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Settlement with USA Publishing

Rutledge Reaches Settlement with USA Publishing

Tue, Jul 7, 2015

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced that she has reached a settlement with Conway-based USA Publishing and its owners, William and Kathleen Parker, to resolve allegations that the organization solicited funds from Arkansas donors on behalf of New Jersey-based National Police Defense Foundation. Arkansans were told these contributions would benefit the State’s emergency responders.

In the consent decree filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court today, the organization will pay $121,000 to the State to be distributed as reimbursement to Arkansas donors. USA Publishing will also pay another $50,000 in civil penalties to the State. The owners have agreed to cease all operations and will end all professional fundraising activities in Arkansas.

“It is troubling to think that an Arkansas-based company assisted an out-of-state charity with ripping off Arkansas donors, but that is exactly what USA Publishing did,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Arkansans were tricked into thinking that their donations were going to benefit local law enforcement and emergency responders. Con artists like this have no place in Arkansas, and the Attorney General’s Office will continue to protect consumers.”

In July 2013, the Attorney General’s Office sued National Police Defense Foundation and USA Publishing. The lawsuit alleged that National Police Defense Foundation contributed only $500 of the $231,004 it raised in the State to charitable purposes. The bulk of the money went to USA Publishing.

A settlement was reached with the National Police Defense Foundation in July 2014. The foundation agreed to pay $120,000 in restitution to consumers and to permanently stop all professional fundraising activities in Arkansas.

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Urges Congress on Data Breach Enforcement

Rutledge Urges Congress to Preserve State Authority to Enforce Data Breach and Security Laws

Tue, Jul 7, 2015

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today co-sponsored a bipartisan, multistate letter to the U.S. Congress in an effort to ensure that any future federal data breach notification or data security law provides consumers with the best protection.

The letter, signed by 47 attorneys general, emphasizes the importance of maintaining States’ authority to enforce data breach and data security laws, as well as their ability to enact laws to address future data security risks.

Citing recent efforts in Congress to pass a national law on data breach notification and data security, Rutledge and other attorneys general caution against federal preemption of State data breach and security law and argue that any federal law must not diminish the important role States already have to protect consumers from data breaches and identity theft.

“Every day it seems like Americans are faced with another announcement that their data has been hacked,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “These breaches are scary, and Congress must realize that attorneys general and the States are in a much better position to protect consumers from identity theft and data breaches. Along with 46 of my colleagues, I urge Congress to carefully consider the role of the States before it takes action on any data security laws.”

The letter urges Congress to preserve existing protections under State law to ensure that States can continue to enforce breach notification requirements under their own State laws, to enact new laws to respond to new data security threats, and to not hinder States that are helping their residents by preempting state data breach and security laws.

The letter points out a number of concerns with federal preemption of State data breach and security laws, including:

  • Data breaches and identity theft continue to cause significant harm to consumers. Since 2005, nearly 5,000 data breaches have compromised more than 815 million records containing sensitive information about consumers.
  • Data security vulnerabilities are too common. States frequently encounter circumstances where data breach incidents result from the failure by data collectors to reasonably protect the sensitive information entrusted to them, putting consumers at unnecessary risk. Many of these breaches could have been prevented if the data collector had taken reasonable steps to secure consumers’ data.
  • States play an important role responding to data breaches and identity theft. The States have been at the frontlines in helping consumers deal with the repercussions of a data breach, providing important assistance to consumers who have been impacted and investigating the causes to determine if reasonable data securities were in place. Forty-seven states now have laws requiring data collectors to notify consumers when their personal information has been compromised, and a number of states have also passed laws requiring companies to adopt reasonable data security practices.

Today’s letter, co-sponsored by Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts and Nebraska, was also joined by the following states and territories: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

A copy of the letter is available here.

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Urges Congress to Protect Religious Organizations’

Rutledge Urges Congress to Protect Religious Organizations’ Tax-Exempt Status

Thu, Jul 2, 2015

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced that she has sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to take steps to protect the tax-exempt status of nonprofit religious organizations.

“Last week’s majority opinion from the Supreme Court specifically notes that ‘[t]he First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,’” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Protecting the religious conscience of Arkansas citizens is critically important following the Court’s decision, and I urge the Arkansas Congressional Delegation to speak with their leadership and colleagues so that Congress may take action to stop the IRS from infringing on rights of religious organizations.”

The letter, sent to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), was prompted by statements before the U.S. Supreme Court by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. during oral arguments in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. When asked if religious-affiliated institutions could have their tax-exempt status revoked if they opposed same-sex marriage, Verrilli said “it’s certainly going to be an issue.”

Rutledge and attorneys general from 14 other States ask that Congress modify the Internal Revenue Code to prevent the Internal Revenue Service from revoking the tax-exempt status of nonprofit religious organizations that disagree with the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

“Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, citizens have the right to exercise their religion freely without government pressure to change their minds or penalties for unpopular beliefs,” the letter states. “We take very seriously the religious liberty of our States’ citizens and believe that Congress should take action now to preclude the IRS from targeting religious groups in this way.”

The letter says stripping the tax-exempt status of religious organizations would be “an unprecedented assertion of governmental power over religious exercise.”

“To allow the IRS to proceed in this way would suggest that the IRS has the power to target disfavored beliefs in any religious organization, to effectively decide the truth or correctness of a religious belief, and to penalize as a matter of ‘policy’ a mainstream belief held by groups that long have received tax-exempt status,” the attorneys general wrote.

Rutledge signed the letter along with attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here.

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Sheridan Man Sentenced for Crimes

Attorney General Announces Sheridan Man Sentenced for Crimes Involving Children

Thu, Jul 2, 2015

SHERIDAN – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced today that a Grant County man has been sentenced to 30 years in the Arkansas Department of Correction on child sexual exploitation charges.

Bryan Mitchell Baker, 28, of Sheridan was charged with 30 counts of distributing, possessing or viewing sexually explicit material involving a child. In addition to the prison sentence, Baker will enter a sex offender treatment program and must register as a sex offender.

The case was heard in front of Judge Chris Williams and was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Will Jones and 7th Judicial District Chief Deputy Prosecutor Stephen Shirron. Attorney General Special Investigators Chris Cone and Jeff Shackleford testified in the case, which helped to secure the sentence.

“I am proud of our investigators and Cyber Crimes Unit for working with the prosecutor to ensure that this man will be off the streets,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “The Attorney General’s Office will continue to go after these predators to keep them away from our children. I also appreciate the diligent work and partnership of Grant County Prosecutor Teresa Howell and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Stephen Shirron.”

The investigation into Baker began in January 2014, with a search warrant issued a month later. Baker pleaded not guilty and was convicted by the jury.

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Rutledge Reorganizes Civil Department

Rutledge Reorganizes Civil Department

Wed, Jul 1, 2015

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced a reorganization of the Civil Department at the Attorney General’s Office. The State Agencies Division, which had functioned as a division within the Civil Department will now function as its own department. Meredith Blaise Rebsamen, a member of the Attorney General’s staff for nearly six years, has been named deputy attorney general for the State Agencies Department.

Attorneys in the State Agencies Department provide legal representation to the more than 200 State agencies, boards, commissions, two-year colleges and other entities. Agency attorneys provide day-to-day counseling, as well as assist their client agencies with promulgating rules and regulations, complying with the Freedom of Information Act, resolving personnel disputes and interpreting laws passed by the Arkansas General Assembly. The Civil Department will continue to represent State agencies, officials, boards and commissions when any are named as defendants in civil lawsuits.

“Arkansans deserve to have the Office of the Attorney General function as the State’s top law firm,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Included in that responsibility is ensuring that the office is best representing and providing top-notch legal advice to Arkansas’s numerous agencies, boards, commissions, colleges and other entities to resolve problems efficiently.

“I am excited to have Meredith as the new deputy attorney general of the State Agencies Department. Meredith has demonstrated herself as one of the finest attorneys in the Attorney General’s Office, and I have no doubt that through her experience, leadership and professionalism, the people of Arkansas will be well served.”

Rebsamen joined the Attorney General’s Office as an assistant attorney general in the Agency Division of the Civil Department in October of 2009. During her tenure as an agency attorney, Rebsamen has represented nearly 50 state boards, agencies and commissions, as well as several two-year colleges. She previously practiced as a litigation associate at the Rose Law Firm. Rebsamen graduated with honors from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law where she was executive editor of the UALR Law Review.

Since taking office, Rutledge has reorganized the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the Public Protection Department to include sworn law enforcement officers, created the Military and Veterans Affairs Initiative, launched Attorney General Mobile Offices, started a series of Rutledge Roundtables being held in all 75 counties and plans to hire Arkansas’s first Solicitor General.

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Arrest of Chicot County Woman

Rutledge Announces Arrest of Chicot County Woman for Medicaid Fraud

Wed, Jul 1, 2015

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced the arrest of Tabitha Woods of Dermott by the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit on one charge of Medicaid Fraud, a Class B felony.

Woods, 43, was arrested in Dermott. She is accused of billing Medicaid for providing services for her mother while she was clocked in and working as a contract employee at the Arkansas Department of Correction Delta Regional Unit. Woods also billed Medicaid while her mother was admitted to a long-term care facility. Woods was transported to the Pulaski County Jail where bond was set at $250,000.

Medicaid fraud occurs when Medicaid providers use the Medicaid program to obtain money to which they are not entitled. Woods is awaiting trial.

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