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Archive for December, 2011

Victims of Financial Fraud Deserve Justice
December 21st, 2011 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Tony West, the Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. 

Some crimes do not leave visible bruises or scars.  But they are no less painful.  I think about that every day when I hear how many hard-working, honest people have become victims of those who see the financial crisis as an opportunity to exploit hardship for profit.

One of those people was “Ana,” a single mother living in Florida who needed to work from home to care for her ailing daughter.  She thought she had finally found a solution when she learned of an opportunity to own an ATM in a profitable, high-traffic location. 

All that was required was an upfront investment fee. 

Hopeful, Ana signed on and invested her life savings.  But, the company never fulfilled its promise.  It was only after Ana had lost everything and was left saddled with debt that she discovered that the salespeople provided phony references and lied about the profits that would be earned with their ATMs. 

As it ruined the lives of folks like Ana, this company raked in over $4 million in profits.

I’ve heard heartbreaking stories like this one all over the country.  That is why, as head of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, I have worked hard to enhance our role in protecting consumers from these predators.  Our hard work has paid off: a nationwide effort by the Department’s Office of Consumer Protection Litigation, the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general has resulted in the conviction of over 150 defendants – including the two individuals behind the ATM scam – as well as court orders of over $100 million in criminal restitution for victims like Ana.

Still, prosecution of these criminals only gets us so far.  We are also working to educate consumers about business opportunity fraud and how they can avoid it.  Under federal law, a business opportunity seller is required to provide a list of former purchasers to prospective buyers – enabling them to talk to someone who invested previously and learn how the business really works.  So, if a seller offers a few named references instead of the full list, be wary.  In addition, we encourage consumers to ask for earnings’ claims in writing and ask the FTC or their state government whether there are unresolved complaints involving the business. 

But we will never be able to truly fight these financial crimes if victims do not come forward and tell their stories.

And many victims still do not.  Consumers often feel responsible for their own fate and opt to suffer alone.  That is particularly tragic considering that there are hundreds of thousands of victims like them – who pursued opportunities not to get rich quick, but just to make a living.

This was not a violent crime, but her family suffered devastating losses just the same.  And, like many victims, Ana felt shame and embarrassment that she may have invited the crime somehow.  But, unlike many victims of financial fraud, she found the strength to come forward, tell her story, and seek help.

And by so doing, she prevented someone else from becoming a victim, too.

So, if you have been a victim, I hope you will take the first step.  Report the fraud and learn about resources for victims at www.StopFraud.gov, the website for the federal government’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  File a complaint with the FTC at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or at 1-877-FTC-HELP.  Then contact your state attorney general to learn your rights and get help.  Because justice begins with you.

POSTED IN: Civil Division  |  PERMALINK
Building on a Good Foundation: Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act
December 14th, 2011 Posted by

 The following post appears courtesy of Susan B. Carbon, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women

Seventeen years after its original passage, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was introduced for reauthorization last month with the bipartisan leadership and support of Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Mike Crapo. 

The act, the current authorization of which expired in September, was first championed by then Senator Joe Biden, passed by Congress in 1994, and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.  Each time it was considered by Congress, the legislation has enjoyed broad bipartisan support. 

This support reflects the very real concern that abuse knows no bounds – victims can be young and old, of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, all genders, from every corner of the country, urban and rural, tribal and territorial. 

This week, the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services are holding our 6th annual Tribal Consultation in New Mexico.  We are participating in discussions with tribal leaders from all over the country that will help us better serve women who are abused, raped and murdered, at rates which are nothing short of abominable. VAWA Reauthorization will be a major focal point of this dialogue. 

VAWA has been the cornerstone of the federal government’s efforts to end sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.  The Act supports programs serving all segments of society, and encourages close collaboration among community service providers and professionals to coordinate efforts to end violence.  Since its passage, well over $4 billion has been awarded for victim services and hundreds of programs around the country such as transitional housing, supervised visitation and legal assistance. 

The impact of VAWA cannot be overstated:  it has profoundly improved lives, has saved lives, and has led to a paradigm shift whereby domestic and sexual violence are no longer private matters, but recognized for the public health, legal and social issues that they are.

While violence has been reduced substantially as a result of VAWA, much remains to be done.  The proposed legislation includes a number of important updates and improvements to the law, including a greater emphasis on meeting the needs of survivors of sexual violence addressing, domestic homicides and on reaching traditionally underserved communities. 

 Major improvements are also proposed to address the incredibly high rates of violence committed against women in tribal communities.  Among other things, the legislation proposes to strengthen tribal responses by recognizing certain tribes’ concurrent jurisdiction to investigate, prosecute, convict and sentence both Indians and non-Indians, and clarifies that tribal courts have full civil jurisdiction to issue and enforce certain protection orders.

In conjunction with the Tribal Consultation this week, the Task Force created under Title IX of VAWA is meeting to hear updates from the National Institute of Justice about their program of research regarding violence against the American Indian and Alaska Native community. 

Reports from this meeting, along with additional information about the Task Force and the Office on Violence Against Women, can be found at www.ovw.usdoj.gov.

We remind all those in need of assistance, or other concerned friends and individuals, to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE

Interdepartmental Tribal, Justice, Safety, and Wellness Session Held in New Mexico
December 14th, 2011 Posted by

Over 300 tribal leaders, health and law enforcement professionals from across the country are meeting in Santa Ana Pueblo to begin the latest in a series of sessions to improve collaboration with tribal governments and policy leaders.   This national gathering, held in partnership with several other federal agencies, is an opportunity to converse face-to-face on a range of important topics and to attend workshops on some pressing issues.

Our list is long but some of the topics that we’ll be discussing include:

  • the implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act, 
  • the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act; 
  • Tribal Youth Programs; suicide prevention; 
  • alcohol and substance abuse action planning; and 
  • sex offender registration and notification. 

Marylou Leary, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs, describes the scope and purpose of the Session like this:

“The Tribal, Justice, Safety, and Wellness Session is an embodiment of the Justice Department’s continuing commitment to build and sustain safe and healthy communities in Indian country. We can only accomplish this goal through active engagement and collaboration with communities, many of whom are undertaking ground-breaking programs to address their most pressing issues in ways that also strengthen capacity and self-determination.”

The conference will also include consultations with tribal leaders on the Justice Department’s streamlined grant-making effort (Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation – CTAS), the Tribal Law and Order Act Long Term Plan to Build and Enhance Tribal Justice Systems (Tribal Justice Plan), and the Annual Tribal Consultation on Violence Against Native Women.  
 
Susan B. Carbon, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, describes the importance of the sessions in this way:

“The Office on Violence Against Women looks forward to strengthening our efforts to improve the responses to violence against women in tribal communities by actively participating in the ongoing dialogue with tribal leaders, consultation participants, task force members and CTAS grantees.  We need to hear the unique perspectives of all our partners as we improve our funding, research, and programmatic activities.  The safety of American Indian women is my priority and a priority of this Administration.” ‬

Bernard Melekian, the COPS Office Director, stated:

“The COPS Office is proud to be a part of this comprehensive approach to developing the training and resources necessary for enhanced public safety in tribal communities.  This federal partnership was created because of the guidance tribal leaders have provided the department.  Nothing can replace hearing directly from tribal leaders about how we can better serve their communities.  Together, we are offering maximum flexibility in our grant programs and services to tribal law enforcement, delivered in a much more efficient and effective manner.”

This week’s Interdepartmental Tribal, Justice, Safety, and Wellness representatives include the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Native American Issues Subcommittee in the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, Office of Tribal Justice, and Office on Violence Against Women; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Indian Health Service, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Office of Minority Health in the Office of the Secretary; Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through its Office of Native American Programs; the Small Business Administration; and the Corporation for National and Community Service. 

Find more information on Department-wide initiatives in Indian country at www.justice.gov/tribal.  

A Record: Fraud Recoveries Top $5.6 Billion
December 14th, 2011 Posted by
Vice President Joe Biden holds a cabinet meeting on the campaign to cut waste, in room 430 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House, December 13, 2011. Pictured are (from left) Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and OMB Director Jack Lew. Photo Courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov

Vice President Joe Biden holds a cabinet meeting on the campaign to cut waste, in room 430 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House, December 13, 2011. Pictured are (from left) Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and OMB Director Jack Lew. Photo Courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov

Yesterday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole joined Vice President Biden at a Cabinet meeting focused on meeting the President’s commitment to cut waste, combat fraud, and eliminate misspent dollars across the Federal government.

During the meeting, Deputy Attorney General Cole announced that the Department of Justice has recovered more than $5.6 billion in fraud proceeds in 2011 – the largest amount for any single year in the history of the department.  This historic achievement represents an increase of more than 167 percent since 2008, and includes nearly $3.4 billion in civil fraud, as well as $2.2 billion in criminal fraud.

These recoveries stemmed from activities ranging from grant fraud, to mortgage fraud, to procurement fraud, and far beyond.  In fact, nearly $3 billion was recovered in health care fraud alone, due in part to unprecedented levels of cooperation between the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services. 

In particular, the use of Medicare Fraud Strike Forces – specialized teams of agents and prosecutors dedicated to a singular mission – has significantly expanded in recent years, and their impact on our efforts has been dramatic.  In 2008, these Strike Forces allowed the Department to bring cases involving $384 million in fraudulent claims.  This year, they brought cases involving over $1 billion in fraudulent claims – meaning that, for every dollar spent on this effort, the Administration has been able to recover seven dollars.
 
All told, the Department of Justice has amassed $15 billion in total fraud recoveries since 2009.  Some of this money has been sent back to states, paid to whistleblowers, or devoted to strengthening important programs like Medicare and Medicaid.  Other funds have been returned to the U.S. Treasury to help reduce the deficit.  And all of this is just the beginning. 

As Deputy Attorney General Cole said:

“Our message could not be clearer – we will aggressively investigate and prosecute those who seek to defraud the American people. Those who commit fraud will be held to account. And the America taxpayer will continue to see a high rate of return on its investment in the Department of the Justice.”

All across the country, the Department of Justice continues to move aggressively to protect the American people from fraud. 

For more information, visit WhiteHouse.gov, StopMedicareFraud.gov or StopFraud.gov

World AIDS Day 2011
December 1st, 2011 Posted by

On this World AIDS Day, the Department of Justice reconfirms its leadership role in combating discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS. We  remain committed to realizing our mission under President Obama’s landmark National HIV/AIDS Strategy, to address the stigma and discrimination still experienced by those living with HIV/AIDS. 

People with HIV and AIDS are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which gives federal civil rights protections to persons with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, and state and local government services.  Earlier this year, the Justice Department issued letters to the attorneys general of all 50 states, as well as U.S. territories to request their assistance in addressing the illegal exclusion of individuals with HIV/AIDS from occupational training and state licensing. 

Under the ADA, the Justice Department entered into a settlement agreement with Modern Hairstyling Institute Inc., a private cosmetology school in Puerto Rico, for delaying the admission of an HIV-positive individual. That settlement agreement requires the school to remove questions about applicants’ HIV/AIDS status and to promptly enroll the aggrieved individual in its cosmetology program.

Last year, the Justice Department reached a consent decree with Wales West LLC, owner and operator of Wales West RV Resort and Train and Garden Lovers Family Park in Silverhill, Alabama.  It was alleged that Wales West LLC violated Title III of the ADA when it unlawfully denied full and equal access to an RV park to a child and his family because the child has HIV. Specifically, the complaint alleged that Wales West LLC, upon learning that a guest family’s two-year-old child has HIV, banned the family from using the common areas of the RV resort, such as the swimming pool and showers.  Under the terms of the consent decree, Wales West LLC will establish policies, procedures and training practices to ensure that patrons and their families are not discriminated against on the basis of disability.  

In commemorating World AIDS Day, Attorney General Holder stated:

“The Department of Justice, through its Civil Rights Division, will continue to vigorously enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act, which protect people with the virus from discrimination in virtually every aspect of their daily lives.  We will continue our outreach and education efforts directed both at informing those with the virus of their rights to non-discrimination under federal law and at dispelling the myths, fears and stereotypes about the virus that help to perpetuate unlawful discrimination.   We will continue to work with our federal partners under the Strategy toward the common purpose of ensuring that no American feels it necessary to hide his or her status out of fear that disclosure will lead to unlawful discrimination.”     

World AIDS Day 2011 is a powerful reminder of this call to action, and the Justice Department will continue to lead the way in combating stigma and discrimination, improving education and outreach, and doing our part to realize President Obama’s vision under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.  To learn more about our enforcement efforts, please visit www.ada.gov/aids/ada_aids_press.htm.

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