Rutledge: Never Forgotten Event Helps Identify Missing Person’s RemainsTue, Dec 15, 2015
LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Kokes and Arkansas Crime Information Center Director Jay Winters today announced that the remains found in the Arkansas River last week were identified as belonging to Shequenia Burnett. The identification was made based on DNA samples given from family members at the Attorney General’s event to raise awareness for and help loved ones locate missing persons, Never Forgotten: Arkansas Takes Action.
Burnett’s family had provided DNA samples to the State Crime Lab at the 2014 and 2015 missing persons event.
“First and foremost, my heart goes out to Shequenia’s family,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “The grief they continue to feel is unimaginable. I remain hopeful that through the work of local law enforcement there will be justice for Shequenia and closure for her family. This closure would not be possible without the work of local law enforcement, and I commend their tireless efforts on these very difficult and emotional cases. I also hope that this discovery using DNA collected at the Never Forgotten event will encourage others with missing loved ones to attend next year’s event to provide samples and receive support from other families.”
“Thanks to the efforts of multiple Arkansas State Crime Lab employees, the remains of Shequenia Burnett were identified within days of their recovery,” said Dr. Kokes. “Without comparison of the DNA samples obtained at the Never Forgotten events, this would not have been possible.”
“We are appreciative of the Attorney General’s office for partnering with us and taking the lead on this so that we can collect these samples and help get these families closure,” said Winters.
Burnett of North Little Rock was reported missing on Jan. 15, 2014, after her mother, Sharon Jiles, had not heard from her daughter since Jan. 9.
The human leg belonging to Burnett was found on Saturday, Dec. 5 near the Big Dam Bridge in the Arkansas River. The Little Rock Police Department and the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office both responded after someone called police to report seeing the leg.
Rutledge hosted the fourth annual Never Forgotten event last June in partnership with the Crime Lab, state Medical Examiner and other agencies. Families of missing persons in Arkansas were invited to attend to provide DNA samples and information that could assist law enforcement in locating missing persons. Families provided DNA samples to be included in the national database, as well as police reports, photographs and dental records.
This is the second time that DNA collected at the annual Never Forgotten event has resulted in helping to identify a missing person’s remains. In Feb. 2013, authorities in Memphis determined that remains discovered in that city in 2011 were those of Tommy Lee Newingham of Earle, who had been missing for 12 years. Newingham’s death is being investigated as a homicide.
Information about the 2016 Never Forgotten event will be announced at a later date.
The North Little Rock Police Department is conducting the investigation into Burnett’s death. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the department at 501-758-1234.
Rutledge Joins Request for U.S. Supreme Court to Review EPA’s Runoff RegulationsFri, Dec 11, 2015
LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is part of a bipartisan group of 22 State attorneys general asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision that allows the EPA to usurp a State’s authority to regulate runoff from sources such as farmland.
Led by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the attorneys general have filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to hear the case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. The 3rd Circuit upheld the EPA's effort to impose a vast and expensive federal regulatory regime that micromanages nutrient and sediment runoff in States in and around the Chesapeake Bay region.
Under a deeply flawed interpretation of the plain language of the Clean Water Act, the EPA exceeded its authority to set a total maximum daily load for water pollutants in the region and unilaterally granted itself the power to make thousands of land-use decisions that have traditionally been, and should remain, State decisions.
“Under the Clean Water Act, it is clear that States retain exclusive authority to regulate in this manner,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “The EPA is once again exceeding its legal authority under the Clean Water Act and wants to micromanage how States meet federal water quality standards. If the EPA wishes to regulate these sources, it should seek authority from Congress to do so and should not act through unilateral regulations that violate the rights of States."
Attorney General Rutledge added that she joined the brief because “if the EPA’s unlawful conduct in the Chesapeake Bay region is allowed to persist, the EPA may have a clear path to take the same actions here in Arkansas or in this region."
The brief was filed in American Farm Bureau Federation, et al., v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, et al.
In the brief, the attorneys general write, “The Third Circuit’s decision allows the EPA to seize expansive authority at the expense of States’ traditional control over land management decisions, without a clear statement from Congress approving or authorizing such a disruption from the federal-state balance.”
In addition to Kansas and Arkansas, other states joining the brief included: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
A copy of the brief is available by clicking here.
Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs and Arkansas Attorney General launch Veterans Nonprofit Verification ServiceThu, Dec 10, 2015
LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA) in partnership with Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge unveiled “ADVA Verified” in a press conference at the state capitol Thursday afternoon.
The voluntary program verifies nonprofits who offer Veteran specific services are current with Arkansas filing requirements.
“As I have been hosting veteran roundtable meetings, one of the common themes I have heard involves the regulation of veteran advocacy and support organizations,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Arkansans have big hearts and are very generous, but they should be able to verify that their donation will be used for the intended purpose. Working with Director Snead, I am pleased that donors can now use the new ADVA Verified to help separate certified organizations from those that may be questionable.”
ADVA is committed to connecting public and private resources to Veterans across the state. ADVA Verified was created to ensure that those services connected are credible.
“ADVA Verified is another commitment filled through our agency’s first-ever strategic plan,” said Matt Snead, Director of ADVA, “It is designed to assist both Veterans and credible nonprofits, bringing more transparency and peace of mind to those who use those services.”
A two-page form will ensure that the charity has filed articles of incorporation with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office, has current registration with the Attorney General’s Office, and has a current IRS filing. It will also collect financial information, charitable purpose, services offered, locations, and contact information to share with Veterans seeking services.
The services of ADVA Verified nonprofits will be connected to Veterans through the ADVA website, social media, monthly newsletter and the Veteran service officer network. Transparency information on verified nonprofits will be available on ADVA’s website located at: Veterans.Arkansas.gov
ADVA Verified nonprofits will be able to display the ADVA Verified logo and communicate services through the statewide Veteran service officer network; reaching nearly 250,000 Veterans and their families.
While the program is voluntary, services of non-verified nonprofits will not be connected through ADVA outreach channels. The website will link those who wish to file a complaint against a nonprofit to the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division.
ADVA Verified does not imply state endorsement of a nonprofit.
Rutledge Announces Cabot Man Sentenced for Crimes Involving ChildrenWed, Dec 9, 2015
LONOKE – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced today that a Lonoke County man has been sentenced to 35 years in the Arkansas Department of Correction on child exploitation charges.
Jason Kurtz, 28, of Cabot pleaded guilty to 30 counts of distributing, possessing or viewing matter depicting sexually explicit conduct involving children. In addition to his prison sentence, Kurtz must register as a sex offender.
“These predators are dangerous to communities across Arkansas, and getting these criminals off our streets is a priority of this office,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “The Attorney General’s office Cyber Crimes Unit works closely with local prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement agencies to protect our children.”
Kurtz was arrested in February on a search warrant obtained by the Attorney General Special Investigations Division. An attorney from the Attorney General’s office was appointed by the 23rd District Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Graham as special deputy prosecutor. Judge Barbara Elmore sentenced Kurtz on Dec. 7 in Lonoke County Circuit Court.
Rutledge Roundtables Reach all 75 CountiesTue, Dec 8, 2015
TEXARKANA – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today held a Rutledge Roundtable in Texarkana with local business and community leaders. The stop in Miller County marks a milestone for Rutledge as she has held at least one roundtable with business, government and civic leaders in all 75 counties, listening to their concerns and discussing local issues.
“I strongly believe in face-to-face conversations,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Rutledge Roundtables help create an open dialogue in communities outside of Little Rock and allow me to hear firsthand what they want from their government. Since July, I have traveled approximately 12,000 miles to hear the concerns of Arkansans and to let them know the Attorney General’s office is here to help.”
Rutledge credits launching Rutledge Roundtables based off a lesson she learned during college when she spent her summers in Independence County flagging traffic for the State highway department. Rutledge says, “I noticed there was sometimes a disconnect between the engineers in the office and those of us on the road. As Attorney General, I do not want there to be a disconnect between those of us who work in the capital city and Arkansans who live in communities around our State.”
Roundtables were held today in Lewisville, Ashdown and Texarkana. In addition to discussing local issues, Rutledge gave an overview of the work at the Attorney General’s office over the last year.
The first Rutledge Roundtable was held in Jonesboro on April 17. Attorney General Rutledge has hosted 85 roundtables across the State with more than 700 participants and has traveled approximately 12,000 miles since July.
Kickback Allegations Resolved in Settlement with Novartis PharmaceuticalsMon, Dec 7, 2015
LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced that she has reached a settlement with Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. to resolve kickback claims. Novartis is accused of providing kickbacks to certain specialty pharmacies in exchange for recommending the drug Exjade to Medicaid and Medicare patients.
Under the settlement, Novartis has agreed to pay $390 million to the U.S. and more than 40 States. Arkansas is set to receive $612,961.60 as part of the settlement.
“Novartis used contests and threatening tactics to encourage select pharmacies to provide inaccurate information to patients to encourage the use of a drug they were marketing,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Patient health and well-being should always be the top priority for pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies. This settlement, which holds Novartis accountable, is the largest Medicaid fraud settlement of the year and will be deposited into the Arkansas Medicaid Program Trust Fund.”
Novartis, which is headquartered in New Jersey, is a subsidiary of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG. In late 2005, the drug Exjade was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of chronic iron overload due to blood transfusions; however, after launching the drug, Novartis marketed Exjade as a treatment for patients with a number of underlying conditions that affect blood cells or bone marrow, including beta-thalassemia, sickle cell disease and myelodysplastic syndromes.
Between 2007 and 2012, Novartis allegedly paid kickbacks to three specialty pharmacies – BioScrip, Accredo and US Bioservices. The pharmacies were selected by Novartis to be part of a closed distribution network through which most Exjade prescriptions in the U.S. were filled. The scheme began after Exjade failed to meet Novartis' internal sales goals and Novartis discovered that refill rates for Exjade were lower than anticipated. Novartis created a distribution network, which it called EPASS, that allowed them significant control over how many patient referrals each pharmacy received. The pharmacies would exaggerate the dangers of not taking Exjade, emphasize the benefits and downplay the severity of the side effects. The pharmacies billed themselves as specialty pharmacies that could arrange for these shipments and run educational programs for patients.
In the course of the scheme, Novartis pressured the specialty pharmacies by threatening to exclude them from the EPASS network or to reduce the number of patient referrals they received. Novartis also set up a contest in which the pharmacy that kept patients on Exjade the longest would receive additional patient referrals. In addition, Novartis also paid rebates to the specialty pharmacies, which made each patient referral valuable and incentivized the need to encourage patients to stay on the drug. The contest and the rebates were never disclosed to Exjade patients or their caregivers.
Despite concerns from their own legal team, Novartis went forward with the contest after it was determined that the benefits of the scheme outweighed the risk of violating the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.
To appease Novartis, all of the pharmacies put together plans to increase refill rates that included nurses placing phone calls to patients or caregivers. One pharmacy, BioScrip, told Novartis that BioScrip would make claims about Exjade preventing organ damage that the FDA had told Novartis it should not make in Novartis' promotional materials. Another pharmacy, Accredo, showed Novartis a call protocol that directed nurses to tell patients it was “extremely important” to take Exjade and to tell patients about the common side effects of the drug but not the more severe side effects, such as kidney or liver problems.
Novartis admitted many aspects of the scheme in a stipulation filed in federal court in connection with the settlement. Among other things, Novartis admitted that it indicated to BioScrip that it might terminate its distribution agreement or reduce the number of patient referrals it received. Similarly, Novartis admitted that it told Accredo and US Bioservices that Novartis might reduce the number of patient referrals that they received and “pushed” them to implement plans in which nurses would call patients and encourage them to stay on Exjade. Novartis also admitted that it used the scorecard results to allocate EPASS patients to the specialty pharmacies.
The settlement also resolved allegations that Novartis paid kickbacks to other specialty pharmacies to promote the drug Myfortic to doctors. Myfortic is an immunosuppressant that is approved for use in kidney transplant patients.
BioScrip Inc. and Accredo Health Group Inc. have already agreed to pay $15 million and $60 million, respectively, to resolve claims that they accepted kickbacks from Novartis to promote Exjade.
The settlements were negotiated by a team of States led by representatives from the Offices of the Attorneys General for California, Indiana, New York, Oklahoma, Washington and Wisconsin.