Attorney General

VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA REACH SETTLEMENT OVER DAN RIVER SPILL

~ 2014 Duke Energy spill resulted in approximately 27 million gallons of coal ash wastewater and between 30,000 and 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River ~

RICHMOND (September 21, 2020) – Attorney General Herring, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have entered into a consent decree to finalize the restoration plan and environmental assessment related to the 2014 Dan River spill.
 
“This final restoration plan ensures that any damage caused by the Dan River spill is reversed and restored, as well as holds those who were responsible for the spill accountable,” said Attorney General Herring. “The community was directly impacted by this spill and I’m glad we were able to involve them in coming up with a suitable plan for everyone. I want to thank our state and federal partners for their help and collaboration on reaching this important settlement.”
 
Four projects have been selected as meeting these goals and three of those have already been completed as early restoration. Completion of the last project – improved recreational access to the Dan River – is expected after the court filing. Selected projects include:
 
  • Acquisition and conservation of the Mayo River floodplain and riverbank adding up to 619 acres to the Mayo River State Parks in North Carolina and Virginia for long-term stewardship (completed)
  • Aquatic habitat restoration in the Pigg River via removal of the Power Dam returning riverine conditions to 2.2 miles, benefitting game fish such as smallmouth bass, and the federally and state listed Roanoke logperch and other nongame fish (completed)
  • Establishment of public boat launch facilities on the Dan River (ongoing)
  • Improvements to the Abreu Grogan Park in Danville, Virginia, including new amenities and other improvements that address impacts related to park closure during spill response activities (completed)
 
“Transparent community involvement was a vital part of this multi-agency partnership between Virginia and North Carolina as we shaped the important projects in the restoration plan to rehabilitate our natural resources,” said Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Filing the consent decree will ensure all work is completed to enhance cleaner water, beautiful landscapes and our many outdoor recreation venues.”
 
On February 2, 2014, a stormwater pipe underneath the primary coal ash basin at the Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station failed, resulting in the spill of approximately 27 million gallons of coal ash wastewater and between 30,000 and 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, resulting in documented ash or ash-like material co-mingled with native sediment in North Carolina and Virginia as far as 70 river miles downstream.
 
The Dan River spill NRDAR process included collecting and reviewing monitoring data in the Dan River for several years after the completion of the cleanup, as well as identifying projects that would restore the habitat and gathering public input about those project ideas. In October 2014, the Trustees invited restoration project ideas from the public to help identify the types and scale of restoration needed to compensate for those injuries. Public feedback showed support for land protection and conservation projects, dam removals, and increasing public access to the river.
 
The final restoration plan and environmental assessment can be found here.

(Editor's Note: While this spill was out of the Emporia News reading area, the Dan River is a tributary of the Roanake River. Conditions upriver have the potential to effect conditions downriver; including the Kerr Reservoir, Lake Gaston, Roanoke Rapids Lake and the Roanoke River, all recreation and angling areas used by local readers.)

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SECURES $15.3 MILLION IN DEBT RELIEF FOR FORMER ITT TECH STUDENTS IN VIRGINIA

~ Herring joins CFPB, 47 other state attorneys general in securing $330 million agreement over PEAKS loans at defunct for-profit school ~

RICHMOND (September 15, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has secured an agreement to obtain approximately $15.3 million in debt relief for at least 1,840 former ITT Tech students in Virginia as part of a settlement with 48 attorneys general and the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Nationally, the settlement will result in debt relief of about $330 million for 35,000 borrowers who have outstanding principal balances.   
 
The settlement is with PEAKS Trust, a private loan program run by the for-profit college and affiliated with Deutsche Bank entities. ITT filed bankruptcy in 2016 amid investigations by state attorneys general and following action by the U.S. Department of Education to restrict ITT’s access to federal student aid. 
 
“Student loan debt continues to be a significant burden to Virginians and their families across the Commonwealth,” said Attorney General Herring. “As Attorney General, I am committed to protecting Virginians from unscrupulous for-profit schools and shady lenders who try to pressure, abuse, and exploit student loan borrowers. I am glad we were able to reach this agreement that I hope will alleviate some of the financial pressure on Virginians who were taken advantage of by this scheme.”
 
PEAKS was formed after the 2008 financial crisis when private sources of lending available to for-profit colleges dried up. ITT developed a plan with PEAKS to offer students temporary credit to cover the gap in tuition between federal student aid and the full cost of the education. 
 
According to the settlement agreement, ITT and PEAKS knew or should have known that the students would not be able to repay the temporary credit when it became due nine months later. Many students complained that they thought the temporary credit was like a federal loan and would not be due until six months after they graduated. 
 
When the temporary credit became due, ITT pressured and coerced students into accepting loans from PEAKS, which for many students carried high interest rates, far above rates for federal loans. Pressure tactics used by ITT included pulling students out of class and threatening to expel them if they did not accept the loan terms. Many of the ITT students were from low-income backgrounds and were left with the choice of enrolling in the PEAKS loans or dropping out and losing any benefit of the credits they had earned, because ITT’s credits would not transfer to most schools. 
 
The default rate on the PEAKS loans is projected to exceed 80%, due to both the high cost of the loans as well as the lack of success ITT graduates had getting jobs that earned enough to make repayment feasible. The defaulted loans continue to affect students’ credit ratings and are usually not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
 
Under the settlement, PEAKS has agreed that it will forgo collection of the outstanding loans and cease doing business. PEAKS will send notices to borrowers about the cancelled debt and ensure that automatic payments are cancelled. The settlement also requires PEAKS to supply credit reporting agencies with information to update credit information for affected borrowers. 
 
Students will not need to do anything to receive the debt relief and the notices they receive will explain their rights under the settlement. Students can direct any questions they may have to PEAKS at customerservice@peaksloans.com or 866-747-0273. They can also reach out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with questions at (855) 411-2372.
 
In June 2019, Attorney General Herring announced that he had secured $9.29 million in debt relief for nearly 1,000 former ITT Tech students in Virginia as part of a $186 million settlement that resulted in debt relief for 18,664 former ITT students nationally. That agreement was with Student CU Connect CUSO, LLC, which also offered loans to finance students’ tuition at ITT Tech.
 
Additionally last year, Attorney General Herring and 48 other attorneys general reached a settlement with for-profit education company Career Education Corporation (CEC). The terms of the settlement required CEC 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.
 
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 has stood up against the Trump Administration’s numerous attempts to rollback student borrower protections. In January, he urged Congress to reject the U.S. Department of Education’s 2019 Borrower Defense Rule that fails to protect students and taxpayers from the misconduct of unscrupulous schools. Previously, Attorney General Herring won a victory in federal court when a judge rejected the Trump Administration’s challenge to the Obama-era 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 2016 Borrower Defense rule meant that the U.S. Department of Education had to automatically discharge $381 million in loans for students whose schools closed.
 
Students with questions about their rights under the settlement will receive information in the Notices that are sent. Students may also contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:

 
Overall, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $334 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. The Section has transferred more than $61 million to the Commonwealth’s General Fund, and following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016 the Section has been even more effective in fighting for Virginia consumers.
 
Joining Attorney General Herring in announcing today’s settlement are the attorneys general of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING OUTLINES PRIORITIES FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND POLICING REFORM AHEAD OF SPECIAL SESSION

~ Slate of priorities includes measures he has advocated for years and additional steps to reduce brutality and abuses of authority, and increase transparency, accountability, justice, and equality ~

RICHMOND —Ahead of the upcoming special session of the General Assembly, Attorney General Mark R. Herring today outlined his priorities for criminal justice and policing reforms that will reduce brutality and abuses of power by law enforcement, increase transparency, accountability, justice, and equality, and address disparities throughout the criminal justice system from policing to re-entry.

“Virginia cannot have different systems and standards of justice depending on the color of a person's skin,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Ours must be a Commonwealth where justice, equality and opportunity are guaranteed for each and every person, no matter where they live, what they look like, how they worship, who they love, or how much money they have.

“We know that African-Americans and Virginians of color experience the criminal justice system differently at every level from policing through prosecution and into re-entry. It is documented and undeniable. That’s a hard thing to admit, but it’s even harder to experience. It means that we are failing in one of our most foundational responsibilities as a country and a Commonwealth: to ensure that all men and women are truly treated equal.

“This moment has given us an opportunity like none I can recall in my lifetime to truly focus on how we create a criminal justice system that meets our public safety goals in a way that ensures justice and equality for all. Those of us who have been frustrated by the pace of change in previous years now have the benefit of open minds and a broader recognition of the change that is needed in this country to ensure that Black lives matter, and that the criminal justice system is oriented around justice and safety, not simply control or oppression.”

In the upcoming special session, Attorney General Herring will be supporting the following measures:

Police Reform:

  • Enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations
  • Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training
  • Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within the year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of Attorney General
  • Current law enforcement officers must have 21st century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum
  • Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession
  • Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions.
  • Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification.
  • Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force.
  • Create a “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers.
  • Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics
  • Empower localities to establish citizen review panels
  • Require the use of body worn cameras by all law enforcement officers
  • Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions

Criminal Justice Reform:

  • Cash bail reform
  • Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process
  • Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions

“For many months now, I have been waiting for a response from the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice to my request for an independent investigation into one of my local police departments. But for the return receipt requested signature card, I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement to my letter. If the federal government isn’t going to provide this oversight when police departments may be violating citizen’s rights, then there needs to be a state backstop that can conduct these necessary investigations. It is for these reasons, I will introduce a bill in the Special Session of the General Assembly to enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “patterns and practices investigations of local police departments,” said Senator Louise Lucas.

“Since 2017 the Trump Administration’s DOJ has refused to address systemic failures and investigate possible unconstitutional practices in law enforcement agencies. With that in mind, the Attorney General needs to have the authority to investigate and resolve patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing, such as use of excessive force, illegal searches, or biased policing,” stated Delegate Alfonso Lopez. “This legislation finally gives the Attorney General the authority to investigate, subpoena, and bring appropriate actions in court to ensure compliance with constitutional policing standards.” 

In the area of police reform, Attorney General Herring will be actively working to ensure passage of the following bills and policies:

Enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, biased policing, or other unconstitutional practices. For decades the U.S. Department of Justice was a reliable partner in identifying and ending unconstitutional policing practices, often through negotiated agreements for reforms, called “consent decrees,” in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Ferguson, MO. Under the Trump Administration the DOJ has explicitly walked away from this responsibility, making it more important for state attorneys general to have this important tool. In June, Attorney General Herring asked Congress to expand federal law to give him and other state attorneys general clear statutory authority to conduct patterns and practice investigations. The U.S House of Representatives included this authority in the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” which passed the House on June 25, 2020.

Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training to include mandatory training on implicit bias, racial bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation, hate crimes, violence interruption, and other 21st century policing skills. Because of the immense power placed in the hands of law enforcement officers, the Commonwealth must treat the law enforcement profession as a highly-skilled and specialized field that requires both proper training and high standards.

In order to ensure proper, 21st century training for Virginia law enforcement officers:

  • The Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within the year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of Attorney General that includes implicit bias, racial bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation, hate crimes, violence interruption, and other 21st century policing skills.
  • Current law enforcement officers must have 21st century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum. In 2015, Attorney General Herring sponsored a series of five regional “train-the-trainer” conferences to promote the wider adoption of implicit bias training, de-escalation, and other 21st century policing skills. The training officers from more than 50 law enforcement agencies participated, then went back to their departments and taught their colleagues, making this one of Virginia’s largest-ever investments in 21st century policing skills.

Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession. The Commonwealth should hold its law enforcement officers to the highest standards because they are empowered to make life-and-death decisions and other serious decisions that could dramatically affect the life of a Virginian. Virginia must therefore ensure that it removes from the profession any individuals who prove themselves unworthy or incapable of bearing such responsibility.

Virginia should:

  • Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions. Currently an officer may only lose their law enforcement officer certification for a criminal conviction. Misconduct that may not rise to the level of criminal conduct must be a basis for decertifying officers.
  • Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification. If an individual has proven they are not capable of exercising law enforcement authority in a safe, fair, impartial, and constitutional way, they should not be able to conceal that information from a department or simply switch departments and continue their career.
  • Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force. No law enforcement officer should be able to hide behind a resignation to avoid accountability and continue their career when they have shown they may not be capable of serving in law enforcement.
  • Create a legal obligation for “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers when they see another officer using excessive force, when it’s safe to intervene, and regardless of intervention they must immediately report the incident to their supervisors.
  • Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics like chokeholds, strangleholds, and no-knock warrants.
  • Empower localities to establish citizen review panels with necessary investigative authority and, where possible, provide state-level support.
  • Require the use of body worn cameras by all law enforcement officers to ensure a complete and accurate account of any citizen-officer interactions.
  • Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions on officer-involved incidents that may constitute criminal conduct, including use of force or killings by law enforcement officers.

Attorney General Herring will also be working for the passage of the following bills and policies to strengthen our communities and reduce racial and economic disparities through reform of Virginia’s criminal justice system:

  • Cash bail reform. Attorney General Herring has long supported significant reforms to Virginia’s cash bail system which, in its current form, can lead to unjust outcomes where dangerous people with money can go free while nonviolent people sit in jail for days, weeks, or months because they can’t afford to pay bail. This can cause a person to lose their job, housing, and support systems. Attorney General Herring will be pushing for Virginia to move away from the use of cash bail as its default for low level offenses and instead expand pretrial services that have proven to be effective and cheaper.
  • Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process. Attorney General Herring has also advocated for expanding record expungement opportunities and simplifying the process to build a more just and fair criminal justice system and to address the disproportionate burden that criminal convictions place on African Americans and people of color. Virginia is one of the nation’s least forgiving and most restrictive states for individuals who have earned the opportunity to have old convictions and charges expunged from their records. While many other states have some form of a “Clean Slate” law, the Commonwealth appears to be one of just ten states that does not offer any sort of judicial “record closure” for any adult convictions, nor does it offer any automatic expungement for those who are eligible for expungement. This means that a relatively minor charge or conviction, like marijuana or alcohol possession, can become a permanent stain that limits a Virginian’s job, educational, and housing opportunities.
  • Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions. During the 2020 General Assembly Session, Attorney General Herring helped successfully decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, but believes Virginia needs to continue on to full legal, regulated adult use as quickly as possible, because the social and human costs of prohibition fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color. In 2018, there were nearly 29,000 marijuana arrests, and the Virginia Crime Commission found that from 2007 to 2016 46% of all individuals arrested for first offense marijuana possession were African American, despite being just 20% of Virginia’s population.

In addition to these policing and criminal justice reform priorities, Attorney General Herring supports measures that require officers to deescalate situations, and to better utilize specialized resources instead of police officers to respond to non-public safety situations, such as addiction, a person experiencing homelessness, or a mental health crisis.

Del. Jay Jones Announces Historic Campaign for Attorney General

~ Grabs endorsements from over 30 General Assembly members on first day of campaign, Congresswoman Elaine Luria ~

Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) announced today that he will seek the Democratic nomination for Attorney General of Virginia in 2021.

Delegate Jones released a new video announcing his historic campaign to become Virginia’s first African American Attorney General entitled “Generations in the Making.”

“This decision is truly generations in the making,” said Delegate Jay Jones. “Five generations ago, my ancestors were freed from the shackles of slavery. Just two generations ago, my grandfather endured systematic racism and discrimination on his journey to becoming a pioneering black lawyer in Virginia.  And in 1960 my father and my uncle were two of the first black students to attend an all-white elementary school in Norfolk, Virginia.”

“Today, I am announcing that I’m running for Attorney General of our great Commonwealth, not just because it is time for a new generation of leadership, but because it is time for a Commonwealth that embraces everyone and lifts everyone, no matter who you are, where you come from, or what you look like,” Delegate Jones added.

"I am fortunate to have Jay Jones represent me in the House of Delegates, and I am proud to endorse him for Attorney General,” said Congresswoman Elaine Luria. “Jay is the type of leader that lifts everyone up and leaves no one behind. During my first term in Congress, we have worked together to fight for the people of Hampton Roads, and I know Jay has the conviction, integrity and experience to fight for every Virginia family as our next Attorney General."

"Jay represents a new generation of leadership in our Commonwealth that is committed to progressing our Commonwealth forward,” said Senator L. Louise Lucas. “As the first African American woman to serve as President Pro-tempore of the Virginia Senate, I could not be more honored to support Jay’s campaign to serve as Virginia's first African American Attorney General.”

“Having spent three years in leadership at the Office of the Attorney General, I have seen first hand the qualities, skills, and abilities that are necessary to be an effective AG,” said Delegate Jeff Bourne. “Jay Jones has all of the tools that will be required when he is Attorney General. Virginia is at a crossroads. We need a new voice with new solutions to old problems that have plagued our Commonwealth for too long.”

“I have seen Jay's leadership and effectiveness up close in the Virginia House of Delegates,” said Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg. “As a civics teacher, I know Jay’s statewide election would be not only historic but also vital to showing our young people that our Commonwealth is inclusive and open to everyone. Jay will make Virginia proud as our next Attorney General. We need new voices and a new generation of leaders to lift everyone up in our Commonwealth.”

Delegate Jones announced last week that he raised over $255,000 in the first financial reporting period of 2020.  Since announcing that he was exploring a bid for Attorney General in 2021, Delegate Jones has received strong financial support from all across the Commonwealth and has more than $330,000 in cash on hand as of June 30, 2020.

Delegate Jay Jones was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017 representing the 89th District.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING FILES WIDE-RANGING LAWSUIT AGAINST 26 DRUG MAKERS AND 10 EXECUTIVES FOR CONSPIRACY TO FIX PRICES ON MORE THAN 80 GENERIC DRUGS

~ This is the third lawsuit filed by Attorney General Herring in ongoing, expanding antitrust investigation of the generic drug industry ~

RICHMOND (June 10, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 51 states in filing the third lawsuit stemming from an ongoing antitrust investigation into a widespread conspiracy by generic drug manufacturers to artificially inflate and manipulate prices, reduce competition, and unreasonably restrain trade for generic drugs sold across the United States. This new Complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, focuses on 80 topical generic drugs that account for billions of dollars of sales in the United States. The Complaint names 26 corporate Defendants and 10 individual Defendants. The lawsuit seeks disgorgement, civil penalties, and actions by the court to restore competition to the generic drug market.
 
The topical drugs at the center of the Complaint include creams, gels, lotions, ointments, shampoos, and solutions used to treat a variety of skin conditions, pain, and allergies.
 
“These drug companies chose profit over keeping people safe and healthy,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “Too many Virginians know the struggle of paying incredibly high drug prices, and in many cases the generic alternative may not have offered a lower-cost alternative because of this alleged price fixing. Virginians should never have to choose between paying for critical medication or paying for food, rent or utilities because of artificially inflated prices. My colleagues and I will continue to combat illegal price fixing in the generic drug market and hold drug companies and decision makers accountable.”
 
The Complaint stems from an ongoing investigation built on evidence from several cooperating witnesses at the core of the conspiracy, a massive document database of over 20 million documents, and a phone records database containing millions of call detail records and contact information for over 600 sales and pricing individuals in the generics industry. Among the records obtained by the states is a two-volume notebook containing the contemporaneous notes of one of the States’ cooperators that memorialized his discussions during phone calls with competitors and internal company meetings over a period of several years.
 
Between 2007 and 2014, three generic drug manufacturers, Taro, Perrigo, and Fougera (now Sandoz) sold nearly two-thirds of all generic topical products dispensed in the United States. The multistate investigation has uncovered comprehensive, direct evidence of unlawful agreements to minimize competition and raise prices on dozens of topical products. The Complaint alleges longstanding agreements among manufacturers to ensure a “fair share” of the market for each competitor, and to prevent “price erosion” due to competition.
 
The Complaint is the third to be filed in an ongoing wide-ranging multistate antitrust investigation of the generic drug industry. The first Complaint, still pending in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was filed in 2016 and now includes 18 corporate Defendants, two individual Defendants, and 15 generic drugs. Two former executives from Heritage Pharmaceuticals, Jeffery Glazer and Jason Malek, have entered into settlement agreements and are cooperating with the attorneys general working group in that case. The second Complaint, also pending in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was filed in 2019 against Teva Pharmaceuticals and 19 of the nation’s largest generic drug manufacturers. That Complaint names 16 individual senior executive Defendants. The States are currently preparing for trial on that Complaint.
 
Corporate Defendants in the current Complaint:
  1. Sandoz, Inc.
  2. Actavis Holdco U.S., Inc.
  3. Actavis Elizabeth LLC
  4. Actavis Pharma, Inc.
  5. Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  6. Amneal Pharmaceuticals, LLC
  7. Aurobindo Pharma USA, Inc.
  8. Bausch Health Americas, Inc.
  9. Bausch Health, US LLC
  10. Fougera Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  11. G&W Laboratories, Inc.
  12. Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Inc., USA
  13. Greenstone LLC
  14. Lannett Company, Inc.
  15. Lupin Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  16. Mallinckrodt Inc.
  17. Mallinckrodt plc
  18. Mallinckrodt LLC
  19. Mylan Inc.
  20. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc.
  21. Perrigo New York, Inc.
  22. Pfizer, Inc.
  23. Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, Inc.
  24. Taro Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.
  25. Teligent, Inc.
  26. Wockhardt USA, LLC
 
Individual Defendants:
  1. Ara Aprahamian, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Defendant Taro Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.
  2. Mitchell Blashinsky, Vice President of Marketing for Generics at Defendant Taro Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. from January 2007 – May 2012, and Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Defendant Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, Inc., USA from June 2012 – March 2014
  3. Douglas Boothe, Chief Executive Officer of Defendant Actavis from August 2008 – December 2012 and Executive Vice President and General Manager of Defendant Perrigo New York, Inc. from January 2013 – July 2016
  4. James Grauso, former Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Defendant G&W Laboratories from January 2010 – December 2011; Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations for Defendant Aurobindo from December 2011 – January 2014; and Executive Vice President, N.A. Commercial Operations at Defendant Glenmark from February 2014 – present
  5. Walt Kaczmarek, Senior Director of National Accounts, Vice President of National Accounts, and Senior Vice President of commercial Operations for Fougera Pharmaceuticals, a division of Nycomed US, Inc. (currently part of Defendant Sandoz, Inc.) from November 2004 – November 2012 and Vice President – General Manager and President of Multi-Source Pharmaceuticals for Defendant Mallinckrodt from November 2013 – August 2016.
  6. Armando Kellum, former Vice President of Contracting and Business Analytics at Defendant Sandoz
  7. Kurt Orlofski, President and Chief Executive Officer for Defendant Wockhardt USA from April 2007 – August 2009 and President of Defendant G&W Labs, Inc. from September 2009 – December 2016.
  8. Mike Perfetto, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Defendant Actavis from August 2003 – January 2013 and Chief Commercial Officer for Defendant Taro from January 2013 through his recent retirement from the company.
  9. Erika Vogel-Baylor, former Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Defendant G&W Labs, Inc. since July 2011
  10. John Wesolowski, Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations for Defendant Perrigo since February 2004
 
Drugs listed in the complaint as subject to price-fixing and market allocation agreements:
  1. Acetazolamide Tablets
  2. Adapalene Cream
  3. Alclometasone Dipropionate Cream
  4. Alclometasone Dipropionate Ointment
  5. Ammonium Lactate Cream
  6. Ammonium Lactate Lotion
  7. Betamethasone Dipropionate Cream
  8. Betamethasone Dipropionate Lotion
  9. Betamethasone Valerate Cream
  10. Betamethasone Valerate Lotion
  11. Betamethasone Valerate Ointment
  12. Bromocriptine Mesylate Tablets
  13. Calcipotriene Solution
  14. Calcipotriene Betamethasone Dipropionate Ointment
  15. Carbamazepine ER Tablets
  16. Cefpodoxime Proxetil Oral Suspension
  17. Cefpodoxime Proxetil Tablets
  18. Ciclopirox Cream
  19. Ciclopirox Shampoo
  20. Ciclopirox Solution
  21. Clindamycin Phosphate Cream
  22. Clindamycin Phosphate Gel
  23. Clindamycin Phosphate Lotion
  24. Clindamycin Phosphate Solution
  25. Clobetasol Propionate Cream
  26. Clobetasol Propionate Emollient Cream
  27. Clobetasol Propionate Gel
  28. Clobetasol Propionate Ointment
  29. Clobetasol Propionate Solution
  30. Clotrimazole 1% Cream
  31. Clotrimazole Betamethasone Dipropionate Cream
  32. Clotrimazole Betamethasone Dipropionate Lotion
  33. Desonide Cream
  34. Desonide Lotion
  35. Desonide Ointment
  36. Desoximetasone Ointment
  37. Econazole Nitrate Cream
  38. Eplerenone Tablets
  39. Erythromycin Base/Ethyl Alcohol Solution
  40. Ethambutol HCL Tablets
  41. Fluocinolone Acetonide Cream
  42. Fluocinolone Acetonide Ointment
  43. Fluocinonide .1% Cream
  44. Fluocinonide Gel 
  45. Fluocinonide Ointment 
  46. Fluocinonide Solution
  47. Fluticasone Propionate Lotion
  48. Griseofulvin Microsize Tablets
  49. Halobetasol Propionate Cream
  50. Halobetasol Propionate Ointment
  51. Hydrocortisone Acetate Suppositories
  52. Hydrocortisone Valerate Cream
  53. Imiquimod Cream
  54. Ketoconazole Cream
  55. Latanoprost Drops
  56. Lidocaine Ointment
  57. Methazolamide Tablets
  58. Methylphenidate HCL Tablets
  59. Methylphenidate HCL ER Tablets
  60. Metronidazole Cream
  61. Metronidazole .75% Gel
  62. Metronidazole .1% Gel
  63. Metronidazole Lotion
  64. Mometasone Furoate Cream
  65. Mometasone Furoate Ointment
  66. Mometasone Furoate Solution
  67. Nafcillin Sodium Injectable Vials
  68. Nystatin Ointment
  69. Nystatin Triamcinolone Cream
  70. Nystatin Triamcinolone Ointment
  71. Oxacillin Sodium Injectable Vials
  72. Phenytoin Sodium ER Capsules
  73. Pioglitazone HCL Metformin HCL Tablets
  74. Prochlorperazine Maleate Suppositories
  75. Promethazine HCL Suppositories
  76. Tacrolimus Ointment
  77. Terconazole Cream
  78. Triamcinolone Acetonide Cream
  79. Triamcinolone Acetonide Ointment
  80. Triamcinolone Acetonide Paste
 
Attorney General Herring joined the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Territory of Guam, 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, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin in filing the complaint. 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES CONGRESS TO FUND EXPANDED ACCESS TO BROADBAND

~ Herring joins bipartisan coalition of 39 attorneys general in urging Congress to ensure critical broadband access for those studying, working, and seeking healthcare from home during COVID-19 ~

RICHMOND (May 22, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a bipartisan coalition of 39 attorneys general in urging Congress to help ensure that all Americans have the home internet connectivity necessary to participate in telemedicine, teleschooling, and telework as part of any additional legislation that provides relief and recovery resources related to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Internet access has become critical for basic needs over the past few weeks while millions of Virginians and Americans have been working, learning, socializing and seeking healthcare from home.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Virginians to move school, work, healthcare and just about everything else online and has highlighted how desperately we need a national broadband plan during this crisis,” said Attorney General Herring. “Many telecom companies have stepped up to provide internet access but that is not a sustainable answer. Congress should include a national broadband plan in any future relief packages to make sure that all communities, especially those in more rural or underserved areas, have access to the internet resources they need.”

In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues laud independent efforts of various companies to increase access by waiving late fees or even providing free or discounted access to students and medical providers, while acknowledging that such efforts are not sustainable. Ultimately, the attorneys general argue that there must be a national solution to get internet access to homes across the country, especially in more rural areas.

Unless Congress acts quickly, disparities in access to home internet connectivity will exacerbate existing gaps in educational and health outcomes along lines of geography, economic resources, and race.

In a letter sent to Congressional leaders, the attorneys general urge Congress to:

  • Provide state, territorial, and local governments with adequate funding expressly dedicated to ensuring that all students and patients, especially senior citizens who are at risk, have adequate internet-enabled technology to participate equally in online learning and telemedicine.
  • Increase funding to the U.S. Federal Communication Commission Universal Service Fund, which provides vital funding to rural and low-income populations, healthcare providers, and educators with the goal of bridging the digital divide.

With public health experts warning that a second wave of coronavirus infections may require teleschooling and telemedicine to continue for millions of Americans throughout 2020, it is critical that Congress act now to help ensure that all Americans have the home internet connectivity they need to access educational opportunities, healthcare, and to earn a livelihood.

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Alaska, American Samoa, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Guam Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

ROANOKE ROBOCALLERS TO PAY $300,000 BACK TO CONSUMERS

~ Attorney General Herring reaches settlement with Adventis Inc., Skyline Metrics LLC, which operated as OnceDriven among other names, and owner Bryant Cass for alleged illegal robocalling and deceptive sales tactics ~

RICHMOND (April 29, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has reached a settlement with two Roanoke-based telemarketing companies, and Roanoke resident Bryant Cass, for illegal robocalling and deceptive sales practices. Attorney General Herring filed suit against the two companies and Cass last summer, alleging that they made hundreds of thousands of unsolicited robocalls nationwide pitching car selling services to people who listed cars for sale on Craigslist, Autotrader.com, or similar sites. As part of the settlement agreement, Cass will pay $300,000 in restitution that will go back to consumers who were affected by his telemarketing, sales or refund practices. Additionally, Cass has been banned from engaging or participating in telephone solicitations for five years and has been permanently banned from illegal telemarketing and robocalling. The companies have ceased operations and are no longer in business.
 
“I’m really pleased my team and I were able to shut down this illegal robocall operation and help consumers get their money back from this scheme,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unfortunately, robocalls continue to be an everyday occurrence for most Virginians, and many times they can not only be annoying but dangerous, potentially scamming people out of hundreds or thousands of dollars. I will continue to do everything I can to protect Virginia consumers and find ways to stop illegal robocallers, especially those operating in Virginia.”
 
Attorney General Herring filed suit against Adventis Inc., Skyline Metrics LLC, which operated as OnceDriven, Longwood Industries, The Big Lot!, Autohopper, and Auto Marketing Systems, and Cass in June 2019 alleging that the businesses used automated equipment to pull telephone numbers from websites, make hundreds of calls a day – even to numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry – and leave prerecorded voicemails in which Cass used fake names like “Peyton” or “Brian” to pitch car selling services for a “small fee” with a “money back guarantee.” If people called back, they reached a telemarketing boiler room in downtown Roanoke, where trained salespeople worked off a scripted pitch to make sales.
 
Attorney General Herring also alleged that, from 2014 to 2017 alone, Cass and his companies made 586,870 unsolicited telemarketing calls just to Virginia area codes.
 
The Complaint also alleged that the companies enticed people to pay $289 for online car sales services through deceptive claims like these:
  • We have “buyers in your area” or buyers looking for “vehicles like yours,” regardless of whether the companies actually had such buyers
  • We also pre-screen buyers for financing to “make sure they are serious and they have a plan for paying you.” In fact, there was no such pre-screening
  • “We have a Money Back Guarantee!” If you sell your car on your own, “you’re eligible for a refund in the first 45 days.” In fact, refunds were hard to get, and Mr. Cass instructed employees to limit the number of refunds given, even to customers who took all the steps to qualify for a refund
 
Under the terms of the settlement, Adventis Inc., Skyline Metrics LLC, and Bryant Cass agreed to the following:
  • Restitution totaling $300,000 to be paid to consumers affected by the telemarketing, sales, or refund practices alleged in the Complaint
  • Civil penalties and attorneys’ fees totaling $8,708.02
  • A permanent ban from illegal telemarketing and robocalling, including bans on using automatic dialing systems or pre-recorded voice messages, calling numbers on the do-not-call registry, failing to honor do-not-call requests, failing to include a three-day right to cancel, and from violating the Virginia Consumer Protection Act or any of the federal or state telemarketing laws the Attorney General enforces.  These prohibitions apply to all calls, not just calls to Virginians
  • Cass is barred from engaging in or participating in telephone solicitations or assisting others in engaging in telephone solicitations for a five-year period
 
Attorney General Herring’s lawsuit was part of “Operation Call it Quits”, a coordinated federal and state law enforcement crackdown on robocallers and illegal telemarketers. This major crackdown on illegal robocalls included 94 actions targeting operations around the country responsible for more than one billion calls pitching a variety of products and services, including credit card interest rate reduction services, money-making opportunities, and medical alert systems.
 
In 2019 alone, Virginians received at least 1.56 billion robocalls. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Virginia was the 8th highest state in the nation for Do Not Call Registry complaints with 178,717 complaints in 2019. Additionally, Virginians made more than 125,000 complaints to the FTC about robocalls alone, up from more than 118,000 complaints in 2018. Americans received at least 58.5 billion robocalls in 2019, an increase of 22% from 47.8 billion robocalls in 2018.
 
Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $323 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. The Section has transferred more than $55 million to the Commonwealth’s General Fund, and following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016 the Section has been even more effective in fighting for Virginia consumers.
 
Attorney General Herring has the following tips for Virginians to help manage robocalls:
  • Don’t answer calls from numbers you do not recognize
  • If it’s an unwanted robocall, hang up
  • Don’t press any numbers. This could lead to even more calls, even if the robocall claims you can press 1 to speak to a live operator or press a number to get your number off the calling list
  • Register your home and mobile phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222 from the number you wish to register
  • Report robocalls to the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov. Federal and state law enforcement officials have access to the complaints filed through the National Do Not Call Registry
  • Contact your phone service provider and ask about available robocall-blocking technology
  • Consider using mobile apps or other features that may already be built into your phone to block robocalls
 
Consumer victims seeking additional information about the settlement can contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:

 

 

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING FIGHTS DISCRIMINATION IN HEALTHCARE DURING COVID-19

~ Coalition of 24 attorneys general are urging the Trump Administration to not finalize a rule change that would eliminate protections against discrimination for women, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, and other vulnerable populations ~

RICHMOND (May 1, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a coalition of 24 states in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging it not to finalize its proposed rule during COVID-19 that would allow discrimination in providing healthcare. The “Nondiscrimination in Health and Health Education Programs or Activities” (Section 1557 Rule) is an antidiscrimination provision that prohibits discrimination in healthcare based on gender, race, ethnicity, sex, age or disability. If finalized, the proposed changes to this provision would seriously undermine the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) critical anti-discrimination protections at a time when they are most needed to help address the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“No one should ever be afraid of being discriminated against by a healthcare provider, especially during a national health crisis,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color in Virginia and around the country, exacerbating the racial and ethnic disparities in our healthcare system. We cannot allow the Trump Administration to make it easier for healthcare providers to discriminate against their patients.”

The proposed rule would roll back anti-discrimination protections for communities of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, those with limited English proficiency, and people with disabilities by undermining critical legal protections that guarantee healthcare as a right. Data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is already exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare that the ACA attempted to address, particularly in states that have not expanded Medicaid. Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, and recently more than 100 national and local organizations signed on to an open letter to the healthcare community about how COVID-19 may pose an increased risk to the LGBTQ population. HHS itself has long noted that discrimination within the healthcare system contributes to poor coverage and health outcomes, and exacerbates existing health disparities in underserved communities. Individuals who have experienced discrimination in healthcare often postpone or forgo needed healthcare, resulting in adverse health outcomes.  
 
In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that moving forward with this rule change in the midst of this unprecedented healthcare crisis will create unnecessary confusion and administrative burdens for state agencies, healthcare providers, and patients at a time when the healthcare system is battling to save lives. Data suggests that increased access to healthcare could assist with prompt COVID-19 detection and increase early treatment, which helps diminish spread of the disease. For these reasons, the coalition warns the Trump Administration that making this major regulatory change in the midst of the current crisis is not only irresponsible, it is potentially deadly.

 

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending this letter are the attorneys general of California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

*CONSUMER ALERT* ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES VIRGINIANS TO REMAIN WARY OF COVID-19 SCAMS

~ Scammers are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to try and take money from hardworking Virginians ~
 
RICHMOND (April 1, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today issued a consumer alert urging Virginians to continue to be wary of COVID-19-related scams including federal stimulus related scams, cyber scams, telephone and text messaging scams, counterfeit product offers, bogus door-to-door tests and virus-related products, and phony charity donation requests.
 
“The sad truth is that we continue to see bad actors in Virginia and across the country taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and trying to scam money from people,” said Attorney General Herring. “I again want to urge all Virginians to remain vigilant during this time and use common sense when you encounter seemingly too good to be true offers either online, over the phone or in person. Before purchasing any coronavirus related products or donating to any charities please do your research and make sure that you are giving your money to a legitimate business or organization.”
 
Last week, Attorney General Herring warned of scammers trying to get personal information as part of a new federal stimulus payment scam. There have been reports of scammers using the news that, as part of the federal stimulus package, the government will be sending one-time payments to millions of Virginians and Americans as an opportunity to try and steal personal information. These phishing scams will likely ask for things like bank account information under the guise of direct depositing money from the stimulus package into your bank account. Also, remember that the government will not ask you to pay any money up front to get a stimulus check. So if someone asks you to pay something, it’s a scam.
 
Utility or Government Imposter Scams
Many people are understandably very concerned when they get an e-mail, letter or phone call from someone identifying themselves as a representative of a government agency or one of their utility companies. Scammers are constantly improving their techniques to fool their intended victims into thinking they work for the government or utility, including fake identification and spoofed phone numbers on Caller ID. This scam employs the fear factor to lead you to part with your money or provide financial information to them. They may even threaten to have you arrested or cut off your electricity or water if you do not comply.
 
If someone reaches out to you saying they are from a government agency or a utility company DO NOT give your information to them over the phone. Instead find a legitimate phone number on the utility company or the government agency’s website and call them back to check and see if they actually need you to send them something.
 
Cyber Scams
Look out for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other healthcare organizations, offering to share information about the virus. Do not open attachments or click on links within unknown emails, as scammers are using phony COVID-19 tracking websites to infect electronic devices with malware, putting residents at risk for identity theft and financial exploitation.
 
Take extra precaution to avoid spoofed or phony websites by only visiting websites with clearly distinguishable URL addresses. Scammers seek to exploit individuals by directing web traffic to similar, but falsely identified website names where they can provide misinformation or attempt to gain consumers’ personal information or finances in exchange for pandemic updates.
 
Be on the lookout for emails asking for the verification of personal data, including Medicare or Medicaid information, in exchange for receiving economic stimulus funds or other benefits from the government.  Government agencies are NOT sending out emails asking for residents’ personal information in order to receive funds or other pandemic relief opportunities.
 
Telephone and Text Messaging Scams
If you find that you’ve answered a robocall – Hang Up. Don’t press any numbers. Scammers are calling with offers involving everything from COVID-19 treatments and cures, to work-from-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will direct you to a live operator or even remove you from their call list, but it also might lead to more robocalls.
 
Similar to email phishing scams, text messages from unknown sources may offer hyperlinks to what appears to be automated pandemic updates, or interactive infection maps.  These are just two examples of ways scammers can install malware on your mobile electronic device, putting you at increased risk for identity theft and financial exploitation.
 
Counterfeit Product Offers & High Demand Goods
Ignore offers for COVID-19 vaccinations and home test kits. There are currently no vaccines, pills, medications, or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure the Coronavirus disease. This applies to offers made online, in stores, by electronic message, or over the phone. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized any home test kits for COVID-19.
 
As many have seen firsthand, some consumer products are in extreme demand. Household cleaning products, sanitizers, personal hygiene products, and health and medical supplies may be offered via online or in-person sellers aiming to capitalize on under supplied or unavailable products. When buying online, be sure to research the seller by searching online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” If everything checks out, pay by credit card as opposed to debit, and keep a record of your transaction. 
 
If you are concerned about price gouging in your area, please reach out to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for investigation, as violations are enforceable by the Office of the Attorney General through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
 
Bogus Door to Door Tests and Virus-related Products
To ensure your personal safety, DO NOT answer the door or allow into your home or residence any unknown individuals or business representatives moving door-to-door offering to sell consumer products, medical kits, vaccines, cures, whole-home sanitization, or in-person COVID-19 testing. There are no FDA approved at-home tests, medicines, cures, vaccines, prescriptions or other coronavirus-related products and anything like this that someone is trying to sell is a scam.
 
Phony Charities & Donation Requests
Coming together in a time of need and extreme hardship is testament to the kindness of Virginians; however, when disasters and life changing events such as the current pandemic occur, be cautious as to where donations are going. 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 contact with the charity. Beware of "copy-cat" names that sound like reputable charities. Some scammers use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations.
 
Crowdfunding sites are particularly popular. Here are a few things to remember:
  • 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.
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.
 
Remember these tips to avoid becoming a victim:
  • Never wire money or send cash or a pre-paid card—These transactions are just like sending someone cash! Once your money is gone, you can’t trace it or get it back.
  • Don’t give the caller any of your financial or other personal information—Never give out or confirm financial or other sensitive information, including your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number, unless you know exactly who you're dealing with. Scammers can use your information to commit identity theft. If you get a call about a debt that may be legitimate — but you think the collector may not be — contact the company to which the caller claims you owe money to inquire about the call.
  • Don’t trust a name or number—Scammers use official-sounding names, titles, and organizations to make you trust them. To make the call seem legitimate, scammers also use internet technology to disguise their area code or generate a fake name on caller ID. So even though it may look like they’re calling locally or somewhere in the United States, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
  • Join the National Do Not Call Registry and don’t answer numbers you don’t know—This won’t stop scammers from calling but it should make you skeptical of calls you get from out of the blue. Most legitimate sales people generally honor the Do Not Call list. Scammers ignore it. Putting your number on the list helps to “screen” your calls for legitimacy and reduce the number of legitimate telemarketing calls you get.
Attorney General Herring advises consumers to watch out for the following red flags and to keep these tips in mind to avoid becoming a victim of consumer fraud:
  • The Offer Seems Too Good to be True—If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Examples include money left to you from an unknown relative, being awarded a loan or grant for which you did not apply, winning a lottery you did not enter and being selected to receive a share in funds in return for using your bank account.
  • Requests for Fees or Payment in Advance—Scammers will want advance payments or fees to clear the funds or complete their offer. It might not be clear what the fees are for, but the scammer will tell you they have to be paid or the money can’t be released. They might suggest they are only trying to help you out and the fees are a small sum compared to what you will be receiving. Never pay fees or taxes in advance.
  • Pressure—Scammers will often put pressure on their victims and urge them to pay immediately or lose the opportunity, or may even threaten them with legal consequences or disconnected utilities unless a payment is sent right away. A genuine business or government entity will not pressure you to act immediately.
  • Know who you are dealing with—Technology has made it easy for scammers to disguise or spoof their telephone number or create a website that looks very legitimate. Do an online search for the company name and website and look for consumer reviews. If you cannot find a seller’s physical address (not a P.O. Box) and phone number it should be a red flag. It is best to do business with websites you know and trust. If you buy items through an online auction, consider using a payment option that provides protection, like a credit card.
  • They Want Private Information—Many scams involve getting hold of your bank account details. Scams involving identity theft also seek personal information. A common scenario is an email supposedly from a bank asking you to click on a link to confirm your bank details and password. Banks generally don’t do this, but if you think the email has really come from your bank, pick up the phone and confirm with them. Never click on links or attachments in emails from people you don’t know or you risk your computer becoming infected by viruses, trojans, or other malware.
  • Untraceable Payment Method—Scammers prefer payment methods that are untraceable, such as wiring money through Western Union or other services. Be very suspicious of demands for wire transfers or cash payments. Never wire money to someone you do not know. 
  • Grammatical Errors or Poor Production Values—Scammers may be clever, but they are not always careful and English may not be their first language. Their grammatical errors can give them away. If the correspondence you receive is full of errors, low-resolution images, or unsophisticated formatting, be very suspicious.
  • Suspicious Email Domains and Web Addresses—Look carefully at email addresses and domain names. Businesses rarely use free email services like Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, or Gmail. Even if the business seems legitimate, do some research to make sure they have readily available contact information and have not scammed others.
  • Suspicious or No Addresses—Scammers do not want their victims to know where they live. If there is no physical address and your contacts won’t give you one, it’s a sure bet you’re being scammed. If there is a physical address, check it out using the Internet or Google Earth and see if it’s a real address.
  • Request for Access to Your Computer—A common scam is a phone call from someone claiming to be a technician who has detected problems with your computer and would like to fix them for you free. Never give anyone remote access to your computer
If you think you have been a victim of a scam please reach out to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES VIRGINIANS TO COMPLETE CENSUS QUESTIONNAIRE

~ On “Census Day” Herring highlights the importance of the census for things like federal funding for healthcare and transportation, and state and federal legislative districts ~

RICHMOND (April 1, 2020) – On “Census Day” Attorney General Mark R. Herring is encouraging all Virginians to complete their 2020 decennial census questionnaires to make sure that there is an accurate count of Virginia’s population. Hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds are directly tied to demographic information obtained through the census, including the Highway Trust Fund and other Department of Transportation grants, Child Care Development Grants, and Medicaid. Consequently, inaccurate counts can potentially deprive Virginia of much-needed funds designed to protect low-income and vulnerable communities.

“On this Census Day, most, if not all, households in Virginia should have received a census questionnaire – please make sure to fill it out and send it back to the Census Bureau. While I know most of us are focused on the coronavirus, it is so incredibly important that we all still participate in the census,” said Attorney General Herring. “The census isn’t just a project that the government does every ten years to figure out how many people live in the country. It ensures that Virginia has fair representation both at the state and the federal level and it determines funding for critical things like healthcare, transportation and childcare.

“I successfully fought in court to protect the integrity of the census and block the Trump Administration’s citizenship question from being included on this year’s census. Now all Virginians must do their part and fill out their questionnaire to make sure that everyone living in the Commonwealth is properly counted. An undercount could cost Virginia millions of dollars in federal funding.”

While the census counts Virginians at their permanent residence, people without a permanent residence are counted at the place where they are living on April 1st, which is why that day is known as “Census Day.” The 2020 census is already well underway but, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, response rates have been slower and the U.S. Census Bureau has adjusted the original timeline in response to that. To make things as easy as possible, you can respond to the census online, over the phone or through the mail.

Attorney General Herring successfully protected the integrity of the 2020 census after he sued to block the Trump Administration’s addition of a “poison pill” citizenship question, that the Census Bureau said would likely depress response and compromise the accuracy of the census. Attorney General Herring’s lawsuit emphasized the irreparable harm that would result from inaccuracies in the 2020 Census.

Additionally, the coalition filed official comments in August 2018 urging the Census Bureau to reconsider its decision to include an unnecessary citizenship question that would impair the Bureau’s essential function of counting all people in the 2020 census. The comments explained that demanding citizenship information on the census would depress response rates in cities and states with large immigrant populations, directly threatening those states’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College, as well as billions of dollars in critical federal funds.

A total of $700 billion is distributed annually to nearly 300 different census-guided federal grant and funding programs. In FY2015, Virginia received over $953 million in Highway Trust Fund grants, over $131 million in Urbanized Area Formula Grants, and nearly $64 million in Child Care Development grants, all based on census data.

PRICE GOUGING PROTECTIONS IN EFFECT AS STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARED OVER CORONAVIRUS

~ Anti-price gouging statute was activated upon Governor Northam’s declaration of state of emergency; covers items and services such as water, food, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, medicines, personal protective gear, and more ~

RICHMOND(March 12, 2020) – As public health concerns surrounding the coronavirus continue to grow, Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency has triggered Virginia's anti-price gouging statutes designed to protect consumers from paying exorbitant prices for necessary goods and services during an emergency.
 
“When you’re trying to make sure that you and your family have all the necessities in order to protect yourselves against illness, the last thing you want to deal with is a scam or exorbitant price for a needed service or product. The sad reality is that there are unscrupulous folks out there who will take advantage of public health crises in order to make more money,” said Attorney General Herring. “Virginia law offers protections for folks who find themselves in need of things like medicines, cleaning products, hand sanitizers and other necessities during a public health crisis. I would encourage all Virginians to pay attention to any prices that seem too high, and contact my office as soon as possible if you think someone may be illegally overcharging for necessary goods or running a scam.”
 
Enacted in 2004, Virginia's Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act prohibits a supplier from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” during the thirty-day period following a declared state of emergency. Items and services covered by these protections include but are not limited to water, ice, food, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, medicines, personal protective gear and more. The basic test for determining if a price is unconscionable is whether the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar goods or services during the ten days immediately prior to the disaster.
 
Suspected violations of Virginia's Anti-Price Gouging Act should be reported to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for investigation, as violations are enforceable by the Office of the Attorney General through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
 
Consumers can contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for information or to file a complaint:
 
Additionally, Attorney General Herring has warned Virginians to be wary of scams related to the coronavirus. Below are some tips and ways to protect yourself from coronavirus scams:
  •  Look out for emails that claim to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying that they have information about the coronavirus. For the most updated information you can visit the CDC and the World Health Organization websites.
  • Do not click on any links from unknown sources. This could lead to downloading a virus on your computer or phone.
  • Ignore any offers, online or otherwise, for a coronavirus vaccine. If you see any advertisements for prevention, treatment or cures ask the question: if there had been a cure for the disease would you be hearing about that through an advertisement or sales pitch?
  • Thoroughly research any organizations or charities purporting to be raising funds for victims of the coronavirus.
  • Look out for “investment opportunities” surrounding the coronavirus. According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission there are online promotions claiming the products or services of certain publicly-traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure the disease and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase because of that.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SECURES PRO-CONSUMER PROTECTIONS IN SETTLEMENT OVER T-MOBILE, SPRINT MERGER

~ The agreement includes terms to protect low income subscribers, extend access to underserved communities, and protect current T-Mobile and Sprint employees ~

RICHMOND (March 11, 2020) – Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced a settlement with T-Mobile, resolving the Virginia’s challenge to the company’s merger with Sprint. The agreement includes terms to protect low income subscribers, extend access to underserved communities, and protect current T-Mobile and Sprint employees. T-Mobile also will reimburse Virginia for the costs and fees of its investigation and its litigation challenging the merger. This agreement resolves the legal challenge brought by Attorney General Herring and several other states, which alleged that the merger was unlawful and would lead to reduced competition and increased prices for consumers. 

“My colleagues and I vigorously challenged the T-Mobile/Sprint merger because we were concerned that it would leave consumers with higher prices and less choices and would lead to reduced innovation in the telecom industry,” said Attorney General Herring. “I take my responsibility to protect Virginia consumers very seriously and strongly believed in our case. While I disagree with the Court’s decision to approve the merger, it still emphasized the importance of local market competition in mergers and the importance of state enforcers. This agreement will protect existing jobs in Virginia, give price protections for low-cost plans, and extend broadband access to our lower-income households with children."

As required by the settlement, the merged company is required to:
  • Make low-cost plans available in Virginia for at least 5 years, including a plan offering 2 GB of high-speed data at $15 per month and 5 GB of high-speed data at $25 per month;
  • Extend for at least an additional two years the rate plans currently offered by T-Mobile pursuant to its earlier FCC commitment, ensuring Virginians can retain T-Mobile plans held in February 2019 for a total of five years;
  • Offer 100 GB of no-cost broadband internet service per year for five years and a free mobile Wi-Fi hotspot device to 10 million qualifying low-income households not currently connected to broadband nationwide, as well as the option to purchase select Wi-Fi enabled tablets at the company’s cost for each qualifying household;
  • Protect Virginia jobs by offering all Virginia T-Mobile and Sprint retail employees in good standing an offer of substantially similar employment. T-Mobile also commits that three years after the closing date, the total number of new T-Mobile employees will be equal to or greater than the current total number of employees of the unmerged Sprint and T-Mobile companies;
  • Increase diversity by increasing the participation rate in its employee Diversity and Inclusion program to 60 percent participation within three years; and
  • Reimburse Virginia and other plaintiff states up to $15 million for the costs of the investigation and litigation challenging the merger.
Joining Attorney General Herring in this agreement are the attorneys general of Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

 

 

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SHUTS DOWN DECEPTIVE HOMELESS VETERANS CHARITY

~ Settlement involves Center for American Homeless Veterans, Inc., Circle of Friends for American Veterans and Brian Arthur Hampton, will shut down the organization and $100,000 will be distributed to help homeless veterans; the charity allegedly misused more than $13 million that was supposed to go to homeless veterans ~

RICHMOND (March 5, 2020) – As part of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that he has shut down an allegedly deceptive organization that exploited goodwill towards those in the military and misused more than $13 million that was supposed to go towards homeless veterans. The settlement involves Center for American Homeless Veterans, Inc. and Circle of Friends for American Veterans, two Virginia-based organizations, and their founder Brian Arthur Hampton that raised funds across the country through telemarketers ostensibly to provide education and assistance for homeless veterans, but a majority of which actually went towards paying telemarketers and the salaries of the founder and staff. The settlement shuts down the organizations, permanently bars Brian Hampton from soliciting charitable contributions and holding a fiduciary position with any charitable organization, and requires the organization to distribute $100,000 to charities that provide real assistance to homeless veterans including Virginia Supportive Housing in Richmond, the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation, and Homes for our Troops.
 
Following an extensive investigation, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section found that the organizations had violated the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions (VSOC) law by misleading donors into believing that the funds they collected would be used for veterans’ assistance programs and organizations. Additionally, the organizations made other false statements in state and federal filings.
 
“It is despicable that there are organizations out there that will deceive kind-hearted Virginians who just want to help homeless veterans in our communities,” said Attorney General Herring. “My office will vigorously go after these bad actors who take advantage of the kindness of Virginians to benefit themselves. I would encourage Virginians to remain vigilant when donating to charities and make sure you are donating to trustworthy, legitimate organizations.”
 
The Attorney General’s complaint, filed in Circuit Court in Falls Church, alleges that both organizations engaged in a number of acts and practices in violation of the VSOC law. Through telemarketers that generally retained 90% of funds raised, the enterprise allegedly led donors to believe that their donations would help homeless veterans with food and shelter or job training and support, when in reality, only tiny amounts of donated money benefitted homeless veterans. Funds that ultimately made their way to the organization primarily went to salaries for the founder and other staff, among other things not related to programming. Millions of dollars remained with the telemarketers that the organization hired.
 
Additionally, solicitation literature and other materials from the organization led donors to believe that it provided direct services to veterans, and that it gave funds to transitional facilities that get veterans off the streets and into productive lives. Attorney General Herring’s complaint alleges that the organization did not operate any transitional facilities, and provided only the smallest amount of direct funding for that purpose. Literature from the organization claimed that donated funds would help provide “our hungry and homeless war heroes food and shelter,” when that was not the case. Appallingly, the cost of the organization’s telemarketing campaigns with the problematic solicitation scripts was misleadingly characterized in the charities’ financial disclosures as program expenses to inflate those numbers and lead prospective donors to believe that the organization was providing more support to homeless veterans than it actually was. Moreover, the organization allegedly also had a host of troubling internal processes and business practices with no real board oversight.
 
The settlement includes:
  • Dissolution of the entities
  • A monetary payment in the amount of $100,000 to be provided to three charities which provide real support and assistance to homeless veterans. The three charities that will receive funding are:
  • Virginia Supportive Housing - $33,333.33
  • Bob Woodruff Family Foundation - $33,333.33
  • Homes for our Troops - $33,333.34
  • Injunctive relief in the form of a ban on the founder from engaging in charitable solicitations or holding any fiduciary position with any charitable organization
  • Suspended judgments of $10,000 for civil penalties, $10,000 for attorneys’ fees, expenses in investigating this matter, and costs, and $3,711,965.17 for the use and benefit of charities assisting homeless veterans, and as disgorgement of funds solicited nationwide over a period of time by one of CAHV’s professional solicitors, which can be enforced if the other terms of the settlement are not complied with
 
Virginia’s settlement is in the form of a Consent Judgment, which has been filed for approval with the Falls Church Circuit Court.
 
Tips to remember when donating to charities and other organizations:
  • 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
  • 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
 
Who to Contact
You can report charitable solicitation fraud to the Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs (OCRP) and the Office of the Attorney General at the following addresses and telephone numbers:
 
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.
 
  
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. 
 
Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Complaint Form

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING CONTINUES TO FIGHT FOR VIRGINIA STUDENT BORROWERS

~ Herring joins bipartisan coalition in asking Secretary DeVos to extend federal student loan forgiveness to all former Dream Center Students, including students of schools previously operated by Education Management Corporation ~

RICHMOND (February 4, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a bipartisan coalition of 26 attorneys general in requesting that U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos use her authority to discharge the federal student loans of all students who were enrolled in now-closed schools operated by Dream Center Education Holdings, LLC (DCEH). Attorney General Herring and his colleagues previously called on Secretary DeVos in October 2019 to extend the timeframe for student loan forgiveness for schools that were operated by DCEH. DCEH took over Virginia schools previously operated by Education Management Corporation (EDMC) following a $2.9 million settlement EDMC reached with Attorney General Herring.

“Virginia student borrowers are the victims of DCEH’s misconduct and mismanagement and they deserve to have their student loan debt forgiven,” said Attorney General Herring. “Secretary DeVos should do the right thing and make sure that all Virginians who were cheated out of an education by this deceitful organization are made whole again.”

Dream Center, a California-based nonprofit, went into receivership in January 2019. Under the federal “closed school discharge” regulation, former students may be eligible for a 100 percent discharge of their federal student loans if they were unable to complete their program because their school closed. Closed school discharge is only allowed for students who were enrolled at the time the school closed; were on an approved leave of absence when the school closed; or withdrew within 120 days of the school’s closure, unless Secretary DeVos approves a longer period.

In a letter sent to Secretary DeVos in October 2019, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues asked Secretary DeVos to exercise her legal authority to expand the group of students eligible for “closed school discharge” to account for Dream Center’s extraordinary misconduct and mismanagement. In November 2019, Secretary DeVos announced that she would extend the closed school discharge only for a very small number of former Dream Center students who were not previously eligible.

In today’s letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues urge Secretary DeVos to go further and provide debt relief to all Dream Center students unfairly strapped with burdensome debt for which they have little to show. The coalition again outlined Dream Center’s misconduct and mismanagement that prevented students from obtaining degrees and unfairly left them to repay federal student loan debt that they contracted to attend the failed schools.

DCEH took over schools that had previously been operated by Education Management Corporation (EDMC) following a 2015 settlement EDMC reached with Attorney General Mark Herring and other state attorneys general over their alleged deceitful practices. Under the terms of the settlement, EDMC forgave more than $2.29 million in loans for approximately 2,000 former students in Virginia. EDMC operated four education systems including Argosy University, The Art Institutes, Brown Mackie College, and South University, offering programs both online and at branch campuses in Virginia cities including Richmond, Virginia Beach, and Arlington.

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING FIGHTS TO PRESERVE STATES’ AUTHORITY TO PROTECT STATE WATERS

~ Herring joins coalition of 23 states in opposing the EPA’s proposed rule that undermines the Clean Water Act and would degrade water quality and infringe on states’ rights ~

RICHMOND (October 22, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring, as part of a 23 state coalition, has filed a comment letter opposing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule which would unlawfully curtail state authority to protect their waters. In the Clean Water Act, Congress recognized and preserved states’ broad, pre-existing powers to protect their state waters and the EPA has no statutory authority to limit state powers under Section 401 of the Act.

The proposed rule is an unlawful and misguided policy that would degrade water quality and infringe on states’ rights. Consistent with the plain language of the Clean Water Act and the clear legislative intent, the EPA’s acknowledgement of state authority spans three decades and four administrations. The proposed rule is a dramatic departure from the prior agency position and the states demand that the EPA withdraw it.

“Once again, the Trump Administration is trying to undermine the states’ ability to protect their environment, and in this case their water,” said Attorney General Herring. “This proposed rule is not only illegal under the Clean Water Act but it infringes on the states’ authority and it would create dirtier water across the country. I will continue to join my colleagues in standing against the Trump Administration’s unlawful attempts to take power away from the states and especially in such important areas like protecting our environment.”

In the letter, the coalition asserts that the proposed rule conflicts with the Clean Water Act’s language, Congressional intent, and applicable case law interpreting the Clean Water Act’s language. The proposed rule:

  • Unlawfully limits the scope of state certification authority only to certain types of discharges;
  • Illegally restricts state conditions on Section 401 certifications to a narrow set of EPA-approved water quality standards;
  • Purports to authorize federal agencies to illegally disregard state-issued denials and conditions on certification applications; and
  • Unlawfully restricts the timing and scope of state review of certification applications.

 The EPA’s unlawful action is the product of President Trump’s April 2019 Executive Order issued to undermine state authority and not to protect water quality. The proposed rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, because the rule is also contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious, and an abuse of discretion. The rule violates the plain language of the Section 401 and the Clean Water Act. Moreover, the EPA fails to consider any water-quality related factors in its decision, fails to explain why it is changing its position from the prior Section 401 regulations and guidance, and fails to analyze the effects of the proposed rule on the states. Because the rule conflicts with Section 401 and limits state authority, the EPA does not have the authority to issue it.

Attorney General Herring filed the comment letter as part of a coalition including the attorneys general of California, New York, Washington, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. 

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ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING FIGHTS FOR EQUAL PAY

~ Herring joins coalition in filing an amicus brief to maintain data collection practices that are critical in combating pay discrimination ~

RICHMOND (October 28, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a nationwide coalition of state attorneys general and government agencies in fighting for equal pay by filing an amicus brief in a lawsuit that would maintain data collection practices that are critical in combating pay discrimination. In 2017, the Trump Administration announced that they would stop collecting pay data from certain private employers that would be used as part of the effort to address the wage gap between men and women and people of different races and ethnicities. In an amicus brief in National Women’s Law Center, et al. v. Office of Management and Budget, et al., Attorney General Herring and his colleagues explain how collecting that information is critical to tackling pay discrimination.

“It is inexcusable that such large gender and racial pay disparities continue to exist,” said Attorney General Herring. “Good data is key to identifying problems and crafting solutions, but instead of embracing the data, the Trump Administration is trying to stifle it. I am proud to stand with my colleagues and continue the fight for equal pay.”

Inequality in earnings between women and men and people of different races and ethnicities has been a widespread, persistent flaw of the American labor market. Although the gender pay gap has been slowly decreasing, in 2018 women still only earned approximately 85 percent of what men earned. Over the last 30 years, Latinos and African-Americans have been estimated to earn around 70 percent of what white men earned over the same period. For women of color, the pay gap has been consistently worse. For instance, in 2015, Latinas earned approximately 58 percent of what white men earned.

Federal law directs the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to work with Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPA) to investigate and resolve claims of employment discrimination. The EEOC relies on pay data to inform its investigation and civil rights enforcement efforts, publish reports on pay disparities to help close the wage gap, and identify trends that help employers better evaluate their pay policies and practices to ensure their compliance with the law. As a result, the agencies’ efforts to address pay discrimination are directly affected by the Trump Administration’s decision to halt the collection of crucial employment data.

If you believe you have been the subject of pay discrimination in Virginia you can file a complaint with Attorney General Herring’s Division of Human Rights:

In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Herring joins the attorneys general of California, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia. The coalition also includes state civil rights agencies including California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, Illinois Department of Human Rights, Maine Human Rights Commission, Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, Minnesota Department of Human Rights, Nevada Equal Rights Commission, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, and Washington State Human Rights Commission. Additionally, the coalition includes local civil rights agencies including the Baltimore Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement, New York City Commission on Human Rights, and Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.

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ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SHUTS DOWN DECEPTIVE ORGANIZATION THAT EXPLOITED SERVICEMEMBERS

~ Multistate settlement includes $10,000 in payments and will shut down Hearts 2 Heroes, permanently ban owners from engaging in charitable solicitations ~

 

RICHMOND(August 14, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that he has led a coalition of four states to shut down a deceptive organization that exploited goodwill towards those in the military and misused funds that were supposed to benefit servicemembers serving overseas. The multistate settlement involves Hearts 2 Heroes Inc., a for-profit company doing business as Active Duty Support Services Inc., which made door-to-door sales of “care packages” ostensibly to be sent to service members overseas. Last summer, Attorney General Herring filed suit against Hearts 2 Heroes alleging that the company violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and Virginia’s Solicitation of Contributions law by misrepresenting the nature of the business and the care packages purchased, and by misusing donated funds. The lawsuit was announced as 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. As part of the settlement, the business has been shut down and the owners will be permanently banned from engaging in charitable solicitations or working for a charitable organization.
 
“Organizations who prey on the kindness of Virginians and deceptively solicit donations from folks who are hoping to help veterans or servicemembers are shameful and should be held accountable,” said Attorney General Herring. “I hope this settlement sends a strong message to other organizations that may have similar deceptive operations that they must follow through with their promises and be honest about where their money is going.”
 
The complaint, filed in Henrico County Circuit Court, alleges that Hearts 2 Heroes violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and Virginia’s Solicitation of Contributions law by:
  • leading prospective donors to believe that Hearts 2 Heroes is a charity, when it is not, and 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 personal use.
 
The settlement reached by Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia includes injunctive relief in the form of a ban of the two owners from engaging in charitable solicitations or working for a charitable organization, as well as the dissolution of the business. The settlement also includes a $286,959.95 restitution judgment against the now-defunct company, which will be suspended but enforced if the other terms of the settlement are not complied with. Additionally the states will receive a total of $10,000. 
 
The settlement is in the form of a Consent Judgment that has been filed with the Henrico County Circuit Court for approval. The Commonwealth is represented in this matter by Assistant Attorney General Stephen John Sovinsky.

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AG HERRING URGES VIDEO STREAMING INDUSTRY TO PROTECT YOUNG VIEWERS FROM TOBACCO

~ Coalition of 43 attorneys general provide policy guidelines to streaming industry to combat increasing use of tobacco products by young people ~

RICHMOND(August 8, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a bipartisan coalition of 43 attorneys general in urging the streaming industry to limit tobacco use in their video content, including smoking, vaping, or any other tobacco or nicotine product. Due to the growing use of tobacco products amongst teens, the attorneys general urge the streaming industry to take proactive steps to protect the lives of young viewers. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 2.1 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018. Smoking remains the number one preventable killer in the United States and causes over 480,000 deaths per year.
 
“The number of young people using e-cigarettes has risen at an alarming rate and the U.S. Surgeon General has said that exposure to tobacco in the media increases the likelihood of usage,” said Attorney General Herring. “Too many families in Virginia know the harmful effects of tobacco products all too well, which is why it’s so important to keep them out of the hands of young people. We need to make sure that entertainment companies are sending young people the right messages about tobacco usage instead of romanticizing something that could eventually kill them.”
 
In 2012, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that watching movies with tobacco imagery increases the likelihood that adolescents will become smokers. In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues urge the video streaming industry to adopt the following policies to protect young viewers from the ill effects of tobacco content:
 
  • Eliminate or exclude tobacco imagery, including smoking, vaping or the use of any tobacco or nicotine product, in all future original streamed content for young viewers, including any content rated TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14, G, PG, and PG-13, and ensure that any promotional material such as previews, trailers, image galleries, and clips be tobacco-free. Content with tobacco imagery should be rated TV-MA or R and only recommended to adult viewers. 

  • Only “recommend” or designate tobacco-free content for children, adolescents, families, and general audiences.
  • Improve or offer parental controls that are effective, prominent, and easy-to-use, that allow parents and guardians specifically to restrict access to all content with tobacco content, regardless of rating.
  • Mitigate the negative influence of tobacco content, from whatever source and with any rating, by streaming strong anti-smoking and/or anti-vaping public service announcements, as appropriate, before all videos with tobacco content.
 
In 1998, Attorneys General across the nation fought to enter into the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which imposed major restrictions on tobacco company marketing practices and prohibits advertising aimed at youth. This included banning the advertisement of tobacco products on TV shows, movies and other video content. Despite the ban, studies by the public health organization Truth Initiative found a high rate of tobacco content in streamed videos that are popular with young viewers. In particular, the study discovered high rates of tobacco usage in TV-Y and TV-PG shows. Further, a 2018 study found the streamed videos that are most popular with young viewers feature higher rates of tobacco content than programs shown on traditional television. A 2019 report by the Truth Initiative showed that the danger has only grown in the past year. 
 
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending the letter are the attorneys general of Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SECURES $6 MILLION FROM CISCO SYSTEMS IN MULTISTATE SETTLEMENT

~ Virginia to receive $546,000 as its part of the settlement ~

RICHMOND (August 1, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general in settling a multistate lawsuit against Cisco Systems, Inc. concerning security surveillance system software sold to Virginia, a collection of other states, and the federal government. A whistleblower came forward under the federal False Claims Act to assert that Cisco’s software had major flaws rendering the system vulnerable to hackers, and that despite learning of the exposure, Cisco failed to report or remedy this security flaw for several years. Virginia will receive approximately $546,000 of the total settlement payment.

“It is inexcusable that Cisco was aware of the security flaws in its software for years, yet failed to do anything about it,” said Attorney General Herring.“These security flaws opened our surveillance systems up to hackers and could have put Virginians at risk. My team and I will continue to hold manufacturers accountable and make sure they know that they must report and repair any flaws that they find or they will have to deal with the consequences.”

In 2009, according to the action, Cisco discovered security flaws in a software product designed to control security camera systems sold to Virginia, multiple other states, and the federal government, but the company failed to report or remedy these flaws until 2013, and only after commencement of the investigation of the action.

The now-discontinued software contained flaws that would permit unauthorized access to the system, with the potential to control and otherwise manipulate security cameras and the recorded footage. 

The investigation began after parties involved in the settlement received information from a former Cisco employee who came forward as a whistleblower and filed an action under the federal False Claims Act and whistleblower acts of the multiple states involved. The joint investigation uncovered no evidence that a hack or any unauthorized access of security surveillance systems ever took place.

The $6 million fine will be distributed among the plaintiff states, with a share for the whistleblower. The Virginia False Claims Act allows private persons to file civil actions on behalf of the government, and to share in any recovery.

Attorney General Herring and his team conducted this investigation in coordination with the States of California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia.

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DURING EXTREME HEAT, AG HERRING REMINDS VIRGINIANS TO ENSURE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF CHILDREN AND ANIMALS

~ Leaving a child or pet exposed to extreme heat, whether in a car or outside without adequate shelter, can lead to criminal charges ~

RICHMOND (July 19, 2019)—As Virginia continues to deal with extreme heat, Attorney General Mark R. Herring and his first-in-the-nation Animal Law Unit are reminding Virginians that heat can be deadly to children and animals, and that there can be serious legal consequences for leaving children or animals in hot cars or outside without adequate shelter and water.
 
“The extreme temperatures in Virginia continue to pose a real threat to health and safety, especially for young children or animals left in vehicles or outside without adequate precautions and shelter,” said Attorney General Herring. “The law requires owners to protect their pets from the elements and gives law enforcement tools to ensure the safety and health of an animal, including the ability to break into cars or seize an animal to ensure its safety. As we all try to deal with this oppressive heat, I encourage all Virginians to check on and take care of yourself, your friends, neighborhoods, and family members, and don’t forget about your animals.”
 
A parent or caretaker who leaves a child in a hot vehicle could face criminal charges, especially if the child is injured or killed. Leaving an animal trapped in a car or exposed to the elements with no shelter or inadequate shelter can be considered animal cruelty, a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail.
 
Attorney General Herring and his Animal Law Unit advise animal control officers to ask owners to bring animals inside or into shelter, ask the owner to surrender the animal if they are unable to provide adequate shelter, or in certain circumstances take temporary custody of an animal to ensure its safety.
 
In 2015, Attorney General Herring created the nation’s first OAG Animal Law Unit to serve as a training and prosecution resource for state agencies, investigators, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys around the state dealing with matters involving animal fighting, cruelty, and welfare. Illegal animal fighting is closely tied to illegal gambling, drug and alcohol crimes, and violence against animals has been shown to be linked to violence towards other people. To date the unit has handled hundreds of matters, including trainings, prosecutions, and consultations.

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ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES CFPB TO UPHOLD DEBIT CARD OVERDRAFT FEE RULE

RICHMOND (July 2, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 25 state attorneys general, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, in urging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to maintain the current Overdraft Rule that stops banks from hitting consumers with hidden overdraft fees. The current rule permits banks to charge fees to consumers for overdraft services on ATM and one-time debit transactions only after consumers have been provided with important information about those services and fees in a model notice, and only after those consumers have made the affirmative choice to opt in to such services.Before the Overdraft Rule was put in place, banks could enroll individuals in their overdraft programs automatically and slap them with a fee – usually $35 per transaction – if they overdrafted.

“As Attorney General, it is my job to protect consumers and that includes making sure that banks do not have the ability to hit their customers with hidden fees,” said Attorney General Herring. “Before this rule went into effect banks were able to enroll someone into an overdraft fee program without that person’s consent, allowing them to make even more money on an overdraft transaction. I hope the CFPB will make the right decision and keep this overdraft rule in place so Virginians can make their own banking decisions.”

The Overdraft Rule — which went into effect in 2010 — recognized that many consumers received overdraft services by default, but were never given clear information about their options and the fees their financial institutions charge. In fact, some studies released by the CFPB have shown that median fees can cost as much as 68% of median overdrafted transactions. For example, when the median overdrafted transaction was $50, the median fees charged were $34.

The CFPB’s data shows that only about 16-percent of consumers have chosen to affirmatively opt into overdraft services under the Overdraft Rule, which has benefitted millions of Americans and led to a significant reduction in the total number and amount of overdraft fees.

In their letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues specifically emphasized that there is no basis to believe that the Overdraft Rule would place any additional economic burden or cost on small financial institutions, and that compliance has both been straightforward and used a model form designed for simplicity and cost-savings. In contrast, the CFPB has not published any data or research to demonstrate any economic burden as a result of the Overdraft Rule. 

Joining Attorney General Herring in submitting comments to the CFPB were the Attorneys General of New York, California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the Executive Director of the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection. 

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ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING ANNOUNCES DISTRIBUTION OF RECOVERED FUNDS TO CANCER CENTERS AFTER LANDMARK LAWSUIT AGAINST SHAM CANCER CHARITIES

~ $2.5 million to be distributed across the nation to cancer centers eligible to apply such as those at Virginia Commonwealth University or the University of Virginia; the Virginia Office of the Attorney General served on the Executive Committee for this multistate lawsuit ~

RICHMOND (June 20, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced that $2.5 million will be distributed to cancer centers across the country as a result of a multistate lawsuit brought against sham cancer charities. The $2.5 million was recovered through settlements of a landmark lawsuit that Attorney General Herring filed along with all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against four affiliated sham charities – Cancer Fund of America, Inc., The Breast Cancer Society, Inc., Cancer Support Services, Inc., and Children’s Cancer Fund of America – and their founder James Reynolds, Sr. and other individuals. Additionally, the people responsible for fronting the sham charities have been banned from any charity or fundraising activities for the rest of their lives. This was one of the largest charity fraud actions ever brought by enforcers and the Virginia Office of Attorney General has served on the Executive Committee for this multistate action. 

“False charities that solicit funds from folks who want to help cancer patients are disgraceful and need to be held accountable,” said Attorney General Herring. “I am glad that we were able to shut down these fraudulent operations and recover money that will now actually go towards helping cancer patients as the donors intended. This unprecedented case should serve as a strong warning to those would take advantage of Virginians’ generosity and I want to thank my team for their hard work and cooperation with our law enforcement partners.”

The distribution of funds marks the conclusion of the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in May 2015. The suit was the first time that all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the FTC joined together to shut down sham charities.

The complaint alleged that the so-called charities, led by Reynolds and his family members, bilked the public out of more than $187 million dollars between 2008 and 2012. The defendants used telemarketing calls, direct mail, and websites to portray themselves as legitimate charities with substantial programs that provided direct support to cancer patients in the United States, such as providing patients with pain medication, transportation to chemotherapy, and hospice care. But these claims were deceptive and, as alleged in the complaint, the charities “operated as personal fiefdoms characterized by rampant nepotism, flagrant conflicts of interest, and excessive insider compensation, with none of the financial and governance controls that any bona fide charity would have adopted.” Of the money collected, only about 3% was directed to cancer patients in the United States and most of it was either paid to professional fundraisers or squandered by the defendants. 

Cancer Fund of America also claimed to supply patients with pain medications and transportation to chemotherapy treatments, when it provided no such services. The charities also participated in a “gift-in-kind” program in which they sent drugs that had nothing to do with cancer to other countries. The complaint alleged that the purpose of this program was to make the organizations appear larger than they were and to hide their high fundraising costs.

The complaint also alleged that the defendants used the organizations for lucrative employment for family members and friends, and spent consumer donations on cars, trips, luxury cruises, college tuition, gym memberships, jet ski outings, sporting event and concert tickets, and dating site memberships.

The money will be transferred to Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) who, under a services agreement with the plaintiffs, will distribute the funds to select health and medical programs targeting breast and pediatric cancer. Eligibility will be determined through an invitation-only application process, and is limited to NCI-designated Cancer Care Centers, a designation bestowed by the National Cancer Institute on institutions and programs recognized for their scientific leadership, resources, and the depth and breadth of their research. RPA CEO Melissa Berman noted, “We are pleased to be part of this landmark process of ensuring that the philanthropic intent of donors is coming to fruition, despite the conduct of bad actors.” RPA will ensure that the funding will serve patients in all 50 states, and will monitor, ensure compliance and provide detailed reporting for all grants awarded.

As NCI-designated Cancer Centers, both Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia Cancer Center will be eligible to apply for funds.

Overall, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $301 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. The Section has transferred more than $33 million to the Commonwealth’s General Fund, and following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016 the Section has been even more effective in fighting for Virginia consumers.

Before giving to a charity, remember these tips:

  • Give to charities you know and trust

  • Watch out for groups with names that sound like other well-known, reputable charities

  • Don't give to someone pressuring you to make a quick donation or requiring that you give cash or wire money

  • Ask for detailed information about programs and services in writing

  • Find out how much of your donation will go to the charity's programs and services

  • Check if the charity and its fundraiser are registered with the Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs in the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services - (804) 786-1343 orhttp://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/food-charitable-solicitation.shtml

 

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STATEMENT OF ATTORNEY GENERAL MARK R. HERRING ON SUPREME COURT WIN IN REDISTRICTING CASE

~ Court agrees with Attorney General Herring that the House of Delegates lacked standing ~

RICHMOND (June 17, 2019) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the statement below following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill. The Court agreed with Attorney General Herring that “the House lacks standing, either to represent the State’s interests or in its own right” and dismissed House Republicans attempt to protect racially gerrymandered districts:

“This is a big win for democracy in Virginia. It’s unfortunate that House Republicans wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and months of litigation in a futile effort to protect racially gerrymandered districts, but the good news is that this fall’s elections will take place in constitutionally drawn districts. I’m really proud of the work my team and I did to protect the new, constitutional districts, and to protect the voting rights of all Virginians.”

Writing for the Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said: “In short, the State of Virginia would rather stop than fight on. One House of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue the litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process.”

In June 2018, a three-judge panel found that eleven House of Delegates districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. In July 2018, Attorney General Herring announced that the Commonwealth of Virginia would not appeal the decision, citing the seriousness of the constitutional violation, the low likelihood of success, and the considerable time and more than $4.5 million in taxpayer money spent by House Republicans to defend racially gerrymandered districts.

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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.

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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). 

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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.

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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.

 

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*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.

 

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