Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Nov 12 2019

The Ferguson File a monthly e-newsletter from attorney general bob ferguson

attorney general bob fergusonDear Friends,

October was another busy month! The assistant attorneys general in my office are the best team of assistant attorneys general in the country, and they never stop working on behalf of the people of Washington. Their work involves a wide breadth of issues affecting everyday Washingtonians ― from protecting workers to defeating the president to reducing the backlog of sexual assault kits.

To learn more about how my office is working for you, read on.

In this issue:

Thank you for following the work of the Attorney General’s Office.

Sincerely,

bob signature

Bob Ferguson
Washington State Attorney General


lab worker with test tube and lab instruments

Working to reduce the sexual assault kit backlog

In 2017, my office won its first grant, totaling $3 million, to fund Washington’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) program, part of a statewide initiative to end Washington’s rape kit backlog. That money is being used to create a comprehensive inventory of sexual assault kits in Washington, testing backlogged sexual assault kits and training to improve law enforcement’s response to survivors of sexual assault, among other things.

This month, my office won an additional $2.5 million in federal grants for the program. The office will use $1.5 million of this grant to test backlogged kits, train law enforcement and hire additional personnel to support my office’s SAKI team. The other $1 million will fund a new effort to add DNA profiles of thousands of convicted offenders across Washington — court-ordered DNA samples that still haven’t been collected — to the national DNA evidence database. This new DNA information will make it more likely for a newly tested sexual assault kit to result in a “hit,” connecting the DNA evidence from the kit to a known offender.

The funding we’ve won will help us to both continue to test backlogged evidence and start gathering DNA information on convicted criminals. This is an important step toward justice for sexual assault survivors.

 

Yakima Herald
State receives additional $2.5 million to help clear rape kit backlog

KUOW
DNA samples from an estimated 30,000 convicted felons missing in Washington state


woman placing foreclosure on for sale sign

Putting scammers out of business

With the real estate market booming, more and more foreclosure sales bring in more money than is owed on the mortgage. These additional funds are called surplus funds. In 2018, I filed a lawsuit against Real Estate Investment Network, LLC (REIN) asserting it charged excessive fees, often more than 50 percent of the surplus funds homeowners are entitled to following the foreclosure of their home, much more than the 5 percent allowed under Washington law.

In one example, REIN told a Buckley farmer his family was entitled to $44,000 from the foreclosure sale of their parent’s home. The company didn’t tell him that the sale made more than $134,000 in surplus funds.

Our office sought and received an injunction to stop REIN’s deceptive practices while our case progressed. Because of this injunction, REIN was not able to collect on its 16 contracts with consumers.

In a consent decree filed this month, REIN is legally required to stop the scheme and dissolve. The company also must pay up to $85,000 for scamming homeowners out of these surplus funds. My office will use the costs and fees recovered from this case toward further enforcement of the Consumer Protection Act.

My office will continue to be a watchdog for Washington consumers.

 

KING-5 News
Washington AG lawsuit shuts down company accused of preying on homeowners


 

mercurys coffee locations map

Stopping Mercurys Coffee’s use of unfair non-compete agreements

My office began investigating King County coffee chain Mercurys Coffee when we discovered that Mercurys required its hourly baristas to sign non-compete agreements. The restrictive agreements prevented employees from working at any coffee shop within 10 miles of a Mercurys Coffee location. For example, under these agreements a barista working at Mercurys’ Redmond location would need to drive at least 40 minutes to find another coffee shop where they were allowed to work. The prohibition lasted for 18 months after leaving the company.

I announced this month that to avoid a lawsuit, Mercurys will void all of its existing non-compete agreements and can no longer require hourly baristas to sign them. Additionally, the company must pay $50,000 to reimburse my office for the costs associated with the investigation.

Non-compete agreements targeting low-wage, hourly employees give companies an unfair advantage at the expense of workers. Any company that makes their employees sign unfair contracts should expect to hear from my office.
 

MyNorthwest
Seattle area coffee chain barred former baristas from working at nearby cafes

KING-5 News
King Co. coffee chain must void 'unfair' non-compete agreements with all employees


 

united states capitol building

Sharing the success of the AGO’s anti-no-poach initiative

Since my office’s investigation of the use of so-called “no-poach” clauses began less than two years ago, we have secured an end to these unfair practices at 155 chains nationwide. Those 155 chains include restaurants, cleaning services, gyms and more, and represent millions of workers at more than 160,000 locations across the U.S.

An assistant attorney general in my office shared this success with Congress this month. His testimony to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law provided some background on our work and the importance of eliminating these clauses to benefit Washington workers. During the testimony, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal praised the “excellent work that our Washington State Attorney General’s Office is doing specifically to end no-poaching provisions in franchise agreements,” and called the initiative our antitrust division’s “very successful example.”

My goal is to end no-poach practices. Period. We won’t stop until every corporate franchise with a significant presence in Washington eliminates these clauses nationwide.


 

statue of liberty at sunrise

Blocking President Trump’s anti-immigrant rule targeting lawfully present immigrant families

On Oct. 11, we obtained a ruling blocking the Trump Administration from implementing its cruel changes to the “public charge” rule nationwide while our lawsuit progresses. To grant the injunction, the judge found that Washington and other states have a substantial likelihood of winning the case, and that if the changes go into effect, the states are likely to suffer irreparable harm.

Under long-standing law and policies, a public charge is an individual whose survival depends upon a specific public benefit ― cash assistance ― or who is institutionalized for long-term care at government expense.

Earlier this year, my office co-led a challenge to a new public charge rule. The Administration is seeking to expand the definition of a public charge to any individual who uses or is predicted to use a broad range of federal assistance for housing, food or health care at any time in the future. Under the changes, if an immigrant who is legally in the country uses benefits to which he or she is entitled ― such as food assistance to feed their U.S. citizen children or housing assistance ― even for a short time, the federal government may revoke their legal status, or even deport them.

The Administration’s action plays on untrue and harmful stereotypes. According to the libertarian Cato Institute, not only are eligible immigrants less likely to receive welfare benefits, when they do, they tend to use those benefits less than native-born adults.

Thanks to the decision to block the rule, children of lawfully present immigrants will not go hungry or lose their homes as a result of the Trump Administration’s heartless action. We will continue to stand up for these families and fight this unlawful, un-American policy.
 

KNKX
Federal judge in Eastern Washington blocks the Trump administration's 'public charge' rule

The Spokesman-Review
Spokane judge blocks Trump rule restricting immigration for people who need government help

CNN
Three federal judges hit Trump on immigration policy changes


 

pill bottle with pills spilling out on table

Ensuring drug companies don’t put profits over people

As a result of a Medicaid fraud investigation by Washington and other states, opioid manufacturer and distributor Reckitt Benckiser Group will pay nearly $2.2 million to Washington’s Medicaid program. Our investigation asserted that the company improperly kept the price of opioid addiction treatment drug Suboxone high by delaying generic versions, resulting in false or fraudulent claims to Washington’s Medicaid program.

Washington’s Medicaid program processed approximately 46,000 Suboxone claims between 2010 and 2014, the timeframe covered by the allegations. Medicaid is jointly funded by the state and federal governments, so around half of the $2.2 million must go back to the federal government for administration of Medicaid in Washington state.

Opioid addiction is an epidemic in Washington state and around the country. We will continue to hold drug companies accountable for the damage they caused and their willingness to put profits over people.

KIRO 7 News
Drug maker to pay Washington state nearly $2.2 million as part of fraud investigation


 

graduates wearing red hats and gowns

Having trouble with public service loan forgiveness? I want to know about it

In 2007, the federal government created the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, or PSLF, to relieve the burden of student loan debt for borrowers who choose to pursue a career in public service. Through PSLF, anyone who works in public service, makes on-time payments on their student loan debt for 10 years and meets other program requirements can have the remainder of their federal student loans forgiven.

For a decade, these borrowers in PSLF have upheld their part of the bargain by using their talent and skills for the public benefit. However, according to the U.S. Department of Education, it has only approved 1 percent of applications for loan forgiveness under the program.

This is frankly alarming. If you have had trouble with your public service loan forgiveness, please reach out to my office by submitting a complaint.
 

The Seattle Times
Having trouble getting your student loan forgiven? Washington state’s attorney general wants to hear from you


 

cleaning supplies - spray bottles with bucket and sponges

Defending workers against wage theft

Early this month, my office filed felony criminal charges against two former Auburn residents, alleging they failed to pay more than $33,000 in wages to 24 employees of their house cleaning businesses.

The two individuals co-owned Advanced Cleaning Solutions and Washington Cleaning Solutions, providing cleaning services to residents in King County. Homeowners purchased cleaning services from the companies, which in turn hired house cleaners to perform the work at an hourly rate.

In June 2017, the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) began receiving complaints about the company failing to pay employees for their services. L&I referred the matter to my office.

My office alleges the couple failed to pay workers their wages and, at times, gave workers checks that could not be cashed. In addition to potential time in jail, the co-owners face thousands of dollars in fines, as well as restitution, and repayment of unpaid premiums to L&I with interest.


 

i voted stickers on top of money

Upholding state campaign finance laws

Our state campaign finance laws require reporting to the state Public Disclosure Commission  (PDC) so voters know who is influencing their elections.

This October, the PDC referred a repeat offender of our campaign finance laws, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, to my office. I filed a lawsuit against the Freedom Foundation, asserting that it paid its staff to engage in opposition to an Olympia ballot proposition, but failed to report these independent expenditures to the PDC, as required by law.

The conduct in today’s case is similar to a 2016 campaign finance case against the Freedom Foundation, where the organization failed to timely report independent expenditures, and paid a judgment of $8,660. A 2015 campaign finance case based on similar conduct went up to the State Supreme Court, which also ruled in favor of my office.

In failing to report in-kind contributions to the PDC, the Freedom Foundation denied the public access to information regarding the source of funding for the opposition campaign. The Freedom Foundation needs to start following the law.


 

bob ferguson with group of rotarians

Working across Washington

  • I had the honor of joining the Snoqualmie Tribe as it celebrated its 20th anniversary of gaining full re-recognition from the federal government. I admire the Snoqualmie’s long history of civil rights and environmental advocacy, and my office will continue to work with them to ensure Washington’s people and natural resources are protected.
  • One of my goals as Attorney General has been to visit every Rotary club in the state. With visits to the Spokane Valley Sunrise and Ephrata Rotary clubs, I came one step closer to that goal: I have visited every Rotary club in Eastern Washington at least once. I always enjoy the chance to speak with community members and hear about the issues they face. I can’t wait to meet members of the remaining clubs west of the mountains.
  • While in the Spokane area, I had the chance to speak to students and community members at both Gonzaga University and Washington State University. I appreciate the opportunity to share the work of our office and meet the future leaders of our state.
  • Our office often partners with AARP to provide the latest trends on and tips for dealing with scammers. This October, AARP invited me to a tele-town hall with thousands of people from across the state. I enjoyed sharing tips on how consumers can protect themselves against the scam robocalls that millions of Washingtonians receive each year.
  • Finally, I was proud to join the Washington Federation of State Employees to discuss the future of public sector unions and how my office supports Washington workers.

 

Moscow-Pullman Daily News
Foley Institute welcomes Washington attorney general and human rights advocate

The Daily Evergreen
Ferguson speaks on immigration

Los Angeles Times
By his count, Washington attorney general hasn’t lost a case against Trump yet


 

 
 

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