Welcome from Attorney General Bob Ferguson
At the Attorney General’s Office, 2014 is off to a busy start. We filed the first two criminal cases in state history involving derelict vessels that polluted Washington waters. We also recovered funds for consumers on a number of fronts.
With the legislative session underway, I am working with legislators from both parties to adopt reforms to protect consumers, assist veterans, support public safety, and enhance government transparency. We will keep you posted as the session continues!
Thanks for reading the Ferguson File, and please feel free to contact me with your questions, thoughts, or concerns.
Bob Ferguson, Washington State Attorney General
Prosecuting Derelict Vessel Owners: Cracking down on environmental crimes
Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark and I teamed up to announce criminal charges against the owners of two derelict vessels that recently sank in the waters of Pierce and Kitsap Counties, dumping hundreds of gallons of fuel and oil into Puget Sound:
- Stephen Mason faces two criminal charges for abandoning his vessel, the Helena Star. The Helena Star sank in Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma in January 2013, spilling fuel and oil into the waterway. The state Dept. of Ecology is continuing to work to remove it, spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the process. Mason entered a "not guilty" plea at his arraignment and a trial date has yet to be set.
- We filed three criminal charges against Anthony Smith, who purchased the historic Tugboat Chickamauga and left it at the Eagle Harbor Marina in February 2013. The Chickamauga sank at the marina in October 2013, spilling fuel and oil into the Sound. Smith entered a "not guilty" plea to all charges and his trial is set for April 21, 2014.
The charges are the first environmental crimes involving derelict vessels to be filed by the state of Washington in recent history and are part of a larger initiative to partner with local, state, and federal agencies to crack down on environmental crimes.
Seattle Times Editorial: More must be done to keep derelict vessels off Puget Sound’s bottom
AG Opinion: Initiative 502 does not prevent local bans on marijuana businesses
On Jan. 16, in response to a request by Liquor Control Board Chair Sharon Foster, the Attorney General's Office released a formal opinion regarding local authority to regulate marijuana businesses under Initiative 502. I held a media availability with my Solicitor General Noah Purcell to explain our analysis.
In responding to a request for a formal AG's opinion, the Attorney General's job is to analyze and state what the law says, regardless of any policy implications.
The formal Attorney General’s Opinion concludes that Initiative 502—as drafted and presented to the voters—does not prevent local governments from regulating or banning marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions.
Quoting directly from the opinion:
“Under Washington law, there is a strong presumption against finding that state law preempts local ordinances. Although Initiative 502 establishes a licensing and regulatory system for marijuana producers, processors, and retailers in Washington State, it includes no clear indication that it was intended to preempt local authority to regulate such businesses."
With a single sentence, the drafters of I-502 could have clarified that this law would preempt the authority of local governments. They did not include such a sentence.
The Legislature, or the voters through the initiative process, may change the law to clearly pre-empt the authority of local governments to ban or regulate marijuana businesses in their districts.
If you would like to share your opinions on this issue with lawmakers, you can find your representatives here: http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/
Learn more about Attorney General's Opinions
Join the list to receive information on pending and final opinions
Seattle Times Editorial: Cities wrong to pre-empt pot sales, but should have right to do so
Strong bipartisan support for 2014 Attorney General Legislative Agenda
In December, a bi-partisan group of legislators joined me in Olympia to announce the AGO’s 2014 legislative agenda, focusing on four key areas:
You can view our news conference on TVW. I’m pleased to report we have received strong support on all of our bills, and several have already been voted out of their respective committees. You can learn about upcoming hearings and follow our bills on our legislative site, on Twitter or on Facebook.
Helping Washington residents give wisely
In December, I joined forces with Secretary of State Kim Wyman and AARP to help Washington residents, particularly seniors, spot and avoid charity scams. Check out our Give Wisely video with important tips.
Remember, not all fundraising businesses are legitimate. There are a few simple ways to check out charities and commercial fundraisers in Washington:
- Contact charities directly;
- Visit the Secretary of State’s Charity Lookup; or
- Refer to the latest charities Report.
Always report scams to the Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-551-4636.
Seniors seeking free information and resources on wise charitable giving can contact the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center toll-free at 1-800-646-2283.
Target data breach affects millions, free credit monitoring available
In late December, Target announced a payment card data breach affecting roughly 40 million customers who shopped at their stores between Black Friday and mid-December. In early January, Target learned an additional 70 million shoppers had other information taken, like names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.
What can you do to protect yourself?
More information is available on Target’s Web site.
Payback for Washington consumers cheated by U.S. Fidelis
Washington consumers are among the 19,000 nationwide who will share more than $9.3 million in direct payment to consumers from U.S. Fidelis for problems they faced after purchasing useless vehicle service contracts.
U.S. Fidelis, now bankrupt, was once the nation’s largest dealer of vehicle service contracts. Their “contracts” were supposed to protect against unexpected or costly vehicle repairs. Instead, consumers who believed they were purchasing comprehensive warranties found their “contracts” were riddled with exceptions— and ultimately worthless.
Washington and 11 other states sued U.S. Fidelis for deceptive business practices. The company settled and established a Consumer Restitution Fund as part of the settlement. The Consumer Restitution Fund will remain open until January 2015.
Ocwen borrowers in Washington eligible for mortgage help, cash
Washington borrowers harmed by Ocwen Financial Corporation may be eligible for either mortgage principal reductions or more than $1,000 in cash payments.
Washington joined a multi-state settlement against Ocwen, a national mortgage servicer that specialized in servicing high-risk mortgage loans.
Under the settlement, Ocwen will provide an estimated $49 million in first-lien mortgage principal reductions. It will also provide 3,637 Washington borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure while served by Ocwen with cash payments of more than $1,000 per borrower.
Borrowers should contact Ocwen to obtain more information about mortgage principal reductions and whether they qualify under terms of this settlement at 1-800-337-6695 or ConsumerRelief@Ocwen.com.
Washington borrowers may also complete this form.
More information can be found on this fact sheet.
Yakima communities safer with violent predator civilly committed
Thanks once again to the outstanding work of the AGO’s Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Unit, another dangerous offender is now confined to the state’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.
A Yakima jury unanimously agreed that Jonathon Parsons poses a danger to communities and should be committed indefinitely. Parsons is a sex offender with multiple convictions for assaulting young boys.
I’m proud of the work my office is doing to protect communities across Washington from these dangerous predators. In Fiscal Year 2013, the unit tried 19 cases across Washington, won 16 civil commitments and secured one recommitment. As of October 2013, 301 sexually violent predators were in the Special Commitment Center program in Washington state.