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Posts tagged: Lawrence Wasden

Three Treasure Valley businesses agree to cease Idaho operations in consumer protection case

Owners of three businesses that duped Idahoans on everything from satellite TV systems to vendor spaces at events to fake college credits have agreed to cease all operations in Idaho, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced today, under agreements with the attorney general's Consumer Protection Division. The three are Geo Marketing, LLC, of Boise; Kasey Thompson, of Boise, and Philip Braun, owner of the bankrupt Caldwell-based Canyon College of Idaho, Inc. Click below for Wasden's full announcement.

New UI law scholarship endowed in honor of Wasden for anti-tobacco work

The American Legacy Foundation, a national anti-smoking group founded as part of a nationwide tobacco settlement, has donated $350,000 to the University of Idaho to establish a scholarship program at the College of Law in honor of Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. The new Lawrence G. Wasden Scholars Program will benefit law students interested in legal and policy dimensions of public health issues related to tobacco and substance abuse; the first scholarship will be awarded in the fall of 2015.

Wasden, who is Idaho’s longest-serving attorney general, has served on the board of the foundation and has been active with the National Association of Attorneys General in its work on the tobacco settlement, including chairing its tobacco committee. Robin Koval, CEO and president of the foundation, said, “We’re proud that this program will carry on General Wasden’s tireless anti-tobacco work and create a legacy of longer, healthier lives as a result.”

Mark Adams, dean and professor at the UI College of Law, called Wasden’s work on the national tobacco settlement issue “incredible,” and said the college is “honored” to recognize Wasden, a UI law grad. “Generations of law students and the communities they serve will benefit from the educational opportunities available as a result of this new program,” Adams said. He said the Wasden Scholars Program will be the “cornerstone” of the law school's educational offerings in public health.

Many Idahoans likely to qualify for payments under DRAM settlement, deadline approaching…

Many Idahoans who bought products containing DRAM, or dynamic random access memory chips, between 1998 and 2002 are due a refund thanks to a price-fixing settlement, according to Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, but the Aug. 1 deadline for filing claims is past approaching. DRAM typically is either sold separately or pre-installed in electronic devices such as computers, servers, graphics cards, video game consoles, MP3 players, printers, PDAs, DVD players, and digital video recorders. The minimum refund for people who submit qualifying claims is $10; click below for more information.

Aggressive callers target Idahoans in ‘IRS agent’ scam

Idahoans increasingly are being targeted by a scam in which aggressive callers claim to be IRS agents and threaten arrest, liens, and even “bodily harm” if the victims don’t pay up immediately, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden reported today. “We’ve seen steady reporting of the IRS scam in the last few months,” Wasden said, as he released the annual report of his Consumer Protection Division – which received more than 800 complaints over the past year and recovered $1.9 million in restitution for wronged consumers. “The best response is to simply hang up on these crooks.”

Jennifer Pedregon of Boise, shown here, said she heard her parents’ answering machine receive a call from what sounded like a real IRS agent – including badge number and phone number to call back – saying her dad owed taxes and needed to get back to the “agent,” “otherwise further legal action would be taken within eight to 10 days.” She was concerned, but then her cell phone rang, and she received an identical call, this time threatening her rather than her father. “I realized that that was probably not a legitimate IRS agent,” Pedregon said.

Deana DuVall of Meridian got a message on her answering machine from a heavily accented caller claiming to be an IRS agent and demanding a call back on her husband’s case. When she returned the call, the man demanded her phone number; she declined. “He started yelling at me,” she said. “He said, “We will have your husband arrested in 45 minutes – we’re coming.” The man called back later that afternoon, DuVall said. “We knew it had to be fraud. But it was scary, because they knew personal things about my husband and me – we don’t know how.” Both women filed complaints with the Attorney General’s office.  

Some of the scammers have managed to mask their phone numbers so it looks like the calls come from toll-free IRS numbers; some have correctly given the last four digits of the intended victim’s Social Security number. Brett DeLange, head of the office’s Consumer Protection Division, said, “The IRS is not going to call you and say you owe money. … That’s just not how they do business. You’re going to get a notice in the mail.” He said, “The most important message is hang up, and the sooner the better – don’t talk to these people. They’re criminals.”

Idaho has been receiving steady reports of the scam statewide in recent months, though it’s been around for several years, DeLange said. It’s among an array of consumer-protection issues the office addresses. Among the highlights of the past year for the office was the successful federal antitrust lawsuit rejecting the purchase of Saltzer Medical Group by St. Luke’s Health System; that ruling is now on appeal. The division also has recovered millions for Idahoans in cases involving everything from e-books to pharmaceutical pricing to discount clubs.

Wasden said the nearly $2 million in recoveries for Idaho consumers amounts to $2.72 for each taxpayer dollar appropriated for consumer operations in 2014. The full Consumer Protection Division annual report, released today, is online here.

Wasden appeals Medicaid reimbursement case to the U.S. Supreme Court

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a lawsuit the state lost over Medicaid provider reimbursement rates for services to the developmentally disabled, contending both the U.S. District Court in Idaho and the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals erred when they ruled against the state. 

The lawsuit, first filed in 2009 by five service providers, contended that Idaho's Department of Health & Welfare was wrong to keep reimbursement rates at 2006 levels when studies showed the cost of providing services was going up. The courts agreed and ordered increases in reimbursement rates that last year cost the state $12 million. “We’re asking the Supreme Court to take up this case because the 9th Circuit’s decision incorrectly permits private parties to interfere with the administration of the state’s Medicaid program and the Legislature’s choices regarding that program,” Wasden said in a news release. “As it stands now, the 9th Circuit’s decision creates enormous administrative and financial consequences for Idaho and every other state in the circuit.”

The U.S. Supreme Court takes up only a tiny portion of the appeals it receives; click below for Wasden's full announcement.

National settlement will bring relief to 220 Idahoans who lost homes to foreclosure

Idaho has joined 48 states and the federal government in a settlement with SunTrust Mortgage over home loan and foreclosure abuses; under the settlement, the company will make direct payments to 220 Idaho borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure between 2008 and 2013. Click below for the full announcement from Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

GOP unity short-lived, as Troupis withdraws endorsement of Wasden

Less than a week after the Idaho Republican Party gathered for a “unity” rally on the steps of the state Capitol, where vanquished challengers pledged to support the primary election victors and move forward as a united party, the proclaimed unity already is splintering. Christ Troupis said today that he’s withdrawing his endorsement of GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, to whom he lost the primary, 59 percent to 40 percent – an endorsement Troupis announced at the unity rally. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Troupis said he changed his mind about the endorsement after learning that Democratic nominee Bruce Bistline said he won’t actively campaign, because his differences with Wasden are “fairly nominal,” but that he would have actively campaigned if the GOP nominee had been Troupis, with whom he said his differences are “legion.”

Troupis said, “I’d really like some assurances from Mr. Wasden that he’s not in line with the Democratic candidate for Attorney General. If they’re on the same page, then I feel pretty stupid endorsing basically a Democrat.” He added, “Now, if Mr. Wasden does have differences, significant differences, and he can point those out to me, then I’d be happy to reconsider.” Troupis said, “I’m just wanting to be consistent philosophically with my positions. But as a practical matter, he’s not opposed, so he’s going to win. So everybody will probably just ignore it. It makes me feel better.”

Troupis said, “I don’t think the unity rally was any kind of a sham. We’re trying to support the party. I think I have a different vision for where the party ought to be.”

Dem candidate for Attorney General drops campaign plans, as Troupis endorses Wasden

Now that Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has handily defeated GOP primary challenger C.T. “Chris” Troupis, the Democratic candidate for Attorney General, Boise attorney Bruce Bistline, says he no longer plans to actively campaign for the post. “I filed on the last day,” Bistline told Eye on Boise today. “I detest the fact that that kind of a decision, between Troupis and Wasden, could be made during the Republican primary with no alternative for the voters who are not part of the closed Republican primary. And while I would probably never have bothered to run against Wasden, because my differences with him are fairly nominal, my differences with Troupis are legion. I saw no alternative but to file to provide a choice in the general election, in the event that Troupis won the primary.”

Bistline said he doesn’t plan to withdraw, but won’t actively campaign unless something dramatic happens. “If something happened ad Wasden was unable to run and they appointed Troupis to run in his place, I’d be right back in it again,” he said. “So I can’t rule out the possibility that circumstances would draw me back in, but the circumstances which drew me in in the first instance are resolved now.”

Troupis, for his part, today endorsed Wasden. At a Republican unity rally on the steps of the state Capitol, Troupis said, “I want to see him be the next attorney general. We need to have a Republican attorney general in the state of Idaho if we are to preserve our independence and sovereignty.”

Wasden files brief, says state would be harmed if marriage ruling wasn’t stayed, then was overturned on appeal

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has filed a response brief with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, pressing for his motion to stay the change in Idaho’s marriage laws until appeals have been completed. Wasden responds to arguments from lawyers for four same-sex couples who urged the 9th Circuit not to stay the ruling. U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale issued the ruling Tuesday, declaring Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and ordering the state to permit same-sex marriages starting Friday at 9 a.m. The 9th Circuit has now issued a temporary stay, delaying that, while it considers motions from Wasden and Gov. Butch Otter to hold off on the change while the federal court decision is appealed.

Wasden argues that the U.S. Supreme Court’s order staying the effect of a decision overturning Utah’s same-sex marriage ban was “an unmistakable signal by the Supreme Court that lower federal courts should not disrupt the status quo through intrusive injunctive relief.” He also argues that there are ways the state could be harmed if there’s no stay, but the decision later is overturned on appeal, because the state would process everything from tax returns to worker’s compensation spousal benefits under the ruling, and then would have to figure out how to undo those things. All those take “significant public resources to administer,” he argued. You can read the 7-page brief here.

Wasden, Troupis face off in pointed debate on statewide TV

Challenger C.T. “Chris” Troupis came out swinging against Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden tonight as the two met in a televised debate, accusing the third-term official of being “weak” and having “lost his way.” “Perhaps decades ago, he had the right vision, but his weak actions show that he’s been caputured by the immense power of office,” Troupis declared. “Time and again he’s chosen to side with the government rather than the people.”

Wasden, like Troupis a Republican, countered, “It’s important to distinguish between rhetoric and reality. You need to have an Attorney General who will tell you what you need to know, rather than what you want to hear. The one who will tell you the whole story, not just the part that can be manipulated to one’s political advantage.”

Troupis pressed for repeal of Obamacare, taking over federal lands within Idaho, and limiting all of Idaho’s state endowment land investments to timber land. But Wasden said none of those are within the legal or constitutional power of Idaho’s Attorney General.

“This is in fact a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” Wasden said. “There are two factions, and to not recognize that is to not understand what is really going on here. There are some mainstream, rational folks, and there are some folks that are on the edge, and that’s just how it is. And so I do hope that the rational thought comes through. … That is the context in which this election is occurring.” Troupis countered, “I think I’m right in the mainstream.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Tonight’s debate was the first in a series of nine “Idaho Debates” leading up to the May 20 primary election; on Friday night, candidates for state controller will face off at 8 p.m., and for state treasurer at 8:30. The Idaho Debates are co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho.

Wasden: ‘Fight for heart and soul of the Republican Party’

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says this year’s primary election in Idaho has brought “a bigger fight,” saying, “I think it’s a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.” “There are people like me who read the Constitution and believe we should do what the Constitution says; there are other folks who kind of think that they should follow a certain set of philosophical viewpoints,” Wasden told The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board on Friday.

“The rational Republicans want to sit down and read the Constitution and do what it says,” Wasden declared. Wasden is Idaho’s longest-serving state attorney general; he’s seeking a fourth term, and faces a challenge in the primary from Boise attorney C.T. “Chris” Troupis, the lawyer who represented the Idaho Republican Party in its successful lawsuit against the state to close the GOP primary to anyone other than registered Republicans; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Wasden: Idahoans eligible for payments from computer chip settlement

Idahoans who bought computers or other electronic devices containing DRAM chips from 1998 to 2002 may be eligible for payments from a legal settlement announced today by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. The case involved price fixing by manufacturers of the chips; Idaho and other states have reached a $310 million settlement with the chip-makers.

“I am pleased the manufacturers worked with the states to reach an agreement that appropriately addresses our concerns and resolves this matter on behalf of Idaho consumers,” Wasden said. “Idaho’s governments, businesses and consumers spent significant amounts of money on products that contain DRAM. When those costs are inflated by unlawful anti-competitive practices, as we have alleged in this case, we have a duty to help consumers recover their money.” Click below for Wasden’s full announcement.

Taxpayers have spent $18M on private attorneys in 3 years, due to understaffing of AG’s office

Idaho taxpayers have paid private attorneys more than $18 million in the past three years to do the state's legal work, in large part because the Idaho Attorney General's office doesn't have the staff to handle the caseload, the AP reports. The Associated Press obtained the payment information through a public-records request to the Idaho State Controller's office. It shows that Idaho government agencies have paid private law firms more than $18 million since fiscal year 2011, including about $3 million for attorneys who serve as administrative hearing officers. The private law firms charge the state anywhere from $125 to more than $400 an hour, compared to the $54 per hour it costs to have one of the state's staff attorneys do the job. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has either asked lawmakers for permission to add staffers to his department or warned them that the state's legal staff is dangerously underfunded every year since 2005; click below for the full report from AP reporters John Miller and Rebecca Boone.

Note: The figures in this story have been corrected from an earlier version.

Settlement will bring Idaho borrowers mortgage principal reductions, cash payments

Idaho borrowers will get mortgage principal reductions or, for some, cash payments under a legal settlement announced today by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Ocwen Financial Corporation of Atlanta, Georgia, and its subsidiary, Ocwen Loan Servicing, agreed to the $2.1 billion settlement with Idaho, 48 other states, the District of Columbia, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for violations including premature and unauthorized foreclosures, use of false and deceptive documents, “robo-signing” and more.

“The improper practices found in the Ocwen case were similar to those we saw in our other mortgage servicer enforcement cases,” Wasden said.  “The Ocwen settlement is a continuation of our civil law enforcement effort to hold servicers accountable and ensure that they comply with applicable law in their treatment of borrowers.” Click below for his full announcement.

Attorney General warns of donation scam targeting Idaho non-profits

Idaho non-profits are being targeted in an overpayment scam, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden warns. Typically, the scammer makes a very large donation to the non-profit online, like $5,000, then contacts the organization to say the large donation was a mistake - intended, for example, to have been $500 - and asks for a refund of the difference. Non-profits taken in by the scam end up without either the “refund” or the original donation. “My office has warned individual Idahoans for a number of years to be wary of offers to overpay for advertised goods or services,” Wasden said. “More recently, we have received reports of a variation on that theme targeting non-profits that receive donations online.” Wasden today issued a “consumer alert” warning Idaho non-profits about the scam; click below for his full announcement.

Drug settlement brings Idaho $1.3M

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Big pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson is paying $1.3 million to Idaho as part of a multi-billion-dollar national settlement over allegations it illegally promoted an antipsychotics drug. The Idaho attorney general's office announced the deal with the company's Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit on Monday. It resolves allegations that Janssen unlawfully induced doctors and pharmacists to promote and prescribe Risperdal, a drug approved by the federal government for adults with mental illnesses starting in 1993. In total, Johnson & Johnson is paying over $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil allegations the company promoted powerful psychiatric drugs for unapproved uses in children, seniors and disabled patients. The agreement is the third-largest U.S. settlement with a drug maker and the latest in several actions against drug companies allegedly putting profits ahead of patients.

Idahoans targeted for bogus club memberships get refunds under settlement

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says a Connecticut company has agreed to pay more than 7,000 Idahoans restitution as part of a settlement over bogus club memberships. The settlement announced Thursday comes in a case brought by Idaho and 46 other states against Affinion and its subsidiary companies. The refunds are part of a $32 million settlement with the company, which was accused of tricking consumers into signing up and paying for discount clubs and memberships. Wasden estimates there are 7,600 members of such clubs in Idaho. Wasden estimates that Idahoans affiliated with the clubs and memberships will be eligible to receive an estimated $500,000. Affinion and its subsidiaries operated multiple discount clubs and membership programs, with names such as Buyer Assurance, Complete Savings, HealthSaver and PrivacyGuard. The clubs offered services like credit monitoring, roadside assistance and discounted travel. Consumers eligible for a refund will be notified by Affinion, Trilegiant and Webloyalty. Those who believe they are eligible but receive no notice from those companies can file a complaint with the Attorney General.

Wasden says he’ll seek re-election as attorney general in 2014

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says he’ll seek a fourth term in 2014; he told Idaho State Journal reporter Jimmy Hancock, “Every day is an interesting ride, and we are going to keep going. I intend to run for re-election.”

Wasden has been Idaho’s attorney general since first being elected to the post in 2002; he won re-election in 2006 and 2010. Though he’s been rumored as a future candidate for higher office, Wasden said he’s still enjoying his job and wants to keep doing it. “Every day is a challenge, every day is different,” he said. See the State Journal’s report here.

Idaho recovers $28M, wins reforms in litigation over Medicaid drug pricing

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced today that the state has recovered more than $28 million, as a result of six years of litigation regarding overcharging by major drug manufacturers who sold prescription drugs to Idaho’s Medicaid program. Idaho has settled with 33 drug companies – three of those without litigation – and also won price disclosure concessions Wasden says will prevent such improperly inflated price reporting in future years. “In negotiating these settlements, we tried to look forward as well as backward,” Wasden said. “We recovered a significant amount of money to compensate the state for past practices. But equally as important, the state will receive pricing data from these companies going forward. That element of the settlements will help protect the taxpayers from future pricing abuses.” That data would otherwise have been confidential.

Until July 1, 2011, prescription drug prices paid by Idaho’s Medicaid program relied on companies’ reports of the “average wholesale price,” or AWP, as a basis for determining the acquisition cost to pharmacies. Wasden said, “One of them indicated that ‘AWP’ stands for ‘ain’t what’s paid.’”

While other states also have sued drug manufacturers over the issue, Wasden took a different approach, first calling all of them in for a meeting. As a result, three settlements were reached without the state even having to sue. The litigation led to reforms in how drug pricing for Medicaid is calculated, which state Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong said are now “saving over $10 million a year for the citizens of Idaho,” saying Idaho has now “completely changed the way drugs are priced and paid for” through its Medicaid program.

Because the federal government pays 70 percent of the costs of Medicaid in Idaho, which provides health coverage for the state’s poorest and disabled residents, the feds will get $13.56 million of the recovery, in the form of credits against future federal Medicaid payments to Idaho. The state’s share of the settlements, $7.2 million, was deposited in the state’s general fund for appropriation by the Legislature. The rest of the money went to cover the costs of the investigations and litigation; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Wasden filed the first lawsuits in 2007; the first settlements were reached in 2005, 2006 and 2008, and the last one, with Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. for $750,000, was reached last month.

Political fireworks fly at Land Board over school endowment distribution

Political fireworks flew at the state Land Board this morning, as, for the second time in five years, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna sought to increase the endowment distribution to public schools beyond the recommendation of the Endowment Fund Investment Board. The board is recommending fiscal year 2015 distribution increases to seven of the eight endowments, but not to the largest – public schools – instead holding schools at the $31 million distribution level it’s been held at for several years. The reason: Since the 2010 board decision to give schools a one-time additional $22 million distribution, the reserve fund for the schools hasn’t met the goal of five years worth of payments; it’s now just over three years, and dropped to two years after the 2010 extra payment.

But Luna said the recommendation means departing from the board’s policy of distributing 5 percent of the three-year rolling average of the endowment to the schools each year, and would drop schools next year to about a 4 percent distribution.  Aside from the $22 million one-time boost, schools have been held at the $31 million level for five years now, Luna said, even as the number of public school students has grown by 15,000.

“We’ve never had to reduce the balance of the reserve in order to meet distributions,” Luna argued. “And we just went through the worst recession that I think we’ve seen. And now we see a recovery. So I would argue that we should distribute the 5 percent of the rolling three-year average, per our policy. We still increase the amount in reserve in the years going forward. … It would mean an increase in the distribution of about $5.6 million.”

Luna said school districts are suffering now. “I guess what concerns me is that while we’re building our reserve, school districts are depleting theirs, and … many of them have no reserves left at all. They literally go from state distribution to state distribution.”

Luna made a motion to grant the increase, but it died for lack of a second. Gov. Butch Otter said he just heard Luna’s proposal last night. “I’d like to see us delay it at least until the September board meeting,” he said. Luna responded, “I did sent you a letter Friday – I know you were putting out fires.” (You can read Luna's letter here, obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law.)

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said, “A number of years ago we addressed this issue, and really, it was part of a political ambush that was unleashed on the Land Board. And at that time my view was that we needed to send this matter to the Endowment Fund Investment Board for their analysis and report back to us.” Wasden said for the Land Board to exercise its fiduciary duty to the endowment, as required by the state Constitution, it’s incumbent on the board to get the investment board’s input before making such a decision.

Secretary of State Ben Ysursa recalled “the way we agonized over the $22 million,” and noted that the 2010 extra payment was actually his motion – Luna had wanted more than twice that amount. “I reiterated that was a one-time deviation from the recommendation of the endowment fund,” Ysursa said. “That term ‘one-time’ continues to stick in my mind. But I think the superintendent has raised some good points.” He noted that the 2010 decision was a tense 3-2 vote.

Luna responded, “If I understand the motion, maybe not all the rhetoric that went with it, it’s that we will approve the distributions for all but public schools, and public schools we will set a distribution at our September meeting.” Wasden responded, “That is correct.”

Luna said he’s proposing sticking to the state policy, regarding a 5 percent distribution of the rolling three-year average, not violating it. But Ysursa noted that there’s also a policy targeting 5 years worth of distributions as the reserve level. “We’ve got two competing policies, is what’s going on,” he said.

The board then voted unanimously for Wasden’s motion, putting off the decision on the public school distribution to its September meeting.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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