A jury returned a guilty verdict and sentence of 40 years for Jovan Miles' crime of human trafficking. This case marks the important first human trafficking conviction in Nueces County's fight against human exploitation. Human Trafficking Prosecutor Kirsta Leeburg Melton, from the Office of CWAG Associate Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, assisted in the prosecution. Miles is guilty of the continuous human trafficking of a 15-year-old girl in Corpus Christi and Houston. Over a period of two months in 2015 Miles trafficked the minor utilizing the classified listings website Backpage.com. "Human trafficking is an egregious crime, and cases like this one are the very reason my office has launched a section dedicated to combating it," said General Paxton.
INTERNET SAFETY INITIATIVE
CWAG Associate Attorney General Brad Schimel of Wisconsin announced his office has launched a new tool this week for parents, grandparents, guardians, educators, and others concerned about internet safety. The Protect Kids Online Podcast is a biweekly production featuring information about the trends and updates on the latest smartphone apps, websites, and online activity of children 17 years of age and younger. "The internet is a tool that provides society great opportunities for education, progress, and efficiency, but it also provides child predators easy access to our children," said General Schimel. "The new Protect Kids Online Podcast will give parents and guardians the information they need to stay a step ahead of their children and the criminals preying on them."
CWAG Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum of Oregon announced that she has submitted proposed legislation to begin the process of cleaning up the state's public records laws. "I am pleased with this first step toward an overdue reform of Oregon's public records laws," General Rosenblum said. The proposed legislation tackles three major policy areas: 1) Creating clear time frames for responses to public records requests; 2) making sense of more than 500 exemptions spread out among Oregon laws that currently prevent disclosure of otherwise public documents; and 3) developing a strong policy statement that would encourage courts and public officials to favor public access to the work of our government. The task force will continue working on important public records issues, including the cost of obtaining public records.
CWAG Associate Attorney General Bill Sorrell of Vermont is leading a sixteen state coalition that filed Public Comments with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) in which the coalition urged DOJ to expand the allowed uses for funds allocated to the states under a proposed partial settlement between the United States, the State of California and Volkswagen. The settlement (Partial Consent Decree) requires Volkswagen to pay $2.7 billion into a trust which the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Indian Tribes may use for mitigation projects designed to reduce nitrogen oxide ("NOx") emissions. Vermont's share of the funds is $17.8 million. "We commend DOJ, EPA and the State of California for obtaining Volkswagen's commitment to get its unlawful 2.0 liter vehicles off the road and to mitigate the vehicles' excess NOx emissions," said General Sorrell. "However, we have requested that certain changes be made before the settlement is approved by the federal court to broaden the list of projects eligible for funding and ease funding restrictions. Those changes will allow the States to use the trust funds most effectively to reduce NOx emissions and help meet important clean air policy goals."
After a seven-day trial in a civil law enforcement action brought by CWAG Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman of Colorado, judge found that Colorado foreclosure lawyer, Robert J. Hopp, and his law firms and title companies, violated consumer protection laws in a scheme to charge false and misleading costs for title insurance policies on 2,291 foreclosures. "Lawyers abusing the foreclosure process to enrich their private bank accounts is a practice that undermines citizen's faith in the legal profession," said General Coffman. "The substantial penalties imposed by the court are just, and should serve as a strong deterrent to anyone else who wants to prey on homeowners struggling to keep a roof over their family's heads." The judge imposed penalties of $2,291,000 ($1,000 per foreclosure) for violating the Colorado Consumer Protection Act and $1,374,600 ($600 per foreclosure) for violating the Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The $3.6M in penalties was reduced to $1.8M due to a statutory maximum penalty cap. The court also awarded the Attorney General attorney's fees and costs incurred in prosecuting the case, which will be added to the $1.8M in penalties.
CWAG Attorney General Doug Chin of Hawaii announced that a state circuit judge ruled that online travel companies, including Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotwire, and others, must pay Hawaii's general excise tax on certain rental car transactions in Hawaii. The State had issued tax assessments of general excise taxes, interest, and penalties to online travel companies for failing to file tax returns and pay general excise taxes for tax years 2000 through 2012. The court upheld tax assessments on gross receipts from online travel car rentals not sold as part of a travel or tour package with other services like airline or hotel reservations. The Court also ruled that under a special provision in Hawaii's general excise tax law for tourism related services, these companies owe general excise taxes on their net receipts from car rental transactions that were included in a travel or tour package sold to consumers. The final amount of taxes, penalties, and interest to be collected by the State is yet to be determined but is expected to be in the millions of dollars.
Bitfinex, the digital-currency exchange that lost $65 million to hackers last week, plans to spread the losses among all its users, including those not directly affected by the hack. The Hong Kong-based digital-currency exchange said in a statement that the losses from the theft would be shared, or "generalized across all accounts and assets" of its clients, with each taking a loss of around 36%.
"Upon logging into the platform, customers will see that they have experienced a generalized loss percentage of 36.067%," it said, adding that the company would soon share a fuller accounting of its computation of the losses. "This is the closest approximation to what would happen in a liquidation context."
As Bitfinex, the digital-currency exchange that suffered a hack this past week, struggles to reopen, a wider question is again being asked about bitcoin: Is it really a better mousetrap? Bitcoin has lost 12% of its value this week, according to bitcoin tracker CoinDesk. The exchange was forced to halt operations and is working to retrace the theft and recover the funds. A spokesman for the exchange said it expects to reopen the site on a limited basis on Friday. For the bitcoin industry and investors curious about it, a more fundamental question is emerging: Has bitcoin's original premise been compromised? The idea was to give society a secure currency that couldn't be tampered with by governments or banks. But for the general public, it looks like bitcoin and the army of anonymous technologists behind it can't guarantee funds are secure. That is a problem for a platform striving for mainstream acceptance. "It's an understatement to say this doesn't help," said Jerry Brito, the director of Washington-based Coin Center, a digital-currency advocacy group.