Attorney General used legal authority aggressively in consumer protection, legal challenges
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – December 22, 2010 – (RealEstateRama) — As the economic downturn has emboldened fraudsters, scam artists and identity thieves to try to defraud Hoosiers, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has ratcheted up his efforts to protect consumers, homeowners and taxpayers and hold accountable those who victimize the public. With Indiana’s criminal justice system facing declining revenues, Zoeller in 2010 also focused on resource challenges posed by drug-trafficking organizations and urged policymakers to continue a dialogue on the escalating costs of the death penalty.
“In 2011, I plan to be an advocate for full state funding of the criminal justice system, so that law enforcement has adequate resources to combat well-funded drug rings while ensuring funding is efficient and transparent. The Attorney General’s Office serves in a dual role not only as the lawyer for state government but also as the state’s consumer protection agency. Hoosiers can rest assured that my office is serving them by defending against unscrupulous companies and individuals who want to deprive them of their money and security,” Zoeller said.
A New Albany native, IU Law School alumnus and former aide to Vice President Dan Quayle, Zoeller worked for eight years as former Attorney General Steve Carter’s chief deputy. Elected in 2008 as Indiana’s 42nd Attorney General, Zoeller now is completing a cumulative 10 years of service with the AG’s Office. “I had little need of on-the-job training when I was sworn in, but the seasoned team of lawyers we have assembled over the past decade means that my office is very aggressive in consumer protection and willing to explore a variety of legal options in using the Attorney General’s legal authority under state law in ways not often seen in years past,” Zoeller added. Today Zoeller recounted the office’s major accomplishments of 2010:
Amid nationwide complaints that mortgage servicers routinely filed foreclosures without adequate review, the Indiana Attorney General joined a 50-state investigation into financial institutions “robo-signing” documents. Zoeller also filed 34 lawsuits in 2010 against illegal foreclosure-rescue consultants who preyed on distressed homeowners, taking their money but doing nothing to prevent a foreclosure. Armed with the powers of a new state law regulating credit service organizations, Zoeller’s team of consumer protection attorneys also began cracking down on credit-repair scam artists whose victims are also those who can least afford to be scammed. More enforcement actions against these types of organizations are anticipated in 2011.
The AG’s Unclaimed Property Division also assists Hoosiers who have money owed to them, often through forgotten bank accounts, unspent store credits or overlooked assets. In 2010, more than 60,000 claims were processed, translating into $40 million that the program returned to Hoosiers. Zoeller also kicked off the office’s first Amnesty program, allowing companies who had not previously filed unclaimed property reports to do so without penalty. This nearly doubled the number of companies who reported unclaimed assets to the state, which will translate into more money returned to Hoosiers in the future.
Defending crime victims and supporting criminal justice
As the state’s lawyer, the Attorney General represents the prosecution in appellate court and opposes attempts by offenders to overturn convictions or reduce sentences on appeal. Through November, the AG’s Criminal Appeals Section fielded 1,450 new appellate cases, a 17 percent increase from 2009, and is on track to open 1,600 new cases in 2010 – each one requiring zealous legal work to protect the public and crime victims.
The Attorney General by law also defends prosecutors named in civil suits. Representing the criminal justice system broadly, Zoeller organized the Mexico Rule of Law conference at IUPUI in September that analyzed how the well-funded, well-organized drug cartels that have violently thwarted justice south of the border now seek to extend their influence into the U.S.
Zoeller also led the first AG Criminal Justice Summit at Notre Dame in November that created a dialogue among prosecutors, defense attorneys and policymakers on whether the costs of a death penalty trial mean capital punishment is sought in some counties but not others, creating fairness issues. Diligently enforcing the laws on the books, Zoeller’s office prevailed in the Joseph Corcoran case where the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death sentence. Zoeller also brought together medical professionals, social services providers and law enforcement to focus on prescription drug diversion and addiction in Indiana.
Protecting patients and seniors
The Attorney General’s Office filed licensing violations against the professional licenses of doctors, nurses, administrators and other health care professionals accused of violating state rules and endangering patients. Zoeller obtained revocations or suspensions of the licenses of a number of physicians who endangered patients by over prescribing narcotics in dangerous quantities and by prescribing to known addicts. Thoroughly investigating complaints to ensure licensing actions stick, Zoeller also advocated for changes in state law to protect nursing home residents, such as requiring mandatory criminal background checks for nurses and other healthcare workers.
Standing up for state sovereignty and representing Indiana in court
As the state’s lawyer, the Attorney General defends and protects state sovereignty and executive authority: the ability of Indiana to pass and enact its own state laws and not have them overridden by the federal government or courts. That means Zoeller proactively serves as plaintiff’s attorney, such as when Indiana was one of 20 states to file a legal challenge to the new federal health care law, contenting the individual mandate to buy insurance is unconstitutional. That also means Zoeller serves as defense attorney for a state statute that plaintiffs seek to overturn, such as when the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the Voter ID law as being constitutional. Zoeller and Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher now are defending the state’s school funding formula and Indiana’s Auto Dialer law restricting “robocall” machines from separate legal challenges. Fisher authored friend-of-the-court briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases involving state sovereignty and other issues.
On a daily basis the Attorney General represents state agencies and state officials as their lawyer and provides them legal advice. In September, the AG’s Litigation Division, acting on behalf of the Indiana Department of Labor and a Michigan City worker, obtained the largest settlement of a whistleblower-retaliation complaint in recent Department history: $215,000.
Fighting health care fraud
The AG’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigates nursing home abuse, neglect and fraud, and investigates ineligible billings submitted for reimbursement to Medicaid. Since January 2009, the MFCU participated in 13 settlements with pharmaceutical companies that were accused of engaging in illegal off-label marketing practices, and Indiana’s share of the announced settlements is more than $23.6 million. Also, the MFCU since early 2008 has obtained nearly $1 million through settlements with health providers who illegally billed for services provided by employees who were excluded from the Medicaid program. Zoeller and his Deputy AGs from MFCU gave several presentations to health care workers on how to blow the whistle on fraud by filing suit under the False Claims Act.
Fighting public corruption
Zoeller continued to pursue the lawsuit that former Attorney General Steve Carter brought under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), against East Chicago political figures accused of corruption. In March, a federal court ordered former East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick to pay $108 million in damages, after that court last year entered judgments against Pastrick and two accomplices on every racketeering count the AG alleged in the $24 million “sidewalks-for-votes” fraud. Seeking to collect on the judgment and opposing Pastrick’s bankruptcy petition, Zoeller also has fought in court and in the Legislature to pry open the books of a non-transparent for-profit entity Pastrick created, Second Century, that received casino revenue in East Chicago. Zoeller has urged legislators to change state law to require financial transparency whenever casino revenue flows to such companies through local development agreements.
To recover public funds, the Attorney General also filed suit against several local officeholders around the state who misappropriated money according to State Board of Accounts audits. Zoeller sued Linda Durham, the former Knight Township trustee in Vanderburgh County, for allegedly using $74,000 in public money on personal items and luxuries. The AG’s Office also served as special prosecutor in the criminal trial of Monte Murphy, a former Muncie city councilman convicted of three counts of improperly receiving an absentee ballot.
Combating illegal activity to improve quality of life
Zoeller has used the AG’s environmental law authority to wage an ongoing legal battle to stop pollution by VIM Recycling, an Elkhart County wood recycler subject of years of odor complaints. Zoeller’s Revenue Division used sales-tax evasion laws to shut down an unregistered dog-breeding operation in Bloomfield, Ind., that owed the state $311,000 in unpaid taxes. Continuing the popular Do Not Call program Carter started, Zoeller sought to deter candidates from engaging in annoying political robo-calls. He negotiated the “Treaty of 2010” the three state political party chairmen signed that urged candidates not to resort to automated calls. Complaints to the AG’s Office about robo-calls were few during the 2010 election season and no suspected violations were substantiated.
Environment and economic development
As the state’s lawyer, Zoeller’s office represented Indiana in the old General Motors bankruptcy negotiations. Zoeller’s office obtained a $25 million settlement for environmental cleanup of former GM manufacturing sites in Kokomo, Anderson, Indianapolis and Bedford so they can be remediated and marketed to new employers. The AG’s Office also negotiated a separate $3.6 million settlement for cleanup of a former GM plant site in Anderson that the city hopes to redevelop.
“As the consumer protection agency for Hoosiers and as the lawyer for state government, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office has seen no letup in its caseload, yet we have continued to aggressively enforce the laws and protect the public using less taxpayer resources than in years past,” Zoeller said.
Phone: (317) 233-3970
Email: Bryan.Corbin (at) atg.in (dot) gov