference of their own Thursday to respond to the Republicans and to reiterate support for abortion rights.
“We believe legislators, most of whom are men, should not be making decisions about women’s choices for their reproductive health,” Northam said. “We can agree to disagree on this topic, but we can be civil about it.”

Northam said some Republicans were attempting to use the issue to score political points.

Attorney General Mark Herring, who also spoke at the press conference, called Republican efforts to discredit Democrats “desperate” and “ugly.”

“Their political games have exposed a member of the House of Delegates to violent personal threats,” Herring said. “And now, Kirk Cox has taken his caucus completely off the deep end accusing Gov. Northam of supporting infanticide.”

The House minority leader, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax, said Virginia women wouldn’t be intimidated by House Republicans’ scare tactics.

“House Republicans have used their majority to try to shame women -- to try to bully and dictate to women what we can and cannot do with our bodies,” Filler-Corn said. “Virginia women are watching, and Virginia women are paying attention.”

Abortion rights groups such as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws and Progress Virginia continue to support Tran. Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, said that Tran was a champion for women and that Republican legislators are taking her remarks out of context.

“We trust women to make decisions about their health care needs. Shame on politicians like Todd Gilbert and Kirk Cox for trying to distract us from the real issue here: getting politics out of the doctor’s office,” Scholl said.

Del. Gilbert, a Republican from Shenandoah County, is the House majority leader. At the Republicans’ press conference, he equated abortion to murder. Gilbert said Democrats would allow late-term abortions out of concern not just for a woman’s physical health but also for her mental health.

“It has nothing to do with saving a woman's life. A mental health concern could include anything that you can name that has an identifiable mental health issue -- depression, anxiety, feelings that one gets when one is about to have to care for a child,” Gilbert said.

Brewer co-chairs the Foster Care Caucus and is an outspoken advocate for improving Virginia’s adoption and foster care systems. She received a tissue and support from Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, while tearing up at the news conference. Brewer said her birth-mother could have chosen to abort her but instead saved her life and fulfilled the life of her adoptive parents.

“61,012,997. How many of those were delegates that never had a chance to serve? How many of those were precious children who would’ve made an adoptive parent like mine -- a first-time mom or dad?” Brewer said.

HERRING WARNS VIRGINIANS ABOUT SCAMS RELATED TO GOVERNMENT SHUT DOWN

RICHMOND (January 22, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring is warning Virginians who have been furloughed because of the government shutdown, or those who wish to help federal workers, to be vigilant and look out for scams related to the shutdown. Shutdown related scams could include fake employment offers for “side jobs”, predatory lenders taking advantage of temporarily unpaid Virginians, and fake charities that claim to be working on behalf of federal workers.
 
“As the government shutdown enters its fifth week, it is important for Virginians, especially those who work for the Federal Government, to be vigilant and pay close attention to potential scams,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unfortunately, individuals will capitalize on federal workers’ vulnerabilities and lack of income during this time and try and take advantage of them. People who are affected by the government shutdown have enough to worry about and should not also have to worry about a scammer preying on them. My consumer protection team and I will continue to do all we can to protect Virginians from getting ripped off and taken advantage of.”
 
Virginians are encouraged to remember the following tips during the Federal Government shutdown:
 
Fake Employment Offers
  • Be wary of emails that appear to be from major retailers offering positions at local stores unless you've applied for a position, use caution when proceeding.
  • Cross reference any emails with the company's website to see if they have openings.
  • Watch out for imposters using the names of real employees at legitimate businesses.
  • Be wary of interviews conducted through Hangouts, Skype, or Facetime.
  • If using sites like Craigslist to find a job, use the "too good to be true" rule of thumb. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are a few warning signs to look for:
  • High pay rates for simple tasks
  • Receiving a Job offer without an interview
  • Requesting up-front payments and personal information
  • Contact information and address are missing and an online search doesn't turn up the company's name   
  • Never provide your Social Security number or personal information unless you are certain the company and job offer are legitimate.
  • Most legitimate companies do not ask for personal information over email or by unsolicited phone call.
  • Never reply to a suspicious email or provide personal information to an unsolicited phone call.
 
Predatory Lending
  • Familiarize yourself with the risks associated with small-dollar loans including payday, auto title, open-end, and online loans, and understand your rights when taking out one of these potentially risky loans.
  • Payday Loans
  • Limitations on interest and other fees—Interest on a payday loan is generally capped at 36% annually. Lenders may not charge more than 20% of the loan proceeds as a loan fee, and may only charge a $5 verification fee for checking the state’s payday loan database prior to issuing a loan. For a one-month loan of $500, the total APR will be 288%.
  • Length of loans—The term of a payday loan must be at least twice the borrower’s pay cycle so they have a better chance of repaying it. After that time, lenders cannot charge interest of more than 6% per year.
  • Loan amount—Lenders cannot loan more than $500 to a borrower. 
  • Number of loans—Lenders cannot issue more than one loan at a time to a borrower.
  • Number of loans in a 180-day period—If a borrower receives and pays off 5 payday loans in a 180-day period, there is a mandatory 45-day cooling off period when a lender cannot issue another loan to that borrower.
  • Loans to military personnel—Lenders cannot make a payday loan to a borrower who is a member of the armed forces or one of his or her dependents.
  • Auto Title Loans
  • Interest—Title lenders can charge interest based on the following sliding scale:
  • 22% per month on the first $700 in principal;
  • 18% per month on any amount above $700 up to $1,400; and
  • 15% per month on any amount above $1,400.  
  • For a one-month loan of $500, the total APR of the loan will be 264%.
  • Length of a loan— The loan term must be between 120 days (four months) and one year. 
  • Number of loans—Only one loan may be issued at a time to each borrower, or on each title.
  • Amount of loan—The amount loaned cannot exceed 50% of the value of the vehicle. 
  • Post-repossession protections—After default, a lender generally may only repossess the vehicle. They cannot continue to charge interest on the loan.
  • Loans to military personnel—Lenders cannot make a title loan to a borrower who is a member of the armed forces or one of his or her dependents.
  • Open-End Credit Plan Loans
  • Lenders are increasingly exploiting a loophole and steering borrowers towards open-end credit plans that afford borrowers very few consumer protections and can expose borrowers to unlimited interest rates.
  • These loans can be offered by both online and brick-and-mortar lenders, often using phrases like “line of credit” and “cash advance.”
  • While open-end credit loans might look like more traditional loans, open-end credit lines can stay open for an unlimited amount of time and lenders can often charge unlimited interest.
  • One of the few consumer protections in this area is a 25-day “grace period” during which the borrower has an opportunity to pay off the loan without interest or other finance charges, but once the 25-day grace period expires, a lender can charge an unlimited interest rate.
  • Online Loans
  • Online loans are generally subject to Virginia’s “usury statutes” which limits them to a 12% interest rate. If the interest rate is higher than 12% you should avoid taking out a loan and report the lender to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section.
  • Be wary of closed-end installment lenders that operate online and make loans to Virginia consumers because they are not required to be licensed by the SCC under current law.
  • Alternatives to Predatory Loans
  • Before obtaining a potentially predatory loan from a non-traditional lender, consumers should consider their other alternatives.
  • Traditional lenders—See if you can meet your needs through a traditional lender such as a bank, credit union, or consumer finance company, which typically will have a longer term and lower interest rates. Even if it is a small amount, a community bank or credit union may be willing to loan you the money you need.
  • Credit card cash advance—If you have a traditional credit card with remaining credit available, obtain a credit card cash advance, which will often have a lower interest rate than that offered by a payday or motor vehicle title lender.
  • Negotiation with creditors and companies—If you need money because you are having temporary trouble keeping up with routine bills, speak with your creditors, explain the financial difficulties you are having, and see if they will let you enter into a payment plan to take care of what you owe them.   
  • Personal connections—Consider whether you can get a temporary loan from family, friends, your congregation or place of worship, or a local charity.
  • Military options—If you are in the military, check with the applicable military aid society to see if they have any financial assistance programs that could be of use.
  • Authorized overdraft—Some banks will allow an authorized overdraft that may be preferable to taking out a risky loan that could saddle you with debt for months or years. If you utilize this option, be sure you understand the associated limitations, rates, or penalties.
 
Charitable Donations
  • Only give to charities and fundraisers you can confirm are reliable and legitimate. Scrutinize charities with consumer advocates or friends and find out how much of your donation will go to the charity's programs and services.
  • Be especially cautious if you do not initiate the contact with the charity.
  • Do not be pressured into giving. Legitimate organizations will not expect you to contribute immediately.
  • Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number. Legitimate organizations will give you materials about the charity's mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible. Just because a "charity" has a tax identification number does not mean your contribution is tax-deductibl
  • Avoid cash donations. Make checks payable to the charitable organization and not to an individual collecting a donation. For security and tax record purposes, you may wish to pay by credit card.
  • If a charity is soliciting contributions in Virginia, verify its registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs (OCRP) at (804) 786-1343, or by searching OCRP's Charitable Organization Database online: http://cos.va-vdacs.com/cgi-bin/char_search.cgi
  • While a legitimate charity should be registered with OCRP to solicit contributions in Virginia, registration alone does not mean that the organization will be effective in aiding people affected by the government shutdown.

 
Many localities in Northern Virginia have centralized resources for residents who are impacted by the Federal Shutdown.
 
Since 2014, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $273 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. Following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016, the OAG’s Consumer Protection Section has been even more effective in fighting for the rights of Virginians.
 
If you think you have been a victim of a scam, you should contact Attorney General Herring's Consumer Protection Section to file a complaint or to get additional information about any consumer protection related matter:

Herring Chastises Panel for Rejecting Hate Crime Bill

By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring expressed disappointment Monday after a legislative committee rejected a bill to expand Virginia’s definition of hate crime to include gender, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity.

“The General Assembly has sent a clear message to those who feel vulnerable to hate and mistreatment that they will not take the measures needed to protect them,” Herring stated after the Senate Courts of Justice Committee defeated the bill with a vote 8-6 along party lines, with Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans opposing it.

“The update to Virginia’s hate crimes definition is long overdue and would have offered needed protections for women, the LGBT community and Virginians with disabilities. I am disappointed to see this commonsense bill die in a party line vote. At a time when communities in Virginia and around the country are confronting a rise in hate crimes and hateful rhetoric, the General Assembly has sent a clear message to those who feel vulnerable to hate and mistreatment that they will not take the measures needed to protect them" - Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, Commonwealth of Virginia

Currently, the Code of Virginia refers only to individuals or groups targeted on the basis of race, religion, ethnic background or national origin as being victims of hate crime.

SB 1375, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, sought to expand that definition to include other marginalized groups. Herring called it a “common sense” bill and said he was disheartened that it was defeated on a party-line vote.

The bill would have brought Virginia closer to the federal definition of a hate crime, which includes “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”

Virginia State Police said bias-motivated crimes in the commonwealth rose from 137 in 2016 to 202 the following year.

The statistics for 2017, the most recent year available, include 89 incidents related to race, 44 to religion, 20 to ethnicity, 38 to sexual orientation and 11 to disability.

Virginia’s statistics reflect a larger national trend that shows a rise of hate crimes in the U.S. According to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, 7,175 hate crimes were reported nationwide in 2017. That is an increase of more than 1,000 reports from 2016.

Despite the defeat of the hate crimes bill, Herring remains optimistic about legislation that aims to impede activity by white supremacist militias and similar militant groups.

SB 1210, sponsored by Sens. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, was approved by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee by a 7-6 vote and referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

The measure, which died in committee last year, was first introduced following the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. During that event, James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd protesting the rally, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of other counter-demonstrators.

SB 1210 “provides that a person is guilty of unlawful paramilitary activity if such person assembles with another person with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons by drilling, parading, or marching with any firearm or explosive or incendiary device or any components or combination thereof,” according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.

Such unlawful paramilitary activity would be punishable as a Class 5 felony, under the bill.

“Referring it to the Senate Finance Committee is a step in the right direction,” Herring stated. “It is time for the General Assembly to take action to protect Virginians and make sure that we prevent the kind of paramilitary activity that we saw in Charlottesville from ever happening again.”

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING COMBATS OPIOID CRISIS WITH INNOVATIVE NEW PROGRAM FOR TEENS

~ Herring has partnered with the Preventum Initiative to implement FEND, an opioid education and prevention campaign for teenagers; FEND will be an addition to the AG’s existing approach to the opioid epidemic ~

RICHMOND (December 10, 2018) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced a partnership between his office and the Preventum Initiative to implement FEND (Full Energy, No Drugs), an opioid education and prevention campaign for Virginia teenagers. FEND will engage youth by rewarding them for learning and taking action against opioids and other drugs. The program will be implemented in conjunction with the Attorney General’s existing multifaceted approach to the opioid crisis.

“The opioid epidemic has taken a devastating toll on communities across Virginia,”said Attorney General Herring. “Partnerships like this one with Preventum Initiative and programs like FEND are critical tools we can use to teach young people about the dangers of addiction, opioids, and prescription drugs so they are better equipped to handle situations. I will continue to make combating the heroin and opioid epidemic a top priority and I look forward to working with Preventum Initiative to help make our communities safer.”

Preventum Initiative developed the FEND Movement to educate young adults about the dangers of heroin and opioid use. FEND will roll out in three stages over a two-year period beginning in 2019. The first stage will engage youth across the state, the second will roll out into high schools with a school-based competition model, and the third will empower youth to take the messages of FEND into their local communities. Additionally, the FEND app, which will be freely available in the Apple and Google Play stores, will reward youth for engaging with the app with streetwear, concert tickets, athletic events and other experiences. 

“FEND gives young people the facts about opioids, prescription drugs, and addiction so they can make informed choices about their health,” said Jacquii Burgess, Executive Director of the Preventum Initiative. “Understanding what an opioid is, why they’re so addictive, and how to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose can potentially save a life. We are thrilled to partner with Attorney General Herring to educate Virginia’s young people about opioids and other drugs.”

Attorney General Herring has made combating the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic a top priority, attacking the problem with a multifaceted approach that includes enforcementeducation, prevention, and legislation to encourage reporting of overdoses in progress, expand the availability of naloxone, and expand access to the Prescription Monitoring Program. He has supported federal efforts to improve the availability of treatment and recovery resources and made prescription drug disposal kits available across the Commonwealth. Attorney General Herring recently outlined his recommended next steps for combating the crisis, focusing on law enforcement initiatives, support from the medical community, and recovery, treatment, prevention and education. He is also participating in a multistate investigation into the practices of drug manufacturers and distributors to determine what role they may have played in creating or prolonging the crisis. Most recently, Attorney General Herring announced he was suing Purdue Pharma for their role in helping to create and prolong the opioid epidemic in Virginia.

The Preventum Initiative is a 501(c)(3) that brings together technologists and researchers to solve complex public health problems.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING LAUNCHES VIRGINIA’S FIRST ONLINE RE-ENTRY PORTAL

~ The site is the first of its kind to come out of an AG’s office and brings re-entry resources directly to sheriffs, jail practitioners, family members, local citizens, and ex-offenders ~

VIRGINIA BEACH (October 23, 2018) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced the launch of VirginiaReEntry.org, Virginia’s first ever online re-entry portal, which provides a “one-stop shop” for people involved in every phase of helping Virginians re-enter communities after incarceration. This portal is the first of its kind to come out of an attorney general’s office and offers resources directly to sheriffs, practitioners and citizens who want to help formerly incarcerated individuals return to their communities and lead successful lives. Attorney General Herring made the announcement at his 2018 Statewide Jail Re-entry Conference.
 
“When folks who are transitioning back into our communities are given the resources they need to be successful, well-adjusted members of society it not only helps them but it also makes our communities safer and saves taxpayer dollars,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “This first of its kind portal offers something for everyone by providing information and resources for sheriffs, re-entry organizations, potential employers, community and family members, and those who are returning to society. I am proud of the work that my office has done over the past few years to help localities build strong re-entry programs and we will continue to help them make sure that their returning citizens are given every opportunity to be successful following incarceration.”
 
Ninety-six percent of incarcerated individuals will eventually return to their communities, which is why strong, comprehensive re-entry programs and resources are so important. When people transitioning back to the community are provided individualized case management, treatment services, and support networks both prior to release and immediately following incarceration, they have a better chance at success. If ex-offenders re-enter their community with the same underlying trauma, addiction, or anger it can make communities less safe and perpetuate a cycle of re-incarceration that costs taxpayers money and strains families.
 
“We know that 96 percent of people in jail will return to our community,” said Norfolk Sheriff Joseph “Joe” Baron. “By utilizing our evidence based Re-entry Programming and innovative programming in partnership with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office Re-entry Program such as the Innovations in Supervision Initiative, we are providing offenders a better path to be successful in the community which will have an major impact on improving our recidivism rates in Virginia.”
 
“The Re-entry portal will give all parties involved in the process an opportunity to have a central location where information can be exchanged, communicated and maintained,” said Arlington Sheriff Beth Arthur. “Having this portal available with established information and services, will ultimately give participants in any Re-entry program more opportunities to be successful as they transition out into our communities.” 
 
The re-entry portal provides something for everyone including sheriffs, jail administrators and staff, non-profit organizations, faith-based volunteers, potential employers, treatment service providers, legislators, judges, media, family members and returning citizens.
 
 
  • Information on best practices in the re-entry field
  • Examples of efforts around Virginia
  • Grant information
  • Training schedules and data input options
  • Printable, regional specific materials
  • Training modules and presentations
  • Resources for families and communities to help their loved ones re-enter society in a productive way.
 
Resources for sheriffs and other jail practitioners
The portal provides information on the Office of the Attorney General’s suggested re-entry model, the Transition from Jail to Community (TJC), which was developed by the National Institute of Corrections in partnership with the Urban Institute. This model achieves the goals of enhancing public safety and reducing recidivism through a systematic and collaborative approach. You can also find the What Works in Re-entry Clearinghouse, a “one-stop shop” for research on the effectiveness of a wide variety of re-entry programs and practices. Additionally, there is information on DMV Connect, a program that was originally created to provide identification cards to incarcerated individuals pending release, as identification is necessary to secure jobs, open bank accounts, enter public buildings, and apply for benefits
 
Resources for families and returning citizens
Re-entry can be a time of both positivity but also stress for both the returning individual and their family. To make the transition as smooth as possible it is important to use every resource available including:
 
 
Employer Advantages
Employment is a pillar to successful re-entry and motivated employees are a lynchpin to successful business. Hiring returning citizens has proven beneficial to employers because:
 
  • Ex-offenders whose crimes are long in the past pose no greater risk than people in the general population
  • Returning citizens have a network of support to aid in their success. 
  • Federal programs add additional security by bonding employees.
  • There are tax incentives to hire returning citizens.
 
When Attorney General Herring began his first term in 2014, he saw that the state had developed a comprehensive plan to address re-entry and recidivism reduction for state inmates who left state prisons, but there was no coordinated programming or assistance for local and regional jails. He made it a priority to provide the first-ever state-level assistance to coordinate, expand, and improve re-entry efforts in local and regional jails, including the hiring of DeVon Simmons as Virginia’s first local jail re-entry coordinator.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING FIGHTS TO STOP ILLEGAL ROBOCALLS AND SPOOFING THAT PLAGUE CONSUMERS

~ AG Herring joins bipartisan coalition of 34 attorneys general asking the FCC to let phone companies do more to block illegal robocalls – including neighbor spoofing ~

RICHMOND (October 10, 2018) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a bipartisan coalition of 34 attorneys general in calling on the Federal Communications Commission to create new rules to allow telephone service providers to block more illegal robocalls being made to unsuspecting consumers in Virginia and across the country.
 
“It seems today like every Virginian has either received these annoying robocalls or they know someone who has, even I have received them and I am the Attorney General,” said Attorney General Herring. “These robocalls are not just annoying and frustrating to consumers but they are also illegal and folks should not have to worry about being scammed by these types of phone calls. It is my job as Attorney General to protect Virginia’s consumers, which is why I’m joining my colleagues in calling on the FCC to take stronger action and create new rules to protect Virginians from robocalls.”
 
The formal comment to the FCC explains that scammers using illegal robocalls have found ways to evade a call blocking order entered last year by the FCC. Despite the FCC’s order, robocalls continue to be a major irritant to consumers in Virginia and across the United States. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received 4.5 million illegal robocall complaints – two and a half times more than in 2014. The Virginia Office of Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section receives numerous complaints each year with respect to illegal calls, including scam calls, telemarketing complaints, and robocalls. 
 
Following last year’s order when the FCC granted phone service providers authority to block certain illegal spoofed robocalls, the attorneys general are now seeking added authority for the providers to work together to detect and block more illegal spoofed robocalls – including “neighbor spoofing.”
 
“Spoofing” allows scammers to disguise their identities, making it difficult for law enforcement to bring them to justice. “Virtually anyone can send millions of illegal robocalls and frustrate law enforcement with just a computer, inexpensive software and an internet connection,” the attorneys general wrote in the formal comment filed with the FCC.
 
One tactic on the rise is “neighbor spoofing,” a technique that allows calls - no matter where they originate - to appear on a consumer’s caller ID as being made from a phone number that has the same local area code and first three digits as the consumer. This manipulation of caller ID information increases the likelihood that the consumer will answer the call.
 
In the formal comment, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues expressed support for a new initiative, which will give phone service providers the ability to authenticate legitimate calls and identify illegally spoofed calls and block them. The added authority sought by the attorneys general will allow service providers to use new technology to detect and block illegal spoofed calls – even those coming from what are otherwise legitimate phone numbers. Service providers will be ready to launch this new authentication method in 2019.
 
To date, the FCC has not issued a notice of proposed rulemaking concerning additional provider-initiated call blocking. The attorneys general anticipate that further requests for comments will take place on this subject.
 
Attorney General Herring was joined on the comment by the Attorneys General of Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection.

HEAD OF VIRGINIA’S MFCU ELECTED PRESIDENT OF NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MEDICAID FRAUD CONTROL UNITS

~ During Attorney General Herring’s time in office MFCU has recovered $91,525,956 ~

RICHMOND (October 2, 2018) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that Randy Clouse, Director of the Virginia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), has been elected President of the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units (NAMFCU). Randy has been the Director of Virginia’s MFCU for nearly 20 years and under his leadership the unit has grown from 12 to 102 members and recovered over $2 billion in court ordered restitution fines and penalties for the Virginia Medicaid program.
 
“I cannot think of a more worthy and qualified person to serve as President of NAMFCU,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Randy has been the head of our MFCU for almost 20 years, and in that time he has grown the unit exponentially and recovered more than $2 billion for Virginia. I want to congratulate Randy on this honor and thank him for all of his hard work making Virginia’s MFCU one of the best in the country.”
 
“The outstanding results are the direct reflection of the great work of the employees of the MFCU and outstanding relationships we have with our federal counterparts, the United States Attorneys Offices for the Western and Eastern Districts, the FBI, IRS, DEA, FDA and HHS-OIG and the Department of Medical Assistance Services,” said Randy Clouse.
 
About Randy Clouse
 
Randy joined the Virginia Attorney General’s Office in May 1999 as the Director of the Virginia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Prior to joining the MFCU, Randy was a Police Officer with the Richmond Police Department. While in that capacity, he was a Detective assigned to the Organized Crime Division’s Vice Squad infiltrating street level illegal narcotics, prostitution, worked outlaw biker gangs and satanic cults. During Randy’s last three years in the Organized Crime Division, he was the Undercover Coordinator where he supervised multi-jurisdictional undercover sting operations targeting organized crime, organized prostitution rings and human trafficking. During his last two years in the Department, he was assigned to work Violent Crimes and Homicides. He attended California University, in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, majoring in Criminal Justice. 
 
Randy has been a member of the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Unit’s Executive Committee for five years and served as Vice President for the last year. Randy will be the first non-attorney to be president in the 40 year history of the National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units. As President of NAMFCU, Randy will continue to work closely with the National Association of Attorney’s General and the NAMFCU Executive Committee to continue their outstanding work overseeing the Association’s training programs and multi-state cases involving health care fraud, the illegal prescribing of opioids and elder abuse and corporate neglect issues. 
 
About Virginia’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit
 
The Virginia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) of the Office of the Attorney General was certified October 1, 1982, by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The Unit is one of 50 units throughout the United States with the same mission. 
 
From the MFCU inception in 1982 through 1999, the Virginia MFCU recovered over $10 million in court ordered restitution, fines and penalties. From 1999 through present, under Randy Clouse’s leadership, the Virginia MFCU has recovered over $2 billion in court ordered restitution, fines and penalties. 
 
The MFCU employs a professional staff of criminal investigators, auditors, attorneys and support staff who work together to develop investigations and prosecute cases. The Virginia MFCU works regularly with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to combat fraud, protect our most vulnerable citizens and to save taxpayer dollars.
 
In 2008, the Virginia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit received the State Fraud Award from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General for achieving the highest amount of monetary recoveries in the history of all state Medicaid fraud control units in fiscal year 2007 with over $500 million in recoveries.
 
In 2013, the Virginia MFCU was named the number one MFCU in the country by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.
 
In 2014, during Attorney General Herring’s first term, Virginia’s MFCU received the State Fraud Award from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General for achieving, again, the highest amount of monetary recoveries in the history of all state Medicaid fraud control units in fiscal year 2013 with over $1 billion in recoveries. To this date, neither of those recoveries has been achieved by any other state MFCU. Also in 2014, Virginia’s MFCU was awarded the “Honest Abe” award from the Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund.

AG HERRING URGES CONSUMERS TO BEWARE OF FRAUD AND SCAMS FOLLOWING HURRICANE FLORENCE

~ Urges awareness of common post-disaster frauds and scams involving door to door sales of services, home repair or debris removal following significant flooding and tornadoes ~

RICHMOND (September 18, 2018) – As Virginia begins to recover from significant flooding, storms and tornadoes caused by Hurricane Florence, Attorney General Mark R. Herring today encouraged Virginians to know their rights as consumers and to be on the lookout for common frauds and schemes that take advantage of people affected by natural disasters. Specifically, the Office of the Attorney General alerted Virginians to scams involving door to door canvassing, charitable contribution solicitations, home repair proposals, and tree cleanup and removal. Attorney General Herring previously warned Virginians to be cautious when donating money to assist hurricane victims in their recovery efforts. 
 
“This hurricane has had a significant impact on families across Virginia and we want to make sure that folks do not also become victims of scams during this time,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unfortunately, those affected by natural disasters are often the target of frauds, scams, and other illegal practices as they try to clean up and move forward. I urge all Virginians to familiarize themselves with fraudulent behavior that follows storms like Hurricane Florence. Be wary of any red flags that you may notice, resist pressures to make any quick decisions, and do not hesitate to call my office if you think you may have been a victim of fraudulent or illegal business practices.”
 
Consumers can contact Attorney General Herring's Consumer Protection Section at 1(800) 552-9963 and can file a complaint online. Consumers are encouraged to keep and provide copies of as much documentation as possible.
 
HOME REPAIRS, DEBRIS REMOVAL, OR CLEANUP
Home repair companies will arrive at disaster sites in response to the high demand for their services resulting from widespread property damage. Often disreputable companies hoping to make easy money are among them. They may require you to pay them before doing the work, do a shoddy job, or add extra costs throughout the job. To avoid being taken advantage of in this way, follow these tips:
  • Work with contractors you know or local firms with roots in the community. 
  • Ask people you trust for contractor referrals.
  • Ask the contractor for references and check them.
  • Verify the contractor’s license status and check on any complaints with the Board for Contractors at http://www.dpor.virginia.gov/LicenseLookup/ or call (804) 367-8511.
  • Get written estimates from several firms.
  • Do not do business without a written contract. Be sure that all guarantees, promises, and details are in writing. 
  • Do not pay large sums in advance and never make final payment until all work is completed to your satisfaction. 
  • Be extra cautious when a contractor comes to your door soliciting your business, offers you discounts for finding other customers, or "just happens to have" materials left over from a previous job.

 
DOOR TO DOOR SOLICITATIONS
In addition to home repair services, door-to-door solicitors may offer a variety of products for use after the disaster, as well as services like tree or debris cleanup. Some door-to-door solicitors are not legitimate. Remember these tips when someone comes to your door to sell you something:
  • High pressure sales tactics are often a part of fraudulent activity. Do not be hurried or intimidated. The salesperson is at your door uninvited and remains there only at your courtesy.
  • Be extra cautious about letting someone into your home. Never let anyone into your home without first asking for identification.
  • Under Virginia law, you have three days to cancel sales made at your home if the product or service costs $25 or more.
  • Your right of cancellation may be waived by you in an emergency. Be very cautious about signing a document that waives your right to cancel the sale. Read anything you are asked to sign very carefully.
  • If you decide to purchase from or use the services of a door-to-door solicitor, get all information and promises in writing; but remember, without a bricks and mortar business location, it is easy for these individuals to relocate and make it impossible for you to find them should legal recourse become necessary.



 

AG HERRING WARNS VIRGINIANS TO BE CAUTIOUS WHEN DONATING TO ASSIST VICTIMS OF HURRICANE FLORENCE

~ Solicitations from fake charities are more common following natural disasters ~

RICHMOND (September 17, 2018) - As the East Coast begins to recover from Hurricane Florence, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring is encouraging Virginians to exercise caution as they consider donating money to assist victims in their recovery. Sadly, scammers often use natural disasters such as hurricanes to set up fake charities where the money collected is pocketed by the scammer. As crowdfunding becomes more popular, it is especially important to research a crowdfunding page to make sure it is legitimate before donating.
 
“The images we are seeing out of the areas hit by Hurricane Florence are heartbreaking, and it is the first instinct of Virginians to help victims during this time of need,” said Attorney General Herring. “Folks must be smart and cautious when donating to hurricane focused charities because the sad truth is there are immoral people out there who will take advantage of a natural disaster to line their own pockets. I would encourage everyone to do their research before donating money to any charity that claims to help victims of this storm.”
 
Prior to making any contributions, Attorney General Herring encourages potential donors to take some common-sense precautions. While there are many legitimate organizations that provide relief to disaster victims, there are also many con artists that will use the phone, e-mail, U.S. Mail, the internet, or personal contact to try to separate you from your money. Always follow these tips when considering a charitable donation:
 
  • On crowdfunding sites:
  • Check the creator or page owner's credentials and try to confirm its authenticity and seriousness.
  • Look for indicators of endorsement or legitimacy that the page is actually collecting donations for a particular victim or organization. Some sites offer verification and transparency measures for campaigns. Look for those markers of authenticity, and check out the site's fraud protection measures.
  • Be cautious, and if you feel uneasy, contribute to a more established charity in the community.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with a current event or natural disaster. They may make a compelling case for you to make a donation but even if they are legitimate, they may not have the infrastructure or experience to get your donation to the affected area or people.
  • Only give to charities and fundraisers you can confirm are reliable and legitimate. Scrutinize charities with consumer advocates or friends and find out how much of your donation will go to the charity's programs and services.
  • Beware of "copy-cat" names that sound like reputable charities. Some scammers use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
  • Be especially cautious if you do not initiate the contact with the charity.
  • Do not be pressured into giving. Legitimate organizations will not expect you to contribute immediately.
  • Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number. Legitimate organizations will give you materials about the charity's mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible. Just because a "charity" has a tax identification number does not mean your contribution is tax-deductible.
  • Avoid cash donations. Make checks payable to the charitable organization and not to an individual collecting a donation. For security and tax record purposes, you may wish to pay by credit card.
  • If contributing over the Internet, be sure the web site you are visiting belongs to the charity to which you want to donate. See if other legitimate web sites will link to that web site. Make sure the web site is secure and offers protection of your credit card number
  • If a charity is soliciting contributions in Virginia, verify its registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs ("OCRP") at (804) 786-1343, or by searching OCRP's Charitable Organization Database online: http://cos.va-vdacs.com/cgi-bin/char_search.cgi
  • While a legitimate charity should be registered with OCRP to solicit contributions in Virginia, registration alone does not mean that the organization will be effective in aiding victims of a particular natural disaster.

 

Who to Contact

You can report charitable solicitation fraud to the Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs and the Office of the Attorney General at the following addresses and telephone numbers:
 
OFFICE OF CHARITABLE AND REGULATORY PROGRAMS
P.O. Box 1163
Richmond, Virginia 23218
(804) 786-1343
(804) 225-2666 (fax)

 
OCRP administers the provisions of the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions ("VSOC") law, Virginia Code §§ 57-48 through 57-69, and registers charitable organizations soliciting in Virginia. OCRP investigates complaints where there is an alleged violation of the VSOC law by a charitable organization or its professional fundraiser while soliciting contributions in Virginia. If it has reason to believe violations have occurred, OCRP can make an investigative referral to the Attorney General's Office and/or other agencies for a possible law enforcement action.
 
Here is a link to OCRP's Charitable Solicitation Complaint Form: http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/pdf/cscomplaint.pdf

  
OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Consumer Protection Section
202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
(800) 552-9963 (if calling from Virginia)
(804) 786-2042 (phone) (if calling from Richmond area)
(804) 225-4378 (fax)
 
The Virginia Attorney General has authority under state and federal consumer protection statutes to investigate and prosecute charitable solicitation and other consumer fraud and misrepresentation. If an action is brought, the Attorney General can seek injunctive relief to halt fraudulent or deceptive conduct in Virginia and obtain restitution for injured consumers. 
 
Here is a link to the Attorney General's Consumer Complaint Form: http://www.ag.virginia.gov/consumercomplaintform/form/start

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING WINS PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION BLOCKING 3D-PRINTED GUNS

~ AG Herring joined a coalition of state attorneys general asking the Courts to block the Trump Administration’s dangerous plan back in July ~

RICHMOND (August 27, 2018) – Today, Attorney General Mark R. Herring won a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump Administration’s dangerous plan to make 3D-printed guns more widely available. The preliminary injunction follows a lawsuit that was filed by Attorney General Herring and a coalition of state attorneys general back in July, seeking an injunction to prevent the distribution of detailed plans for printing plastic guns using 3D printers.

“The Trump Administration's reckless plan to make 3D-printed guns widely available and easily accessible was one of the most dangerous ideas I have ever heard,” said Attorney General Herring. “As a country, we need to focus on keeping our communities safer, not making it easier for dangerous individuals or criminals to get their hands on home-printed, untraceable, and undetectable guns. This preliminary injunction is an important first step in keeping 3D-printed guns off of our streets and I will continue to work with my colleagues to put a stop to the Trump Administration’s dangerous plan once and for all.”

3D-printed guns could be undetectable by metal detectors, untraceable because of a lack of a serial number, and sought out by criminals and domestic abusers who cannot legally possess a firearm or pass a background check. The company that wants to distribute the plans online does not require proof of age or proof of eligibility before allowing a customer to download the plans.

Attorney General Herring previously joined a bipartisan coalition of 21 attorneys general in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo objecting to the Trump administration’s plan to allow the print-at-home gun plans to be made available online.

In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that publicly available information on 3-D printed weapons will enable the production of firearms that are untraceable and undetectable by magnetometers in places such as airports, government buildings and schools. Additionally, unrestricted access to this kind of information will increase illegal trafficking of weapons across state and national borders.

The posting of the print-at-home gun plans was set in motion by a recent settlement between the Trump administration and Defense Distributed, a Texas-based online company that was previously ordered by the U.S. Department of State to remove downloadable files for firearms from its website.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES CONGRESS TO CLOSE DEADLY FENTANYL LOOPHOLE

~ In Virginia, fentanyl deaths have gone up 1,337% since 2009 ~

RICHMOND (August 23, 2018) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a bipartisan coalition of 52 state and territory attorneys general to call on Congress to help end the opioid epidemic and close a loophole that allows those who traffic deadly fentanyl to stay a step ahead of law enforcement. Since 2009, Virginia has seen fentanyl overdose deaths increase by 1,337 percent.

“I remain committed to combatting the opioid crisis that is affecting communities across the Commonwealth and the country,” said Attorney General Herring. “Fentanyl has become the biggest driver of the rise in overdose deaths in Virginia and far too many Virginians are still losing their lives and loved ones to this dangerous drug. Fentanyl can be deadly in microscopic doses, which makes it a threat to law enforcement and first responders who are investigating or trying to treat an overdose. It’s also indistinguishable from heroin and other opioids, meaning that a user can suffer a fatal overdose on any use without even realizing what they are taking. We need to make it as hard as we can for criminals and drug dealers to get their hands on this deadly drug, which is why I am urging Congress to close this loophole.”

Attorney General Herring sent a letter to Congress in support of S. 1553 and H.R. 4922, Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues (SOFA) Act. Fentanyl is currently a Schedule II controlled substance. However, outside of careful supervision, fentanyl and analogues manufactured illicitly can be lethal.

The SOFA Act, if passed by the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, would eliminate the current loophole which keeps the controlled substance scheduling system one step behind those who manufacture fentanyl analogue and then introduce these powders into the opioid supply. The SOFA Act utilizes catch-all language which will allow the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to proactively schedule all newly-modified fentanyl analogues.

Fentanyl is a particularly dangerous drug because even the smallest of doses can be fatal and, in many cases, it is indistinguishable from heroin. It can be hundreds of times more powerful than morphine and much more powerful than heroin. In Virginia alone, 2,182 people have died from a fentanyl overdoes since 2007. Additionally, cartels have begun to import chemicals from China to create their own homemade batches of fentanyl that they then sell on the streets. Importing these chemicals from China has made it even more difficult for law enforcement officials to crack down on the drugs because of complicating factors like Chinese chemical control laws, import laws, and the dark web where people can easily buy and sell the ingredients needed to make these drugs.

The heroin and prescription opioid epidemic has been a top priority for Attorney General Herring. He and his team continue to attack the problem with a multifaceted approach that includes enforcementeducation,prevention, and legislation to encourage reporting of overdoses in progress, expand the availability of naloxone, and expand access to the Prescription Monitoring Program. He has supported federal efforts to improve the availability of treatment and recovery resources and made prescription drug disposal kits available across the Commonwealth. Attorney General Herring recently outlined his recommended next steps for combating the crisis, focusing on law enforcement initiatives, support from the medical community, and recovery, treatment, prevention and education. He and his team also continue to participate in a multistate investigation into the practices of additional drug manufacturers and distributors to determine what role they may have played in creating or prolonging the crisis and what accountability they should face.

Attorney General Herring and his team have handled 117 cases against heroin and fentanyl dealers and traffickers involving more than 667 pounds of heroin (302 kilograms) worth more than $37 million on the street. These cases against dealers and traffickers have involved 39 overdose victim fatalities as well as 47 overdose victims who survived.

The attorneys general who signed this letter include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING FILES NEW BRIEF IN NET NEUTRALITY LAWSUIT

~ Herring joins 22 Attorneys General in urging DC Circuit to vacate and reverse FCC’s illegal rollback of net neutrality ~

RICHMOND (August 21, 2018) – Today, Attorney General Mark R. Herringfiled a new brief in the lawsuit to block the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) illegal rollback of net neutrality, urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to vacate and reverse the FCC’s order. Attorney General Herring is part of a coalition of 23 attorneys general that filed suit earlier this year.

“Having an open and fair internet is integral to economic, cultural and educational growth in the Commonwealth, by connecting Virginians to jobs, opportunities and experiences only accessible online,” said Attorney General Herring. “The FCC’s illegal rollback of net neutrality protections could open consumers up to internet providers who will take advantage of them, limit access to certain websites, slow down internet speeds, censor viewpoints they may not like, or even charge websites for priority access. These protections need to remain in place to make sure that ISPs provide fair services. I will continue to fight to keep the internet open for all Virginians.”

Attorney General Herring and his colleagues partnered with the County of Santa Clara, Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, and the California Public Utilities Commission in this brief. The non-government petitioners submitted a separate companion brief today and Attorney General Herring and the other attorneys general also joined the arguments made by the non-government petitioners in that brief.

Attorney General Herring’s brief focuses on two critical issues: first, that the FCC’s order is arbitrary and capricious, therefore putting consumers at risk of abusive practices by broadband providers, jeopardizing public safety, and more; and second, that the FCC’s order preempts state and local regulation of broadband service.

As Attorney General Herring’s brief states, “for more than fifteen years, the Federal Communications Commission has agreed that an open Internet free from blocking, throttling, or other interference by service providers is critical to ensure that all Americans have access to the advanced telecommunications services that have become essential for daily life. The recent Order represents a dramatic and unjustified departure from this long-standing commitment”.

The coalition of 23 attorneys general collectively represents over 165 million people – approximately 50 percent of the U.S. population – and includes the Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

AG HERRING JOINS 19 STATE ATTORNEYS GENERAL ANNOUNCING INTENT TO SUE OVER EPA ROLLBACK OF CLEAN CAR RULE

~ Abandoning new federal standards will cost Americans between $193 billion and $236 billion more on gas and add carbon emissions equivalent of 400 million more cars ~

RICHMOND (August 2, 2018) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 19 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia, in releasing the following joint statement announcing an intention to challenge the Trump Administration’s illegal and environmentally-destructive plan to roll back federal limits on tailpipe pollution from cars and trucks.
 
“Federal rules to limit tailpipe pollution and improve fuel economy are our best strategy to reduce carbon pollution, improve air quality, and save drivers money on gas. The Administration’s proposal to weaken these rules will cause the American people to breathe dirtier air and pay higher prices at the pump. If adopted, the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s rollbacks will cost American drivers hundreds of billions of dollars. Freezing or weakening these standards puts the health of our children, seniors, and all communities at risk, and increases the rising costs of climate change for our states. This decision upends decades of cooperative state and federal action to protect our residents. We are prepared to go to court to put the brakes on this reckless and illegal plan.” 
 
Today’s multistate statement includes the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
 
“Virginia is uniquely vulnerable to the threat of climate change and air pollution, particularly in Hampton Roads where streets are frequently closed by nuisance flooding and the world’s largest naval base is threatened by sea level rise,” added Attorney General Herring. “We also recognize the huge health, economic, and environmental benefits of clean air, especially for our kids. We’ve made too much progress as a country and a Commonwealth to let President Trump roll back the clock and undo all our progress just to boost the bottom line of oil and gas companies.”
 
Background on Clean Cars Rule:
 
Globally, the transportation sector is the fastest growing source of dangerous greenhouse gas pollution. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the transportation sector has surpassed the electric power sector and is now the nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions. Cars and light duty trucks make up 60 percent of the country’s transportation sector and are the main driver of U.S. dependence on oil, including foreign imports. 
 
Beginning in 2010, the EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the California Air Resources Board agreed to establish a single national program to limit greenhouse gas emissions from model year 2012–2025 vehicles. This program allows automakers to design and manufacture vehicles that will comply with tailpipe standards in all states.
 
The current federal standards for model year 2022-2025 vehicles are estimated to:
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 540 million metric tons;
  • Remove the equivalent of 422 million cars from the road; and,
  • Save drivers $1,650 per vehicle.
 
If enacted, the EPA’s proposal to freeze the emissions standards at 2020 levels would:
  • Reduce average fuel economy from an estimated 46.8 miles per gallon in model year 2026 vehicles to 37 miles per gallon;
  • Increase the country’s oil consumption by 5.3 to 11.9 million gallons per day in 2025;
  • Result in 16 to 37 million metric tons more carbon pollution in 2025; and,
  • Cost Americans roughly $193 billion to $236 billion more at the pump through 2035.
 
In January 2017, the EPA determined, in its “midterm evaluation,” that the 2022-2025 standards are readily achievable by the auto industry. After an extensive technical review, based in significant part on information from industry, advocates, and other interested parties, the EPA found that “automakers are well positioned to meet the standards at lower costs than previous estimated.” However, in April, the EPA arbitrarily reversed course and claimed that the greenhouse gas emissions standards for model years 2022–2025 vehicles should be scrapped. The Administration offered no evidence other than a meager record of self-serving industry analysis to support this decision and deferred further analysis to a forthcoming rulemaking.
 
A coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia—who together represent 44 percent of the U.S population and 43 percent of the national new car sales market—sued the agency in May over its decision to withdraw the agency’s evaluation supporting the standards. The lawsuit is based on the fact that theEPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously, failed to follow its own Clean Car regulations, and violated the Clean Air Act. 
 
In its draft rule, the EPA not only proposes to freeze federal emissions standards at 2020 levels but also threatens the authority of states to enforce stronger standards to protect residents. The Clean Air Act authorizes California to adopt emission standards that are more stringent than the federal standards and other states are authorized to adopt those same standards for new motor vehicles sold within their states. The proposed rule would eliminate the California standard, subjecting every state to less efficient and dirtier standards.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING TAKES ACTION AGAINST DECEPTIVE VETERANS CHARITIES AS PART OF NATIONWIDE SWEEP

~ AG Herring has filed suit against Hearts 2 Heroes Inc., and has entered into a multistate settlement with Operation Troop Aid Inc. ~

RICHMOND (July 19, 2018) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced that his office has taken legal action against two deceptive charitable organizations that he believes have conned Virginians by falsely promising their donations would help veterans, when the money really went to benefit those operating the so-called charities. Attorney General Herring has filed suit against Hearts 2 Heroes Inc., a for-profit company doing business as Active Duty Support Services Inc., and has entered into a settlement with Operation Troop Aid Inc. and its president and chief executive officer to resolve a multistate investigation of the charity. The actions are part of “Operation Donate with Honor,” a nationwide sweep to crackdown on fraudulent charities that exploit the name of America’s veteran community to solicit donations.
 
“Virginians are caring people who want to give back to veterans who have risked their lives to keep our country safe. Charities that deceptively solicit funds from donors who want to help veterans are disgraceful and should be held accountable for their efforts to make money on the good name of those who have served our country,” said Attorney General Herring. “I hope these enforcement actions send a strong message to similar organizations that they need to be honest about where their money is going, and make sure they follow through on their promises.”
 
Hearts 2 Heroes
Attorney General Herring has filed a lawsuit against Hearts 2 Heroes, a for-profit company doing business under the name Active Duty Support Services Inc. The business conducts door-to-door sales of “care packages” that will allegedly be sent to service members overseas. The lawsuit alleges violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and Virginia’s Solicitation of Contributions law through misrepresentations regarding the nature of the business and the care packages purchased, and the use of donated funds. The lawsuit alleges that the charity violated state charitable solicitation laws in the following manner:
 
  • Leading prospective donors to believe that Hearts 2 Heroes is a charity, when it is not, or that donations made are tax deductible, when they are not;
  • Delivering care packages, if delivered at all, to military bases in the United States, not overseas as represented;
  • Representing to consumers that staff were veterans or volunteers when in fact those staff were not veterans or volunteers; and
  • Employing staff who would “skim” cash donations for themselves.
 
The lawsuit asks the court to prohibit Hearts 2 Heroes from continuing to solicit donations, as well as award restitution to the affected consumers or impose a constructive trust on all funds received so that they will be distributed for legitimate charitable purposes. The suit also seeks an award of civil penalties, and reimbursement of the Commonwealth’s costs, investigative expenses and attorneys’ fees.
 
Operation Troop Aid Inc.
Attorney General Herring has entered into a settlement between 16 states and Operation Troop Aid Inc. and its president and chief executive officer to resolve a multistate investigation of the charity. The settlement resolves allegations that the Tennessee-based charity violated state charitable solicitation laws, including Virginia’s Solicitation of Contributions law, by improperly spending funds for purposes other than their solicited purpose and using unfair, false, misleading, or deceptive solicitation and business practices. 
 
The multistate group alleges the charity violated state charitable solicitation laws in the following manner:
 
  • Failing to conduct proper oversight of a commercial co-venture called “Operation Teddy Bear,” in which certain retail stores sold teddy bears in military uniforms that would supposedly provide a fixed dollar amount to the charity for each bear sold for the express purpose of sending care packages to service members;
  • Failing to maintain donated funds as restricted funds, even when designated for a particular purpose, and spending funds improperly on non-charitable purposes; and
  • Using donated funds for purposes other than those expressly represented as the charitable purpose of the charity, and engaging in unfair, false, misleading, or deceptive solicitation and business practices.
 
The settlement requires the charity to dissolve and prohibits the president and chief executive officer, Mark Woods, from becoming an employee, officer, director, board member, or assuming any fiduciary role with a nonprofit corporation, and from soliciting on behalf of a nonprofit corporation. The charity and Woods are also prohibited from violating state charitable solicitation statutes. The settlement includes a $10,000 civil penalty enforceable by all the states to be held in abeyance to ensure compliance with the injunctive terms of the settlement.
 
The 16 states involved in the settlement are California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
 
Attorney General Herring has made it a priority to combat deceptive charities, especially those that target Virginians supporting veterans. In December 2017, Herring announced a settlement between 24 states and VietNow National Headquarters, Inc., an Illinois charity that falsely represented that donations would help local veterans, resulting in the organization's dissolution. The settlement appointed a receiver to dissolve VietNow, obtained an injunctive relief against VietNow's directors and officers and required their cooperation in investigations of VietNow's professional fundraisers.
 
Since 2014, Attorney General Herring's Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $246 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. Following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016, the OAG's Consumer Protection Section has been even more effective in fighting for the rights of Virginians.
 
Virginians who have a question, concern, or complaint about a consumer matter should contact Attorney General Herring's Consumer Protection Section:

 
Today’s enforcement actions are being announced in conjunction with “Operation Donate with Honor,” a joint effort between Virginia, other states, and the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on fraudulent charities that falsely claim to benefit veterans and service members.

AG HERRING JOINS BI-PARTISAN EFFORT TO FIGHT LEGISLATION THAT WOULD TERMINATE STATES’ ABILITY TO PREVENT PREDATORY LENDING

RICHMOND (June 28, 2018) – Today, Attorney General Mark Herring joined a bi-partisan effort urging U.S. Congressional leadership to vote againstHR 3299 (“Protecting Consumers’ Access to Credit Act of 2017”) and HR 4439(“Modernizing Credit Opportunities Act”). The bipartisan coalition of 20 attorneys general sent a letter to leadership in the U.S. Senate expressing their opposition to the proposed legislation, which could potentially invalidate the state’s ability to limit interest rates on payday and other high interest loans, and undermine the state’s ability to enforce consumer protection laws.

“One of my top priorities as Attorney General has been to protect Virginians from predatory lenders that prey on individuals who are looking for a way out of a difficult financial position,” said Attorney General Herring. “We need stronger laws to protect Virginians and Americans from predatory loans, but these bills would weaken the consumer protection laws we already have in place. I join my fellow state attorneys general in urging Congress against the further restriction of a state’s ability to protect their citizens from abusive lenders.”

As the attorneys general expressed in the letter, HR 3299 and HR 4439 would constitute a substantial expansion of the preemption of state usury laws, which have long been recognized as the purview of the individual states. Over decades, states have crafted laws that create a careful balance between the need for access to credit and the need to ensure that loans are offered on terms that do not create consumer harm.

Attorney General Herring created the OAG's first Predatory Lending Unit to investigate and prosecute suspected violations of state and federal consumer lending statutes, including laws concerning payday loans, car title loans, consumer finance loans, mortgage loans, mortgage servicing, and foreclosure rescue services. The Unit also focuses on consumer education so Virginians are aware of the potential risks of these loans, as well as alternatives.

In recent years, Attorney General Herring and his team have focused on online lenders, which have been a growing percentage of the lending market, but can still present the same risks as any payday or motor vehicle title lender. To date, the Predatory Lending Unit has recovered more than $25 million in restitution and forgiven debt from online lenders, including $15.3 million from CashCall$4 million from MoneyKey$3.4 million from Opportunity Financial, and $2.7 million from MoneyLion.

During his administration, Attorney General Herring's Predatory Lending Unit has also successfully brought enforcement actions against, among others, motor vehicle title loan lendersonline payday lendersmortgage servicing companies, and pawnbrokers.

The coalition of Attorneys General signing the letter hail from: California, Colorado District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

You can find a copy of the letter here.

GOVERNOR NORTHAM SIGNS ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING’S BILL TO PROTECT VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING

~ Bill adds offenses related to human trafficking to the list of crimes for which bail can be denied, keeping traffickers in jail and protecting victims ~

NORFOLK (June 25, 2018) – In front of legislators, human trafficking victim advocates, and law enforcement officials, Governor Ralph Northam today signed human trafficking legislation championed by Attorney General Mark Herring. HB1260 (Mullin), recommended by the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force and carried by Delegate Mike Mullin, adds offenses related to human trafficking to the list of crimes for which bail can be denied, keeping traffickers in jail and better protecting trafficking victims.

“Human trafficking is a threat to public safety here in Virginia and across the United States,” said Governor Northam. “This legislation will help us prevent these crimes by making it more difficult for human traffickers to post bail and leave jail to intimidate witnesses or continue their criminal activity. I am proud to sign this legislation today and I thank Delegate Mullin and Attorney General Herring for their commitment to this issue.”

“Human trafficking is a dehumanizing crime that robs its victims of their dignity, their identity, and their freedom,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “This legislation is critical to protecting victims of human trafficking by keeping traffickers in jail and taking their control away. I want to thank the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force for their tireless work fighting this atrocious crime, and Governor Northam, Delegate Mullin and Delegate Dawn Adams for standing with me against human trafficking.”

While prosecuting traffickers, local law enforcement found that traffickers would pay their own bail and bail out their victims continuing the cycle of abuse and trafficking. This legislation, recommended by the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force, will keep traffickers in jail and better protect their victims.

This legislation adds the following offenses that are attributable to human trafficking to the list of crimes for which there is a rebuttable presumption against admission to bail:

  • Taking or detaining a person for the purposes of prostitution or unlawful sexual intercourse,
  • Receiving money from procuring or placing a person in a house of prostitution or forced labor,
  • Receiving money from the earnings of a prostitute, and
  • Commercial sex trafficking, where the alleged victim is a family or household member.

“I am proud to see HB 1260 be signed into law today. This piece of legislation aims to disrupt the cycle of abuse in human trafficking here on the Peninsula and across the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Delegate Mullin. “I want to thank the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Taskforce for their tireless efforts, and Governor Northam, Attorney General Herring, and Delegate Dawn Adams for seeing it through the process of becoming law.”

“Protecting people that have been trafficked and abused is our mission, when legislation promotes survivor safety, it’s a shared win every time,” said Robin Gauthier, Executive Director, Samaritan House.

“In order to have successful human trafficking investigations, we must rescue and stabilize victims. The fact that now, in Virginia, bail can now be denied for offenses related to human trafficking serves as a significant tool in ensuring victims’ safety,” said Patrick J. Lechleitner, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Washington, D.C.

Human trafficking is a $150 billion dollar enterprise worldwide, and is widely considered one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. The United Nations' International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, with hundreds of thousands of victims here in the United States.

Combating human trafficking in Virginia has been a top priority for Attorney General Herring. In November 2016, the Attorney General announced a $1.45 million grant that would help fund the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force, which then launched in January of 2017. The Office of the Attorney General partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Samaritan House, the U.S. Attorney's Office, Virginia State Police, and law enforcement agencies from Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth and Chesapeake for the task force. HB1260 is a recommendation from the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force.

FREE VETERANS LEGAL CLINIC TO BE HELD IN PETERSBURG IN JULY

~ July 10th event at Petersburg Freedom Support Center to include free powers of attorney, wills, and advance medical directives for veterans, as well as benefits information sessions from DVS ~

PORTSMOUTH (June 15, 2018) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of VirginiaAnnual State Convention that the next pro bono Veterans Legal Services Clinic will take place July 10 in Petersburg at the Petersburg Freedom Support Center, located at 32 West Washington Street, Petersburg, Virginia 23803.
 
During the daylong event, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Veterans Services (DVS) and the Virginia State Bar (VSB), volunteer attorneys from Attorney General Herring's office and the VSB will serve low-income veterans by drafting important estate planning documents like wills, powers of attorney and advance medical directives. Representatives from DVS will also be present to answer questions regarding state and federal benefits that may be available to Virginia veterans including health benefits, disability benefits, financial services, education benefits, burial in a Virginia or United States veterans cemetery, and more.
 
Qualified veterans can sign up on Attorney General Herring’s website at their local DVS Benefits Services Field Office, or by completing and mailing an application to the Attorney General's office. 
 
“The legal services these clinics provide are very important, but they can often be too expensive for a veteran who may be retired or on a fixed income,” said Attorney General Herring. “I have had the opportunity to visit clinics that we have held across the Commonwealth where we have been able to serve more than 185 veterans and their spouses. It has been so rewarding to witness the peace of mind we have provided these men and women who have given so much to Virginia and our country. This has been a rewarding partnership with the Department of Veterans Services and the State Bar, and I look forward to growing the program even more in the months and years ahead.”
 
Attorney General Herring, DVS, and VSB have held eight pro bono Veterans Legal Services Clinics, serving more than 185 veterans and their spouses in Hampton Roads, Roanoke, Richmond, Lynchburg, Annandale, and Petersburg.
 
Clinics provide qualified veterans and their spouses with simple wills, powers of attorneys, and advance medical directives, including notary services, during the one hour time slots which will be filled on a "first-come, first-served basis." In order to be eligible for services, veterans and their spouses must fill out anintake questionnaire on Attorney General Herring's website or at their local Virginia Department of Veterans Services Benefits Center. Because participants must collect information and make significant decisions prior to the clinic, walkups cannot be accepted.
 
Additional details including qualifications and sign up links can be found here: https://oag.state.va.us/programs-initiatives/veterans-assistance-resources.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING STEPPING IN TO DEFEND THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT AND VIRGINIANS’ HEALTHCARE

~Since the President and Attorney General have abandoned defense of the ACA, Herring and his colleagues are stepping in to protect accessible, affordable healthcare and Virginians with preexisting conditions~

RICHMOND (June 8, 2018) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring and a coalition of 16 state attorneys general will be defending the Affordable Care Act and the American healthcare system now that President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have announced they will abandon defense of the ACA in the pending lawsuit Texas v. United States.  The Texas-led lawsuit, which now has the support of the U.S. Department of Justice, would end the ACA, threatening healthcare coverage for 20 million Americans, stripping protections from those with preexisting conditions, and ending billions of dollars in funding for critical healthcare programs and services nationwide. Attorney General Herring has joined this lawsuit to protect Virginians who benefit from the ACA, including Virginians with preexisting conditions and those who would suffer reduced access and increased premiums should this lawsuit succeed.

“It cannot be overstated how reckless, cruel, and dangerous this politically motivated lawsuit is,” said Attorney General Herring. “In seeking to strike down the entire ACA, these plaintiffs are playing games with the lives and financial well-being of millions of Americans and Virginians. Unfortunately, they now have powerful allies in President Trump and Attorney General Sessions. I will do everything I can to protect the progress we have made under the Affordable Care Act, including the life-changing Medicaid expansion that Governor Northam signed into law just yesterday. I will continue to fight to make sure that politics do not stand in the way of Virginians receiving high-quality, affordable healthcare.”

As part of their defense of the ACA, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues filed a brief yesterday in opposition to the Texas lawsuit, which seeks to end the ACA based on a far-fetched legal theory that the recently passed Republican tax bill rendered the ACA unconstitutional. Instead, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that the Court should reject the request to strike down the ACA because it remains lawful, constitutional, and of vital importance to the health and well-being of Americans.

Since the ACA was implemented in 2009, Virginia’s uninsured rate has dropped from 16.4% to 12.4%, and the recently enacted Medicaid expansion is expected to drive it down even further.

If successful, Texas’ lawsuit would harm Virginia by:

  • Halting Medicaid expansion, which was signed into law in Virginia just yesterday with the goal of covering an additional 400,000 Virginians;

  • Allowing insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charge them more;

  • Allowing insurance companies to discriminate against women by charging them higher premiums;

  • Taking away seniors’ prescription drug discounts;

  • Ending $1.15 billion in tax credits that helped 335,000 Virginians afford insurance in 2017 alone;

  • Ending the healthcare exchange where more than 410,000 Virginians purchased their healthcare in 2017;

  • Stripping funding from our nation’s public health system, including work to combat the opioid epidemic; and

  • Ending billions in federal aid for healthcare, including $458 million in FY 2019 and $1.9 billion in FY 2020.

 In total, Americans living in the states that successfully intervened could lose half a trillion dollars in healthcare funding.

Attorney General Herring and his colleagues were allowed to join this case as defendants on May 16, 2018, meaning that the states can defend the ACA in place of President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, and can appeal any adverse ruling that threatens Virginians’ access to healthcare.

Joining Attorney General Herring in defending the ACA and filing the motion opposing Texas lawsuit are the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota by and through its Department of Commerce, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

Attorney General Herring previously defended the healthcare rights of Virginians by leading a multistate coalition in the Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States in the cases of King v. Sebelius. He intervened to defend "cost sharing reduction payments" that more than 220,000 Virginians rely on to afford healthcare, and successfully sued to block President Trump’s attempts to end the no-cost contraception benefit created by the ACA.

ATTORNEY GENERAL MARK HERRING AND HAMPTON ROADS HUMAN TRAFFICKING TASK FORCE LAUNCH NEW REGIONAL AWARENESS CAMPAIGN

~ Billboards going up on major highways across Hampton Roads to bring awareness to the realities of human trafficking and engage victims ~

    

NORFOLK (May 22, 2018) – Attorney General Mark Herring today announced that the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force will launch a new awareness campaign across the Hampton Roads region. Beginning this week, billboards will be placed on major highways across the region encouraging victims or those with information about possible human trafficking to contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline. The billboards are estimated to make 2.5 million impressions while they are up across the region. Additionally, the campaign will include bilingual digital advertising which will run in the region. In 2017, Virginia has had thefifteenth highest number of human trafficking cases referenced on the hotline, and experts believe human trafficking occurs in Virginia because of its location on the east coast, international air and sea ports, and large number of major interstates.
 
“Human trafficking robs its victims of their dignity, their identity, their freedom, and in a tragic number of cases, their childhood,” said Attorney General Herring. “Virginia has made great strides in combating this crime and my team and I have been proud to be a part of those efforts. By raising awareness about the existence and impact of human trafficking and promoting critical resources, we can help restore victims and seek justice against those who perpetrate this dehumanizing crime. I want to thank our Hampton Roads Human Trafficking partners for their continued efforts to combat this heinous crime.”
 
Human trafficking is a $150 billion dollar enterprise worldwide, and is widely considered one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. The United Nations' International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, with hundreds of thousands of victims here in the United States.
 
Hampton Roads billboard locations include:
  • 3210 Bainbridge Boulevard, near the intersection of Rosemont Avenue, Chesapeake, VA
  • US 60, near the intersection of Elmhurst Street East, Newport News, VA
  • 3601 Chestnut Avenue, near the intersection of 36th Street, Newport News, VA
  • 2720 Hampton Boulevard, near the intersection of 35th Street, Norfolk, VA
  • 2019 Granby Street, near the intersection of 21st Street, Norfolk, VA
  • 3001 Lafayette Boulevard, near the intersection of Ballentine Boulevard,Norfolk, VA
  • 2561 Airline Boulevard, near the intersection of Victory Boulevard,Portsmouth, VA
  • 3307 George Washington Highway, Portsmouth, VA
“No one anticipated how prevalent the problem would be, we have opened three new shelters and served over 60 victims since the inception of the program 16 months ago,” said Robin Gautheir, Executive Director, Samaritan House.
“We know that awareness and outreach are two important tools in identifying victims of human trafficking, and we hope this billboard campaign will encourage the public to report suspicious activity to us,” said Dewey Mann, supervisory special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Norfolk. “One of the task force’s first successful investigations began with a tip to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.”
 
In November 2016, Attorney General Herring announced a $1.45 million grant that would help fund the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force, which we then launched in January of 2017. The Office of the Attorney General partnered with Homeland Security, Samaritan House, the US Attorney’s Office, Virginia State Police, and law enforcement agencies from Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth and Chesapeake for the task force. Since October 2016, just before the launch of the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force, there have been a total of 108 new trafficking investigations, 45 arrests, and 76 victims have been identified.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING ANNOUNCES ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS AGAINST UNLICENSED CONTRACTORS

RICHMOND (May 11, 2018) - Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that he has taken enforcement actions against three unlicensed contractors operating in Virginia. The three unlicensed contractors are Ricky Harmon Pettit, operating under Pettit’s Home Improvement, Ricky H. Pettit Home Improvement, and R. H. Pettit Builders in Central and Northern Virginia; Timothy Oneal White, operating as White Renovation and Construction and White Renovations in the City of Roanoke; and Gerald Lee Whitfield, operating as Whitfield’s Home Improvements in the City of Chesapeake. Each of the unlicensed contractors allegedly committed numerous violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, which generally prohibits the use of any deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, or misrepresentation in connection with a consumer transaction.
 
“No one should have to worry about whether the contractor they have hired to work on their home is licensed or trained to do the work they say they can,” said Attorney General Herring. “These unlicensed contractors are not only lying to consumers they are potentially putting them in danger with shoddy workmanship. My Consumer Protection section will continue to investigate claims of fraud and abuse against consumers and take action where we can to stop it.”
 
Ricky Harmon Pettit – Pettit’s Home Improvement, Ricky H. Pettit Home Improvement, and R. H. Pettit Builders
The Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against Ricky Harmon Pettit for providing unlicensed contractor work in consumers’ homes in Central and Northern Virginia. The lawsuit alleges that in several instances Pettit offered contractor services to consumers, obtained money before performing those services, and failed to complete those services. Pettit also falsely told consumers that he was insured and licensed with the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation Board for Contractors. The Complaint alleges Pettit violated the Consumer Protection Act by:
 
  • Representing that he was a plumber, when he has never held a tradesmen license with a plumbing specialty as required by statute;
  • Taking payments of $2,524.99 from one consumer to install floor and wall tiles in a bathroom, and later install a toilet, pedestal sink, and water heater, and never finishing the work;
  • Taking payments of $21,000.00 from another consumer to renovate the consumer’s kitchen, and never finishing the work;
  • Representing himself as licensed and insured on business documents including an invoice, a business card, a written contract, and his website, when Pettit was not licensed and insured;
  • Making other false statements and unfulfilled promises throughout his transactions with consumers; and
  • Undertaking work without a valid Virginia contractor’s license when a license is required.
 
Timothy Oneal White – White Renovation and Construction, and White Renovations
The Attorney General reached a settlement with Timothy Oneal White related to unlicensed contractor work performed in the City of Roanoke. Specifically, the Attorney General alleges that White violated the Consumer Protection Act by, among other things:
 
  • Undertaking work without a valid Virginia contractor’s license;
  • Taking payments of $6,650 from one consumer to complete various renovations to the consumer’s home bathroom including plumbing to make it accessible for persons with mobility issues, and never finishing the work;
  • Representing that he was a plumber, when he has never held a tradesmen license with a plumbing specialty as required by statute; and
  • Making various other misrepresentations and deceptions in his interactions with the consumer.
 
Under the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, White is prohibited from operating as a contractor without a required license and will have to pay $6,650 in restitution to the affected consumer, $2,500 for civil penalties and $500 for attorney’s fees and expenses. The Assurance of Voluntary Compliance has been adopted and approved by the Roanoke City Circuit Court.
 
Gerald Lee Whitfield – Whitfield’s Home Improvements
The Attorney General has reached a settlement with Gerald Lee Whitfield alleging that Whitfield committed numerous violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act by:
 
  • Undertaking work without a valid Virginia contractor’s license;
  • Taking payments of $8,796 from one consumer to complete various remodeling projects in the consumer’s home, including framing, hanging drywall, painting, and refinishing floors, and never finishing the work;
  • Describing himself in writing as a “Contractor”;
  • Representing that he was licensed to do electrical work, when he has never held a tradesmen license with an electrical specialty as required by statute; and
  • Making various other false statements and unfulfilled promises in his interactions with the consumer.
 
Under the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, Whitfield will be prohibited from operating as a contractor and electrician and will have to pay $4,398 for restitution to the affected consumer, $2,000 for civil penalties, and $500 for attorneys’ fees and expenses. The Assurance of Voluntary Compliance has been filed for approval with the Chesapeake Circuit Court.
 
The three matters were handled for the Commonwealth by Assistant Attorney General Stephen John Sovinsky and Investigator Christopher Olson.
 
Consumers are encouraged to remember these tips when hiring a contractor:
  • Hire only licensed contractors.
  • Verify the contractor’s license status and check on any complaints with the Board for Contractors at http://www.dpor.virginia.gov/LicenseLookup/ or call (804) 367-8511.
  • Get referrals from friends, neighbors or co-workers.
  • Check references and look at past work.
  • Get written estimates from at least three contractors.
  • Don’t automatically choose the lowest bid. Ask for an explanation of price differences.
  • Get a signed contract that includes start and completion dates, payment schedule, all materials needed, any promises or warranties.
  • Limit any down payment.
  • Don’t pay cash.
  • Don’t pay in full before all work is complete to your satisfaction.
  • Keep all paperwork.
  • You have three days to cancel most sales made at your home. If you have second thoughts, consider exercising this right.

 
If you think you have been a victim of an unlicensed contractor please reach out to the Office through Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-552-9963, or file a complaint on its website.
 
During Attorney General Herring’s administration, the Consumer Protection Section has undergone a significant reorganization and expansion, and recovered more than $243 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators.


HERRING FILES SUIT AGAINST "SERVICE DOGS BY WARREN RETRIEVERS"

~ Suit alleges violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act in connection with the sale of purported “diabetic alert dogs" ~
 
RICHMOND (May 8, 2018) - Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that he has filed a lawsuit against Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, Inc., a Virginia-based company that sells purported service dogs to consumers nationwide, and its CEO, Charles D. Warren, Jr., for alleged violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions law. The suit alleges that Service Dogs and Warren sold so-called “diabetic alert dogs” for tens of thousands of dollars, when they were often delivering poorly-trained puppies with significant behavioral issues and inadequate skills or training to notify a customer of a potentially life-threatening high or low blood sugar situation. Service Dogs and Warren also misled customers and charitable donors about certain aspects of the business’s payment structure, and lied about Warren having served in the armed forces.
 
“This suit alleges not just dishonest and unlawful business practices, but a recklessness that could have endangered the lives of customers who relied on the claims made by Service Dogs and its owner,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Our investigation shows that, in many instances, Service Dogs was simply selling a $25,000 pet, leaving customers with a huge bill and no protection against a potentially life-threatening blood sugar situation. Customers have a right to rely on the accuracy of a business’s claims, especially when it involves a person’s health and well-being. We will continue to hold businesses to the highest standards and take action whenever necessary to protect Virginia consumers.”
 
The lawsuit alleges that Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers and Mr. Warren charged $18,000 to $27,000 for a dog that could purportedly identify and alert individuals to life-threatening low and high blood sugar in individuals with diabetes. In reality, the dogs were often poorly trained, ill-behaved, and unequipped to help manage a life-threatening situation, rendering them little more than incredibly expensive pets.
 
An investigation of customer complaints showed that, instead of the well-trained service dog that was promised, Service Dogs often provided an untrained puppy that showed significant shortcomings such as an inability to properly walk on a leash, inappropriate chewing and destruction, inability to respond when called, jumping on people, fear of noises, and frequent barking or whining. Critically, dogs that were billed as a potential lifesaver failed to alert customers to dangerous high or low blood sugar.
 
The complaint also alleges that Service Dogs encouraged customers to solicit charitable donations to cover the cost of their dog despite several times not being properly registered to solicit charitable funds, and misled customers about a partnership with or endorsement from JDRF, formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
 
Finally, the suit alleges that Mr. Warren lied to customers and donors when he claimed to have served in the United States Marine Corps, to have trained dogs for the military, and to have received a medical discharge because of a diabetes diagnosis. In reality, Mr. Warren has never served in the United States Marine Corps or any other branch of the military.
 
Attorney General Herring specifically contends that Service Dogs and Mr. Warren violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions law by, among other ways, deceiving consumers about:
  • the testing and training dogs would undergo before being placed in a home with the diabetic person;
  • the skills and abilities dogs would have when assisting a consumer or family member with diabetes;
  • how the dogs could be paid for, and how long consumers would have to pay their balances; and
  • why consumers—or those who donated on their behalf—could not receive refunds.
In his lawsuit filed in Madison County Circuit Court, Attorney General Herring is seeking restitution on behalf of affected consumers, civil penalties, attorneys' fees, and asking the court to block Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers from further violations of the Consumer Protection Act and Solicitation of Contributions law. He is seeking civil penalties of up to $2,500 per willful violation of the Consumer Protection Act and $5,000 per violation of the Solicitation of Contributions law, with the exact number of violations to be determined during trial proceedings. In addition, Attorney General Herring is seeking an accounting from the company of all funds obtained through unlawful solicitations, and the establishment of a charitable trust so those funds can be provided to an appropriate charitable organization.
 
During the course of investigating complaints against Service Dogs, Attorney General Herring had to ask a court to enforce a civil investigative demand compelling the company to produce information about its business. The company failed to fully comply with the civil investigative demand for nearly two years, resulting in approximately $90,000 in sanctions against Service Dogs and Warren.
 
Consumers who believe they have been injured by Service Dogs should file a complaint with Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section as soon as possible. For information about filing a complaint, to get a complaint form, or to submit a complaint online, consumers should go to the Attorney General's website: Online Complaint Form. Consumers with questions or who need assistance can contact us:

Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section is handling this matter. During Attorney General Herring’s administration, the Consumer Protection Section has undergone a significant reorganization and expansion, and recovered more than $243 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators.

If you have any consumer-related inquiries, the Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline telephone counselors are available to assist you with your consumer questions. Please call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-552-9963 if calling from Virginia, or (804) 786-2042 if calling from the Richmond area. You can also subscribe to the Consumer Protection Quarterly Newsletter here.

 

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING ALLEGES ILLEGAL PREDATORY LOANS IN SUIT AGAINST ONE OF VIRGINIA’S LARGEST ONLINE LENDERS

~ AG Herring’s suit against Net Credit, one of the largest online lenders operating in Virginia, seeks restitution on behalf of affected consumers ~

RICHMOND, VA (May 4, 2018) - Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that his Predatory Lending Unit has filed a lawsuit against Net Credit, one of the largest online lenders operating in Virginia, for lending and collections practices that allegedly violate the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. The lawsuit alleges that Chicago-based Net Credit issued loans of $1,000 to $10,000 to more than 47,000 Virginia borrowers between 2012 and 2018 with interest rates from 34% to 155%. In one loan cited in the complaint, a Virginia borrower was responsible for more than $6,000 in repayments for just $2,000 borrowed.

“We’ve seen more and more Virginians turn to online lenders in a time of need only to find they’ve signed up for a debt trap that is going to cost them hundreds if not thousands of dollars in finance charges and interest,” said Attorney General Herring. “I believe we need stronger laws to protect Virginians from predatory loans, whether issued online or in-person, but until we get those, I’m going to make sure the laws we have are enforced and make sure that companies can’t come into our state and abuse financially vulnerable Virginians.”

Attorney General Herring’s complaint alleges that Net Credit operated without a license in Virginia and misled borrowers about its licensure status in Utah in an attempt to avoid interest rate caps when loaning money to Virginians. Unless a lender qualifies for an exception, Virginia law caps the interest rate on loans at 12% per year. Instead, Net Credit forced borrowers to repay loans at exorbitant rates that cost Virginia consumers thousands of dollars.

The Complaint also alleges that Net Credit tried to illegally collect money from borrowers who had filed for bankruptcy and were entitled to protection from collections activities. This conduct allegedly occurred in the form of automatic withdrawals from consumers’ bank accounts and collections emails while court-ordered bankruptcy stays were in effect.

The lawsuit has been filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court. Attorney General Herring is seeking restitution on behalf of consumers who were charged illegal interest, civil penalties, attorneys' fees, and a court order banning Net Credit from further violating the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

The Commonwealth is represented in this matter by attorneys in Attorney General Herring’s first of its kind Predatory Lending Unit, which has recovered more than $22 million from online lenders including CashCallMoneyKeyMr. Amazing LoansOpportunity Financial, and MoneyLion. Overall, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $243 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators.

DRUG TAKEBACK DAY EVENTS TO BE HELD ACROSS SOUTHSIDE VIRGINIA

~Attorney General Herring reminds Virginians to dispose of unused prescriptions, especially opioids, at one of many drop-off sites across the Commonwealth~

RICHMOND (April 24, 2018) - Attorney General Mark R. Herring is encouraging Virginians to take advantage of Saturday's National Prescription Drug Take Back Day to dispose of unused or expired medications, especially prescription opioids, before they can be misused, abused, or accidentally ingested. Law enforcement agencies, community partners, and members of the Attorney General's team will be stationed at dozens of locations throughout the Commonwealth to accept medications for proper disposal. Takeback locations in the Southwide area, which will be open from 10am - 2pm, are listed below, and you can find a site near you by searching here.

"One of the simplest things we can all do to fight the opioid epidemic and make our homes and our communities safer is to get rid of unused prescriptions before they are misused, abused, or even accidentally ingested by a child or grandchild," said Attorney General Herring. "We know that opioid abuse often starts with drugs from the medicine cabinet, not the streets. Taking just a few minutes of your weekend to clean out your medicine cabinet and get rid of unneeded medication can be a huge step forward in making your home and you family safer."

There is a strong link between misuse of prescription opioids, opioid addiction, and even subsequent use of heroin once prescriptions become too expensive or are no longer accessible. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • Heroin abuse is 19 times more likely among those who abuse prescription opioids.
  • Half of young people who used heroin got started by abusing prescription opioids.
  • One in fifteen individuals who misuse prescription opioid painkillers will try heroin within 10 years.
  • Studies show a link between the availability of prescription and illicit drugs and the likelihood of abuse.

In Virginia, opioid overdose deaths have risen steadily since 2010:

  • Heroin overdose deaths have risen more than 1,060% between 2010 and 2015, from 48 to 558.
  • Fentanyl deaths have risen by over 1,500% percent from 2007 to 2017, from 48 to 770.
  • Prescription opioid overdose deaths have risen 26% between 2007 and 2017, from 400 deaths to 504.

Attorney General Herring has made combating the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic a top priority, attacking the problem with a multifaceted approach that includes enforcementeducation, prevention, and legislation to encourage reporting of overdoses in progress, expand the availability of naloxone, and expand access to the Prescription Monitoring Program. He has supported federal efforts to improve the availability of treatment and recovery resources and made prescription drug disposal kits availableacross the Commonwealth. Attorney General Herring recently outlined his recommended next steps for combating the crisis, focusing on law enforcement initiatives, support from the medical community, and recovery, treatment, prevention and education. He is also participating in a multistate investigation into the practices of drug manufacturers and distributors to determine what role they may have played in creating or prolonging the crisis.

Drug Takeback locations include:

DANVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT

CENTRA MEDICAL GROUP DANVILLE 
PARKING LOT - WEST END OF THE BUILDING

414 PARK AVE

DANVILLE

VA, 24541

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

MT. HERMON SHOPPING CENTER 
FOOD LION PARKING LOT

4048 FRANKLIN TURNPIKE

DANVILLE

VA, 24540

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE 
IN FRONT OF SHERIFF'S OFFICE

21 NORTH MAIN STREET

CHATHAM

VA, 24531

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

FOOD LION 
PARKING LOT

100 VADEN STREET

GRETNA

VA, 24557

MARTINSVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT

MARTINSVILLE FIRE DEPARTMENT 
FRONT ENTRANCE

65 WEST CHURCH ST.

MARTINSVILLE

VA, 24112

LAWRENCEVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT

LAWRENCEVILLE MUNICIPAL BUILDING 
AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE POLICE DEPARTMENT

400 N. MAIN STREET

LAWRENCEVILLE

VA, 23868

FARMVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT/LONGWOOD UNIVERSITY PD

MIDTOWN SQUARE 
IN FRONT OF CHICK-FIL-A

156 S. SOUTH STREET

FARMVILLE

VA, 23901

VIRGINIA STATE POLICE

VIRGINIA STATE POLICE DIVISION III HQS 
POC: SGT DREW MCCORMICK

240 THIRD DIVISION LOOP

APPOMATTOX

VA, 24522

APPOMATTOX COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

KROGER

7851 RICHMOND HWY

APPOMATTOX

VA, 24522

AMELIA COUNTY SHERFF'S OFFICE

AMELIA PHARMACY INC. 
FRONT SIDEWALK BY STORE ENTRANCE

15412 PATRICK HENRY HWY.

AMELIA

VA, 23002

AMELIA COUNTY SHERFF'S OFFICE

RITE AID PHARMACY 
FRONT SIDEWALK BY STORE ENTRANCE

15105 PATRICK HENRY HWY

AMELIA

VA, 23002

 

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