RICHMOND – Attorney General Mark R. Herring on Thursday announced that his office has taken legal action against two deceptive charitable organizations that he believes have conned Virginians by falsely promising their donations would help veterans, when the money really went to benefit those operating the so-called charities.
Herring filed suit against Hearts 2 Heroes Inc., a for-profit company doing business as Active Duty Support Services Inc., and has entered into a settlement with Operation Troop Aid Inc. and its president and chief executive officer to resolve a multi-state investigation of the charity. The actions are part of “Operation Donate with Honor,” a nationwide sweep to crackdown on fraudulent charities that exploit the name of America’s veteran community to solicit donations.
“Virginians are caring people who want to give back to veterans who have risked their lives to keep our country safe. Charities that deceptively solicit funds from donors who want to help veterans are disgraceful and should be held accountable for their efforts to make money on the good name of those who have served our country,” said Attorney General Herring. “I hope these enforcement actions send a strong message to similar organizations that they need to be honest about where their money is going, and make sure they follow through on their promises.”
Hearts 2 Heroes
Attorney General Herring has filed a lawsuit against Hearts 2 Heroes, a for-profit company doing business under the name Active Duty Support Services Inc. The business conducts door-to-door sales of “care packages” that will allegedly be sent to service members overseas. The lawsuit alleges violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and Virginia’s Solicitation of Contributions law through misrepresentations regarding the nature of the business and the care packages purchased, and the use of donated funds. The lawsuit alleges that the charity violated state charitable solicitation laws in the following manner:
• Leading prospective donors to believe that Hearts 2 Heroes is a charity, when it is not, or that donations made are tax deductible, when they are not;
• Delivering care packages, if delivered at all, to military bases in the United States, not overseas as represented;
• Representing to consumers that staff were veterans or volunteers when in fact those staff were not veterans or volunteers; and
• Employing staff who would “skim” cash donations for themselves.
The lawsuit asks the court to prohibit Hearts 2 Heroes from continuing to solicit donations, as well as award restitution to the affected consumers or impose a constructive trust on all funds received so that they will be distributed for legitimate charitable purposes. The suit also seeks an award of civil penalties, and reimbursement of the Commonwealth’s costs, investigative expenses and attorneys’ fees.
Operation Troop Aid Inc.
Attorney General Herring has entered into a settlement between 16 states and Operation Troop Aid Inc. and its president and chief executive officer to resolve a multi-state investigation of the charity. The settlement resolves allegations that the Tennessee-based charity violated state charitable solicitation laws, including Virginia’s Solicitation of Contributions law, by improperly spending funds for purposes other than their solicited purpose and using unfair, false, misleading, or deceptive solicitation and business practices.
The multi-state group alleges the charity violated state charitable solicitation laws in the following manner:
• Failing to conduct proper oversight of a commercial co-venture called “Operation Teddy Bear,” in which certain retail stores sold teddy bears in military uniforms that would supposedly provide a fixed dollar amount to the charity for each bear sold for the express purpose of sending care packages to service members;
• Failing to maintain donated funds as restricted funds, even when designated for a particular purpose, and spending funds improperly on non-charitable purposes; and
• Using donated funds for purposes other than those expressly represented as the charitable purpose of the charity, and engaging in unfair, false, misleading, or deceptive solicitation and business practices.
The settlement requires the charity to dissolve and prohibits the president and chief executive officer, Mark Woods, from becoming an employee, officer, director, board member, or assuming any fiduciary role with a nonprofit corporation, and from soliciting on behalf of a nonprofit corporation. The charity and Woods are also prohibited from violating state charitable solicitation statutes. The settlement includes a $10,000 civil penalty enforceable by all the states to be held in abeyance to ensure compliance with the injunctive terms of the settlement.
The 16 states involved in the settlement are California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
Attorney General Herring has made it a priority to combat deceptive charities, especially those that target Virginians supporting veterans. In December 2017, Herring announced a settlement between 24 states and VietNow National Headquarters, Inc., an Illinois charity that falsely represented that donations would help local veterans, resulting in the organization’s dissolution. The settlement appointed a receiver to dissolve VietNow, obtained an injunctive relief against VietNow’s directors and officers and required their cooperation in investigations of VietNow’s professional fundraisers.
Since 2014, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $246 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. Following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016, the OAG’s Consumer Protection Section has been even more effective in fighting for the rights of Virginians.
Virginians who have a question, concern, or complaint about a consumer matter should contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:
• By phone: (800) 552-9963
• By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Online Complaint Form
• Online Contact Form
Thursday’s enforcement actions were announced in conjunction with “Operation Donate with Honor,” a joint effort between Virginia, other states, and the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on fraudulent charities that falsely claim to benefit veterans and service members.
Schools, nonprofits hustle to feed over a half million Virginia students: ‘It’s incredible’
RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond school bus driver Tyrone McBride is still driving a big, yellow bus through Richmond neighborhoods, but these days, he’s transporting boxes of food for kids in need.
“It gets me out of the house,” said McBride, who has been a school bus driver for 18 years, “and you know, you’re doing a great deed and helping people out.”
More than a week has passed since Gov. Ralph Northam announced students will not return to school this academic year, and volunteers are still working to feed the 590,000 children in Virginia eligible for free or reduced lunches who were ordered to remain home during the coronavirus pandemic. Schools have been closed since March 16, though students were originally slated to return by March 27.
Whitcomb Court resident Simone Sanders said her children are now eating at home during the day, but she didn’t receive an increase in food stamps. One child is disabled, which prevents Sanders from being able to work.
“It’s affecting us bad, especially in the projects, and there’s nothing for the kids to do all day,” Sanders said. “And then you have to worry about your child just being outside getting shot.”
Sanders said she’s grateful for the food from Richmond Public Schools and says she occasionally gives food to neighborhood kids who say they’re hungry.
The Richmond Public Schools meal distribution program, like others around the state, continues to evolve during the coronavirus pandemic that caused a surge of Virginians to file for unemployment. Almost 46,300 Virginians filed for unemployment between March 15 and March 21. The previous week 2,706 people filed an unemployment claim, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.
The program started with 10 school sites and has since grown into at least 43 sites throughout the community and 10 school sites.
Erin Stanley, director of family engagement at Richmond Public Schools, said volunteers, bus drivers and the district’s nutrition staff have made the efforts possible. Volunteers were using personal vehicles to drop off food, but RPS decided that school buses would better suit the cause.
“We did that for a couple of reasons,” Stanley said. “One, so we can get more food out, and two, because school buses are a bit more well known and probably more trusted than individual volunteers going in with their personal vehicles.”
Plastic bags filled with milk cartons, sandwiches, apples, and snacks are handed out in neighborhoods found on the Richmond Public Schools’ website. School distribution sites are open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and neighborhood times vary by location. Any student in the school district can use the program, Stanley said.
Volunteer Natalie Newfield said many families she gave meals to lost jobs in the restaurant industry.
“They’re changing the way they do deliveries, which is amazing,” Newfield said. “Every day you give them a count. If they need more food, the next day, all of a sudden your bus has more food. It’s incredible.”
Statewide efforts to feed children in Virginia
When schools closed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture activated the Summer Meals Program, which funds public schools and local organizations to serve breakfast and lunch during the summer.
Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, pressed the USDA to change its policy which required parents to have their child with them when picking up food.
Roem said it was difficult for a Prince William County mother to access food for her two children. Her daughter has an immune system deficiency caused by recent cancer treatments, making her susceptible to the COVID-19 virus.
“When you’re talking about a 7-year-old with cancer, we have to really evaluate what is it that our policy is trying to prevent that is more important than feeding a child with cancer,” Roem said.
Roem said she was able to bring groceries to the family, who live in the representative’s district. As they carried bags of food inside, Roem said the mother told her children, “We’re eating tonight.”
“I fought with the USDA for a full week and won a major, major victory for kids throughout Virginia and across the country, and especially immunocompromised kids, to make sure that they stay safe, that they stay home,” Roem said.
The USDA waived the restriction last week, and states can now choose to waive the in-person policy for students to receive food.
No Kid Hungry, a national campaign launched by nonprofit Share Our Strength, is offering emergency grants to local school divisions and organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The grants can help people who are trying to make meal distribution possible but may lack the equipment necessary to feed children outside of a school setting.
Sarah Steely, senior program manager at No Kid Hungry Virginia, said the grants can fund necessities like vehicles, gas, coolers, and equipment to keep food safe during distribution.
“Those might not be resources that folks already have, because those aren’t service models that were expected of them before,” Steely said, “so we’re here to support community organizations and school divisions as they figure out what it is they need to distribute to kids.”
The organization works with YMCAs, childcare centers, libraries and all 133 of Virginia’s public school divisions.
The organization recently activated their texting hotline for those unsure of where their next meal is coming from text “FOOD” to 877-877. The hotline is generally used during the summer months but was reactivated to combat food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.
Steely called the hotline “a tool in a bigger toolbox of resources” and encouraged families to contact their local school board for updated information about their locality.
“They count on that as a primary source of nutrition, so with schools closed, we want to make sure that the students who are accessing meals at school are now accessing those meals at home,” Steely said.
By Hannah Eason
Capital News Service
AG Herring takes further steps to crackdown on price gouging
~ Herring has sent warning letters to 42 businesses about which Virginians have complained ~
RICHMOND (March 31, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has taken further actions to crack down on price gouging in Virginia by sending warning letters to certain businesses about which Virginians have complained. The letters inform the businesses that they are the subject of a price-gouging complaint, ask for documentation pertaining to the complaint, and advise the businesses to immediately stop any illegal price gouging practices. So far, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has sent 42 letters to businesses in response to complaints made by Virginians.
“It is unfortunate that businesses will take advantage of a situation like a public health crisis to try and make more money off of necessary goods like hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, face masks, or water,” said Attorney General Herring. “My office and I take price gouging complaints very seriously and I hope that these letters will send a strong message to businesses across Virginia that price gouging will not be tolerated here.”
The letters explain that the Office of the Attorney General has the authority to investigate possible violations of Virginia’s Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act and to bring enforcement actions to enjoin violations, seek restitution for affected consumers, and recover civil penalties, attorney’s fees, and expenses. The letters seek certain documentation from the businesses regarding their pricing practices before and after Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency on March 12, 2020. Importantly, the letters warn the businesses that the failure to cease and desist from engaging in any unlawful price gouging may be considered evidence of a willful violation for purposes of an award of civil penalties under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency triggered Virginia’s Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act, which prohibits a supplier from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” during the thirty-day period following a declared state of emergency. Items and services covered by these protections include but are not limited to water, ice, food, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, medicines, personal protective gear and more. The basic test for determining if a price is unconscionable is whether the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar goods or services during the ten days immediately prior to the disaster.
Additionally, last week Attorney General Herring joined 32 attorneys general in urging Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Walmart, and Craigslist to more rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers who are using their services.
Suspected violations of Virginia’s Anti-Price Gouging Act should be reported to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for investigation, as violations are enforceable by the Office of the Attorney General through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
Consumers can contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for information or file a complaint:
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – March 30, 2020
Governor Northam issues statewide stay at home order
Governor Ralph Northam today, March 30, 2020, issued a statewide Stay at Home order to protect the health and safety of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. The executive order takes effect immediately and will remain in place until June 10, 2020, unless amended or rescinded by a further executive order.
The order directs all Virginians to stay home except in extremely limited circumstances. Individuals may leave their residence for allowable travel, including to seek medical attention, work, care for family or household members, obtain goods and services like groceries, prescriptions, and others as outlined in Executive Order Fifty-Three, and engage in outdoor activity with strict social distancing requirements.
The executive order also directs all Virginia institutions of higher education to stop in-person classes and instruction. Private campgrounds must close for short-term stays, and beaches will be closed statewide except for fishing and exercise.
“We are in a public health crisis, and we need everyone to take this seriously and act responsibly,” said Governor Northam. “Our message to Virginians is clear: stay home. We know this virus spreads primarily through human-to-human contact, and that’s why it’s so important that people follow this order and practice social distancing. I’m deeply grateful to everyone for their cooperation during this unprecedented and difficult time.”
Last week, Governor Northam issued Executive Order Fifty-Three closing certain non-essential businesses, prohibiting public gatherings of more than 10 people, and directing all K-12 schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year. A Frequently Asked Questions guide about Executive Order Fifty-Three can be found here.
For the latest information about the COVID-19 outbreak, visit virginia.gov/coronavirus or CDC.gov/coronavirus.
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – March 27, 2020
Virginia U.S. Attorneys issue statement on Virginia recommendations regarding medical prescriptions during COVID-19 pandemic
On Wednesday, March 25, 2020, Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver, in response to a surge in demand of potential treatments for COVID-19 for drugs commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, lupus, malaria, and bacterial infections, reminded physicians and pharmacists that these life-sustaining medications should only be dispensed under specified limited circumstances based on legitimate medical need. Dr. Oliver also warned against improper dispensing and potential hoarding of these medications.
On March 27, 2020, U.S. Attorneys Thomas Cullen and Zach Terwilliger issued a statement confirming that federal prosecutors are aware of Dr. Oliver’s warnings regarding this increased demand and potentially improper behavior by physicians and other health-care providers who may be improperly prescribing these drugs to themselves, their families, and others without a legitimate medical purpose. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia, as part of their joint COVID-19 Fraud Task Force, will be closely monitoring this disturbing trend and are prepared to investigate potential violations of federal and state law committed by any individuals or entities, including physicians, dentists, and other healthcare providers, related to these prescription drugs.
“At a time when many doctors, nurses, and first responders are risking their health and personal safety to treat those affected by the coronavirus, it is incredibly disturbing that a selfish minority in that field may be undermining these valiant efforts by prescribing outside legitimate medical practice,” said U.S. Attorney Cullen. “We will work closely with our federal, state, and local partners to identify unscrupulous physicians and other health-care providers who are putting their own well-being ahead of those with a true medical need and hold them accountable under the law.”
“Our office is committed to protecting the public at this critical time, including Virginians who rely on life-sustaining prescription drugs,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “We will act swiftly in coordination with our law enforcement partners to safeguard these critical medications for those who need them against healthcare providers who improperly dispense them.”
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud, or need more information about COVID-19, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdva/covid-19-fraud
For more information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva
To report fraud directly to the FBI, please visit their website at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx