CWAG Attorney General Kamala D. Harris of California
announced that her office has filed new criminal charges against Carl Ferrer, Chief Executive Officer of online advertising website Backpage.com, and Michael Lacey and James Larkin, controlling shareholders of Backpage. Following the uncovering of new evidence, charges include 26 counts of money laundering and the complaint alleges that the defendants created multiple corporate entities to launder money and circumvent the refusal of financial institutions to process Backpage transactions because of overtly sexual material. Defendants are also charged with 13 counts of pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping. In seven of the pimping counts, the victims are children. Additionally, the complaint alleges that the defendants created other sites to increase the company's prostitution-related revenue and developed content for those sites by using victim's photographs or information without their knowledge. "By creating an online brothel-- a hotbed of illicit and exploitative activity-- Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey, and James Larkin preyed on vulnerable victims, including children, and profited from their exploitation," said Attorney General Harris. "My office will not turn a blind eye to this criminal behavior simply because the defendants are exploiting and pimping victims on the Internet rather than on a street corner."
Attorney General Derek Schmidt of Kansas
wants to fight human trafficking with stronger penalties. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Attorney General Schmidt is planning to pursue legislation in the coming session. He said last week at a proclamation signing ceremony that it's not possible to destroy the "market for illicit trafficking" without dealing with "the demand piece."
Attorney General Schmidt also says there are some gaps where Kansas law is materially softer than federal law, usually when the victim is between age 14 and 18. His push to crack down on demand echoes the goals of the Topeka Shawnee County Human Trafficking Coalition. Topeka Rescue Mission director Barry Feaker has said the coalition is examining ways to put more teeth into penalties. One idea is to strip convicted buyers of their driver's licenses.
Federal officials authorized the reopening of a major underground nuclear waste repository, which had been closed for nearly three years following a radiation accident. After months of delays, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., will resume at least some operations as early as next month, officials with the U.S. Energy Department said. The federal plant, which serves as a burial site for nuclear waste from facilities around the country, has been closed since February 2014 when a waste drum ruptured and sent radiation into the underground complex. No workers were underground at the time of the accident but about 20 on the surface received small doses of radiation, which the Energy Department has said weren't expected to cause health problems. Known as WIPP, the complex is carved out of salt formations more than 2,000 feet underground about 26 miles east of Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico. The plant, which is overseen by the Energy Department, began operating more than 17 years ago and was created to dispose of a specific type of nuclear waste from the atomic-weapons program.
The opioid epidemic continues to worsen in the U.S., with more people dying from heroin overdoses than firearm homicides, melanoma or HIV-related causes, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015 at least 13,150 people died of heroin overdose, according to the CDC Wonder database, which houses public health data. That number was higher than the number of people killed in firearm homicides in the same year, which was 12,974, or the number of deaths attributed to HIV, which was 6,465, according to the CDC database. It was also higher than the number of people killed by the most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, which the American Cancer Society estimated caused 9,940 deaths in 2015. The staggering number of deaths related to heroin use is just a part of the toll of the opioid epidemic. In 2014, 28,000 people died from opioid overdoses -- which includes heroin overdoses -- and half were due to prescription drugs.
CWAG Attorney General Mark Brnovich of Arizona
announced that the State of Arizona has entered into a settlement agreement with Diamond Resorts Corporation, a timeshare sales company with resorts located in the United States and internationally. The assurance of discontinuance requires Diamond to pay the State a total of $800,000, of which $650,000 will be used for consumer restitution and $150,000 for the State's attorneys' fees and costs. The assurance also includes a relinquishment program, which requires Diamond to allow qualifying consumers, who no longer want their timeshares, to return them to Diamond with no further obligations. The State has received hundreds of consumer complaints against Diamond Resorts. Consumers complained that Diamond used deceptive sales practices and made numerous oral misrepresentations and false statements during timeshare sales presentations.
CWAG Associate Attorney General Leslie Rutledge of Arkansas
filed a consumer-protection lawsuit today against Florida-based Capital Credit Solutions Inc. and Willie J. McKenzie for multiple false and misleading representations made to Arkansans in order to urge them to purchase credit repair services. Capital Credit Solutions is in violation of the Federal Credit Repair Organizations Act, Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Arkansas Credit Services Organizations Act. "When Arkansans are seeking to improve their credit, they are seeking real solutions, not bogus and disingenuous tactics," said Attorney General Rutledge. "The only real path to improve bad credit is time and diligent attention to eliminating credit balances. Arkansans should not be subjected to the illegal business practices of the defendants."
CWAG Associate Attorney General Pam Bondi of Florida
announced three actions filed against lodging businesses in the Tampa Bay area alleging price gouging during the State of Emergency declared for Hurricane Matthew. "As Hurricane Matthew strengthened into a dangerous category four storm, more than a million Floridians and visitors were urged to evacuate," said Attorney General Bondi. "Many of these people turned to these businesses for safe shelter but could not afford a room. During any emergency, it is extremely important that we come together as Floridians to ensure our citizens and visitors are safe. I personally visited one of these locations during the State of Emergency and was disgusted by the way people seeking shelter were treated."
CWAG Associate Attorney General Luther Strange of Alabama
announced that the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that electronic bingo is illegal within the state of Alabama. In the case State of Alabama v. 825 Electronic Gambling Devices et al (Greenetrack), the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State, reversing a lower court judgment siding with the casino. As a result, the State of Alabama is allowed to destroy the electronic bingo machines it seized from Greenetrack. Attorney General Strange said, "Local sheriffs and police officers in most parts of the State are enforcing our gambling laws. The sheriffs in Greene and Macon counties must uphold their sworn duty to enforce the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court and not continue to sanction this illegal activity. As I have previously stated, my office stands ready to render any required assistance to enable them to carry out their legal duties."
CWAG Associate Attorney General Brad Schimel of Wisconsin
announced the filing of a criminal complaint charging Eddie Tipton and Robert Rhodes, both of Texas, with multiple felonies for their alleged roles in defrauding the Wisconsin Lottery. Tipton and Rhodes are both charged with Engaging in Racketeering Activities and Theft by Fraud. Tipton is also charged with four additional counts of Computer Crime. The complaint alleges that the two defendants conspired to win the December 29, 2007, Wisconsin Megabucks lottery game. Tipton, who was an employee of the Multi-State Lottery Association and responsible for programming the software used in the random number generator (RNG) machines used to pick the winning numbers, allegedly planted a modified code in the RNG software that produced a predictable set of winning numbers when certain conditions were met. Tipton and Rhodes also are both currently charged in Iowa with Ongoing Criminal Conduct for their part in attempting to defraud the Iowa lottery in December 2010. Tipton's Iowa charges include his alleged involvement in similar schemes in Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
As many as 80,000 residents in western Ukraine lost power for six hours on December 23. Cybersecurity firms SANS ICS and iSight Partners have attributed the blackout to Russian hacking group Sandworm and its malicious software, BlackEnergy 3. Cyberattacks on power grids and other critical infrastructure are not new, but this most recent attack seems to be the first use of cyber as a weapon with kinetic effects during an ongoing conflict, highlighting the growing importance of cybersecurity. While an analysis of the cyberattack is ongoing, BlackEnergy 3 has a history of targeting information control systems. For the Prikarpattiaoblenergo electric company in Ukraine, the malware and its subcomponent KillDisk shut down computer operating systems, which in turn ended up shutting down the local electrical grid. Hackers also sought to make it impossible for customers to report electrical issues to the electric company by blocking out the company's phone system.