Announcements, information and updates from CWAG Members and Associates
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CWAG Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California announced that Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown overruled defense dismissal motions in the case, allowing the criminal prosecution by the California Attorney General's Office against defendants Carl Ferrer, James Larkin and Michael Lacey to proceed on 25 felony counts. The defendants are charged with money laundering and conspiracy utilizing as a multi-million dollar online sex trafficking hub. "It's a vile story: vulnerable teenagers are exploited online and lured into becoming victims of sex trafficking," said Attorney General Becerra.  "Today's victory doesn't exact justice just yet against those who would prey on vulnerable young women and men. But it brings us a step closer. Local, state and federal law enforcement authorities are working together to combat sex trafficking across California and the United States. We will vigorously prosecute this case."
CWAG Associate Attorney General Brad Schimel of Wisconsin announced the creation of the Attorney General's Task Force on Elder Abuse at the annual National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) Conference. "Over the next two decades, Wisconsin's 65 and older population will increase by 72% and one in nine seniors have reported being abused, neglected or exploited in the past twelve months," said Attorney General Schimel. "Sadly, this group is seen by criminals as vulnerable and easily exploitable. With this rapidly growing population, we must act with urgency to protect our loved ones from becoming the target of financial, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse." The Task Force on Elder Abuse is charged with compiling the resources and knowledge of a multi-disciplinary team of professionals to study the impact of elder abuse in Wisconsin and assess ways to improve outcomes for this growing population of citizens.
CWAG Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth of Alaska announced that the Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision upholding Governor Bill Walker's action last year to reduce the permanent fund dividend appropriation in the budget bill. "I want to thank the legal team here at the department for their hard work on this case," said Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth. "I know this is not a decision Governor Walker took lightly, but I'm glad we have more clarity around use of permanent fund earnings as we continue to try and resolve the State's fiscal crisis." Previously, the Alaska Superior Court had upheld the reduction of the permanent fund dividend, but on different grounds than the Alaska Supreme Court. The superior court determined that regardless of whether the earnings of the permanent fund were subject to the constitutional prohibition against dedicated funds, the constitutional appropriations clause required that the legislature appropriate the money, which meant the governor could also veto the appropriation.
CWAG Attorney General Mark Brnovich of Arizona announced 60-year-old Diane Maxine Richards pleaded guilty to stealing more than a million dollars from the City of Kingman. In September 2015, Special Agents with the Attorney General's Office and ICE Homeland Security Investigations launched an investigation after financial institutions reported unusual activity involving Richards' bank accounts. Investigators found Richards misused a City of Kingman credit card to pay for her personal expenses from July 2007 through January 2015. Those personal expenses include payments to Richards' personal cell phone, utility, and car insurance bills. Richards submitted falsified invoices to account for the charges. She also used the City of Kingman credit card to pay off cash advances taken out at various casinos. The total amount Richards spent on the City of Kingman credit card is $121,862. Richards also misappropriated $991,727 from an Employee Benefits Trust account.
CWAG Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman of Colorado announced the filing of charges against Michael Taylor, an officer with the Silt Police Department.  Taylor was indicted by the Colorado Statewide Grand Jury and was charged with three counts of felony insurance fraud, three counts of felony forgery, and three counts of felony theft. The indictment followed an investigation by the Attorney General's office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau. "Insurance fraud is a crime that affects everyone in Colorado by driving up premiums and creating red tape for our hardworking and honest citizens," said Attorney General Coffman. "The fact that this alleged criminal behavior was perpetrated by someone who was sworn police officer, who was supposed to protect Coloradans, makes this even more grievous." Taylor allegedly made a series of three deceptive insurance claims from 2010 to 2015 and received tens of thousands of dollars in insurance payments. 
CWAG Associate Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts sued one of the largest federal student loan servicers in the country for undermining Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), a federal program that forgives student loans after 10 years of public service, enabling Americans to take lower-paying jobs in public service. The complaint alleges that the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, doing business as FedLoan Servicing, violated state and federal laws by causing teachers and other public servants to lose benefits and financial assistance under PSLF and the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant program. "This company's actions have jeopardized the financial futures of teachers and public servants across the country," said Attorney General Healey. "These federal programs allow Americans from all backgrounds to dedicate their careers to serving others. My office will protect PSLF and hold PHEAA accountable for forcing these students further into debt."
CWAG Associate Attorney General Karl A. Racine of the District of Columbia announced that his office won a judgment against Student Aid Center, Inc. and the company's owners, Ramiro Fernandez-Moris and Damien Alvarez, for unlawfully marketing student debt relief services to District consumers, including services that consumers could get for free from the U.S. Department of Education. The court found that the company misrepresented its services and unlawfully charged fees in advance of providing those services. The case was filed by the Office of the Attorney General last year and alleges that consumers paid fees between $600 and $1,000 and received little in return. It will now proceed to a remedies phase, where OAG will seek a permanent injunction preventing the company from misleading consumers regarding its business, refunds for consumers, and monetary penalties. "District students have the highest average student loan debt per borrower in the country, which makes them particularly vulnerable to debt relief scammers," said Attorney General Racine. "We will not tolerate companies that defraud our residents. We are working to hold businesses like this one accountable and deter others like them from targeting our residents in the future."
CWAG Associate Attorney General Curtis Hill of Indiana has taken the next step in his effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its 25-year-old ruling that allows online retailers to avoid charging state sales tax. Attorney General Hill filed a response to a lawsuit on behalf of the state that asks Marion Superior Court to find a new state law constitutional. The law, which went into effect July 1, requires out-of-state businesses to collect and remit the same sales taxes as Indiana-based businesses.  The state "seeks to level the playing field" between Indiana businesses and out-of-state businesses conducting business online, according to a news release from Gov. Eric Holcomb's office. American Catalog Mailers Association, a trade association advocating for catalog mailers, and NetChoice, an internet trade association, argued in a June 30 lawsuit against the state that House Enrolled Act 1129 was unconstitutional. In 2016 more than 40 percent of the state's $18 billion revenue came from sales taxes. A study published by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute and Ball State University estimated that the state lost around $77 million in 2012 because Indiana cannot collect all online sales taxes. A separate University of Tennessee study put that figure at $195 million for the same year. 
Chris Coppin | Legal Director
Conference of Western Attorneys General