Virginia receives $1.1 million settlement from corporations for allegedly overbilling localities for liquid aluminum sulfate
On March 3, 2022, multiple corporations, including General Chemical Corporation, Chemtrade Chemicals Corporation, and GEO Specialty Chemicals, collectively paid $1.1 million to the Commonwealth of Virginia to settle false claims lawsuit. The suit includes allegations that the defendants conspired to unlawfully rig and inflate prices during the public bidding process to defraud the Commonwealth and its taxpayers in the purchase of coagulant liquid aluminum sulfate, a chemical used in water treatment and purification.
The Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act permits private citizens with knowledge of fraud perpetrated against the government to bring a civil action on behalf of the Commonwealth and to share in any recovery obtained. The 2017 lawsuit, which was filed by whistleblower Lawrence McShane in the Circuit Court for the City of Norfolk, alleged that the Defendants participated in a nationwide conspiracy to allocate territories and/or not to compete for each other’s historical business by rigging bids, allocating customers, and fixing the price of liquid aluminum sulfate sold in the United States from January 1, 1997, through at least February 28, 2011, and that Defendants submitted or caused to be submitted false or fraudulent claims for payments to certain Commonwealth localities.
The Commonwealth’s settlement is a part of a multi-jurisdictional $11.7 million settlement agreement.
The case was handled at the Office of Attorney General by its Civil Litigation Division, Financial Recovery Section, Fraud and Complex Recoveries Unit, led by Steven G. Popps, Deputy Attorney General-Civil and Rodolfo R. Remigio, Section Chief, and Senior Assistant Attorney General, with Peter E. Broadbent, III, Assistant Attorney General and Unit Manager as lead attorney. The Office of Attorney General’s fraud investigation was performed with the help of Investigator Gregory G. Taylor, CFE.
Attorney General Jason Miyares is committed to combating all government fraud and protecting the interests of the taxpayers of Virginia. The Office of the Attorney General encourages tips and complaints from all citizens about potential government fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, which can be reported to the Office of the Attorney General or submitted by whistleblowers under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.
The lawsuit is captioned Commonwealth of Virginia ex rel. Lawrence McShane v. Frank A. Reichl, et al., (Case No. CL 17-944). The claims subject to the settlement agreement are allegations, and there has been no determination or admission of liability.
 The full list of the defendants that are parties to the settlement agreement include: General Chemical Corporation, General Chemical LLC, General Chemical Performance Products LLC, GenTek, Inc., Chemtrade Chemicals Corporation, Chemtrade Chemicals US LLC, Chemtrade Solutions LLC, Chemtrade Logistics Income Fund, Chemtrade Logistics, Inc., GEO Specialty Chemicals, Inc., C&S Chemicals, Inc., USALCO, LLC, Delta Chemical Corporation, and American Securities, LLC
Heavy traffic and rain forecasted for Memorial Day weekend – pack patience, plan ahead
Travel and weather forecasts for the 2023 Memorial Day weekend have the Virginia State Police strongly encouraging all drivers to be prepared before heading out to any holiday destination. Pack your patience for potential delays and congested highways due to significant traffic volume and inclement weather conditions. In addition, state police remind drivers to ditch distractions, buckle up, and never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Travelers are also encouraged to “know before you go” by checking the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) 511 traffic cameras and real-time information on road conditions by dialing 511 on a phone, visiting www.511Virginia.org or downloading the 511 app.
“Virginians need to make traffic safety a priority every day and, especially as we head into the Memorial Day weekend and summer travel season,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Memorial Day weekend is filled with celebrations, vacations, outdoor festivals, and backyard cookouts, which is why we need all motorists to share the road responsibly by driving smart, safe, and sober.”
Beginning Friday, May 26, 2023, VSP joins law enforcement around the country for the Operation Crash Awareness Reduction Effort (C.A.R.E), a state-sponsored, national program intended to reduce crashes, fatalities, and injuries due to impaired driving, speed, and failing to wear a seat belt. The 2023 Memorial Day statistical counting period begins at 12:01 a.m. on May 26 and continues through midnight Monday, May 29, 2023. All available state police troopers and supervisors will be on patrol through the holiday weekend to help keep traffic moving safely and responsibly.
On Monday, May 22, 2023, state police participated in the kickoff for the annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign. This enhanced enforcement and education effort aims to further emphasize the lifesaving value of seat belts for every person in a vehicle.
During the 2022 Memorial Day Operation C.A.R.E. initiative, 16 individuals lost their lives in traffic crashes on Virginia roadways.* During last year’s combined Memorial Day C.A.R.E. initiative and the annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign, Virginia Troopers cited 4,888 speeders and 1,875 reckless drivers and arrested 90 impaired drivers. In addition, 659 individuals were cited for seat belt violations, 117 were cited for child safety restraint violations, and 144 felony arrests were made. Virginia State Police also assisted 1,735 disabled motorists.
With the increased patrols, VSP also reminds drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, then drivers are required to cautiously pass the emergency vehicle. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.
States see record low unemployment across the U.S.
Across much of the country, the jobs market is as strong as it’s ever been, and Black women, young people, and people with disabilities are among the workers benefiting, recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show.
Twenty states reported an unemployment rate under 3% in April, while 15 states saw record lows, led by South Dakota at 1.9%, followed by Nebraska at 2%, and New Hampshire and North Dakota at 2.1%. The national rate was 3.4%. Other states that saw their unemployment rates reach levels not seen since the BLS began recording them in 1976 include Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Maine, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, according to BLS data released on Friday.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Virginia’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.1% in April, a slight decrease from its March rate and below the national rate of 3.4%. A May 19 press release from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office also noted the state recorded its highest labor force participation rate since June 2014 in April, at 66.2%.
“The Virginia labor market continues to show strength during the first part of 2023,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick. “Despite large gains in labor force participation, filling open positions remains a challenge for businesses in the commonwealth, and we remain laserfocused on getting more Virginians into the workforce.”
Recent data from the Virginia Employment Commission also found there was just under one unemployed worker for every two job openings in Virginia in March 2023 — a measurement known as the “job seekers ratio.” That ratio has held steady since July 2021.
Mark Vitner, the chief economist at Piedmont Crescent Capital in Charlotte, North Carolina, said major metropolitan areas and emerging metropolitan areas in the South have benefited from recent shifts in the labor market. In Florida, the labor market in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville has been growing rapidly, he said.
“Huntsville, Alabama, is one of the fastest growing markets, and it’s a big tech market in aerospace and in defense. We’ve seen a huge influx from California into Huntsville, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, has seen an influx of investment in the automotive industry,” he said. “The Port of Savannah has been the fastest-growing port in the country. It’s just fueled enormous growth in the industrial market in Savannah and, more broadly, in south Georgia. These markets have low unemployment rates and very strong job growth, and so that’s what you want to see that mix of.”
Vitner added that the rural areas of states with low unemployment may have a different story to tell.
“States that have a larger rural population tend to have lower labor force participation, and given the stronger overall job growth, it results in some very low unemployment rates without particularly strong nonfarm employment,” Vitner said.
To be sure, in some states, the number of people who have lost work has increased. Ten states had rates of 4% or higher than the nation. Nevada, which had the highest unemployment rate in the country in 2020, has seen job gains but still had the nation’s highest rate in April, at 5.4%. States like Washington and California, which have seen large layoffs among tech companies, also have seen their job markets slightly worsen.
But the recovery has also lifted up workers often sidelined in worse economic times. Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the demographics of workers and their unemployment rates for April showed that employment among Black women climbed to a 22-year high. Women’s labor force participation is also moving up. It increased by 0.6 of a percentage point in the past year.
That growth is affecting women of all ages and education levels, and Black women and Hispanic women have had some of the biggest labor force participation growth, at a 2.2% and 2.1% increase over the same period, according to an analysis from the University of Michigan’s Betsey Stevenson, a professor of economics, and Benny Docter, a senior policy analyst.
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities, while still high compared to the overall unemployment rate, is 6.3% compared to 8.3% a year ago. In March, the unemployment rate for people aged 16 to 24, who are already benefiting from pre-pandemic labor market conditions, marked a 70-year low at 7.5%, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In April, it dipped further for that age group to 6.5%.
“What happens when the economy is strong is that you can bring marginalized groups of workers off of the sidelines because employers are more open to different folks essentially,” said Katherine Gallagher Robbins, a senior fellow at the National Partnership for Women & Families. “Part of the consequence of this strong labor market is that you’re seeing low unemployment rates for Black workers, and in particular Black women and for disabled workers. The rates for disabled workers have been both in terms of unemployment, but also in terms of participation, really strong compared to what we have seen in years gone by.”
Gallagher Robbins added that Gen Z workers came into a very strong labor market, which bodes better for them than previous generations, but it also means they have more to lose if the economy falters soon.
“They’re hopefully in a position of setting themselves up for lifelong higher earnings, and yet they will be amongst the first to go. They tend to work in industries where there’s more churn,” she said, such as retail and hospitality.
Many industries are also showing fast job growth right now, Docter said, and growth has been largest in education and health care.
Private sector education and health services “had been the strongest job grower through the time between the last recession and 2020, and it got knocked pretty far off course in a way that was pretty atypical. Since then, we’ve seen really steady, really impressive growth most months (in those areas), and I expect that we still will for a while,” he said. “It’s nowhere near its pre-pandemic trajectory, so there’d be over 700,000 more jobs in that industry today than there are. And so there’s a lot of space there to grow if you look at the numbers this month. … There’s nothing really to say that those industries are going to falter any time soon.”
The labor market is still leaning toward greater power for workers as well, which has been positive for labor organizers, Gallagher Robbins said. Americans’ approval of labor unions has increased from 64% before the pandemic to 71% in 2022.
“[Worker bargaining] is on the rise and not accidentally. … Not everything has been successful, but those [organizing efforts] coming to the fore now, I think, are no coincidence,” she said. “That is also something that is interacting and intersecting with the economy of the moment, and if we shift back towards a place where workers have less bargaining power, I think that that’s going to have an impact on the ability to organize.”
Vitner said the retirement of Baby Boomers provides many workers with greater labor power than they previously enjoyed.
“Workers clearly have more negotiating power today. One of the things that’s in their favor is that we have a rising tide of Baby Boomers that are leaving the workforce. And that makes for a very tight labor market, and certain industries have even greater challenges because their workforce skews a bit older,” he said. “Younger workers have a bit more negotiating power, but they have a brighter outlook. They’re entering the workforce at a time where there’s going to be opportunities to advance relatively quickly.”
Inflation has made it more difficult for many workers to enjoy these gains, but that could be changing. Although inflation is still far above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target, it is moderating, and wages are now outpacing inflation, at a 6.1% increase in median weekly earnings for January, February, and March compared to a year before. During the same period, there was a 5.8% rise in consumer prices. In April, average hourly earnings rose by 4.4% over the past 12 months.
by Casey Quinlan, Virginia Mercury
Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: email@example.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.
Suez Service ‘First-in call’ expands Port of VA connection to SE Asian markets
The number of first-in vessel services calling The Port of Virginia® is growing and last week the port welcomed the latest addition to that list, the ONE Munchen, which left Southeast Asia and headed straight to Virginia. Reworked service will compliment Port’s newest rail link to Memphis.
The arrival of the ONE Munchen last Tuesday at Norfolk International Terminals signals the beginning of a reworked EC4 vessel service that now has The Port of Virginia as the first US East Coast stop. The weekly service links the port with several important Southeast Asian markets.
“The cargo owners will benefit from this reworked service because a first-in port call allows them to get their cargo quicker and it gives cargo owners more markets, more options, for moving their exports and imports,” said Stephen A. Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “This service is taking advantage of our ability to efficiently handle big ships, their cargo and our rail reach into critical Midwest population and manufacturing centers.”
Edwards said the reworked EC4 will pair nicely with the port’s service to its newest rail market, Memphis. In early April, the port began offering daily rail service to Norfolk Southern’s regional intermodal terminal in Rossville, which is just outside of Memphis.
“Both exporters and importers were asking us [Norfolk Southern and the port] to develop a high-quality Memphis rail service,” Edwards said. “Now we have service into Memphis, which is an important step south and west for us. Couple that with another first-in vessel call that uses the Suez Canal and this works to the advantage of cargo owners for several reasons. The first is an alternative to the US West Coast, second is speed to market and third is access to our growing rail network.”
Edwards also pointed out that The Port of Virginia was ranked the nation’s second highest performing in The Container Port Performance Index 2022 (CPPI), which was published in earlier this month. The CPPI ranks the world’s leading container ports based on data collected by World Bank, with contributions from S&P Market Intelligence IHS Markit.
“Our performance is a clear reason why we are attracting first-in vessel calls and new rail services,” Edwards said. “Our ability to service vessels and get them back to sea quickly and safely is being recognized by independent sources. We have a $1.4 billion expansion effort underway and the improvements we are making are going create even greater efficiency and continue to drive cargo to and through this port.”
In the report, Virginia’s port was 52nd out of the world’s top 370 ports. The rankings are based on total number of hours a ship spends at a port, which is measure as the elapsed time between when a ship reaches a port to its departure from the berth having completed its cargo exchange.
There are four ocean carriers in the EC4 service, ONE (Ocean Network Express), Hapag-Lloyd, Yang Ming and HMM (Hyundai Merchant Marine), that all contribute vessels to the service; the 14,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) ONE Munchen is owned by ONE. The port call rotation includes Kaohsiung, Xiamen, Hong Kong Yantian, Cai Mep, Singapore, (Suez Canal transit), Norfolk, Savannah, Charleston, New York.
Virginia State Police honors fallen heroes at 2023 memorial service
In an emotion-filled ceremony, the Virginia State Police gathered together with their families and communities on May 24, 2023, to remember the heroes of law enforcement who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The event highlighted the dedication and courage of these officers, echoing the sentiment that their duty, honor, and selfless service will never be forgotten.
Central to this year’s Memorial Service was the unveiling and dedication of the official portrait of Captain J. Gregory Blankenship, the former division commander of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s (BCI) Salem Field Office. A respected figure in Virginia’s law enforcement community, Capt. Blankenship tragically passed away due to COVID-19 complications on August 7, 2021, aged 61. He devoted 28 years of his life to the service of the Virginia State Police.
In tribute, Capt. Blankenship’s portrait will be hung in the Colonel C.W. Woodson Jr. Memorial Gallery within the Virginia State Police Academy, joining the solemn ranks of 66 other brave men and women commemorated there. Blankenship is also recognized amongst the thousands honored at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Adding a personal touch to the occasion, the former Virginia State Police trooper and retired Bristol, Va. Police Chief Bill Price served as the keynote speaker. The touching harmonies of the Powhatan High School “One Voice” Concert Choir singing the National Anthem provided a stirring backdrop to the poignant ceremony.
The Memorial Service also paid tribute to 14 other law enforcement officers marking significant milestones this year, their years of passing ranging from 10 to 95 years ago. Each tribute was marked by a solemn bell toll and an Honor Guard salute, reinforcing the perpetual bond between the police force and those they have lost.
Among the honored were Inspector W. Neville Hatcher, Sergeant Charles W. Puckett, Trooper Robert E. Caldwell, and Special Agent in Charge Rodney D. Grimes, to name just a few. More information about these brave individuals can be found on the Virginia State Police’s website.
The Virginia State Police’s 2023 Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Service served as a poignant reminder of the risks law enforcement officers undertake every day to serve and protect their communities and the enduring respect and honor they hold for their fallen comrades. As the gathered crowd slowly dispersed, it was clear that the legacy of these brave individuals continues to inspire the current and future generations of Virginia’s law enforcement.
Attorney General Miyares sues Avid Telecom over illegal robocalls
On May 23, 2023, Attorney General Jason Miyares sued Michael D. Lansky, LLC, which does business under the name Avid Telecom, its owner Michael Lansky, and Vice President Stacey S. Reeves, for allegedly initiating and facilitating billions of illegal robocalls to millions of people and violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and other federal and state telemarketing and consumer laws.
“Avid Telecom refuses to stop their robocalls, despite receiving over three hundred warnings. They have routed nearly 235,000,000 calls to numbers with Virginia area codes. Avid Telecom even went as far as spoofing the Caller ID numbers of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, including the Virginia State Police. It’s obvious that the only way to get this organization to stop harassing Virginians is by taking them to court and holding them accountable,” said Attorney General Miyares.
Avid Telecom is a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service provider that sells data, phone numbers, dialing software, and/or expertise to help its customers make mass robocalls. It also serves as an intermediate provider and allegedly facilitated or helped route illegal robocalls across the country. Between December 2018 and January 2023, Avid sent or attempted to transmit more than 24.5 billion calls. More than 90 percent of those calls lasted less than just 15 seconds, which indicates they were likely robocalls. Further, Avid helped make hundreds of millions of calls using spoofed or invalid caller ID numbers, including more than 8.4 million calls that appeared to be coming from government and law enforcement agencies, as well as private companies.
Avid Telecom allegedly sent or transmitted scam calls about Social Security Administration scams, Medicare scams, auto warranty scams, Amazon scams, DirecTV scams, credit card interest rate reduction scams, and employment scams. Examples of some of these scam calls are available to listen to here and here.
The USTelecom-led Industry Traceback Group, which notifies providers about known and suspected illegal robocalls sent across their networks, sent at least 329 notifications to Avid Telecom that it was transmitting these calls, but Avid Telecom continued to do so.
Today’s legal action arises from the nationwide Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force of 51 bipartisan attorneys general. In August, Attorney General Miyares joined this Task Force to investigate and take legal action against those responsible for routing significant volumes of illegal robocall traffic into and across the United States.
The Federal Trade Commission and the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General also provided investigative assistance in this lawsuit.
Attorney General Miyares is joined in filing today’s complaint by the Attorneys General of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Virginia man sentenced to over 15 years in federal prison for methamphetamine distribution and illegal firearm possession
Justine Kyle Elliott has been sentenced to over 15 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to drug trafficking charges and illegal firearm possession, according to U.S. officials last week.
Elliott, 33, was charged with conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, possessing with the intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, and illegal possession of firearms as a convicted felon.
The conviction can be traced back to an incident in August 2021 when Elliott was arrested in Coeburn, Virginia after police found him asleep at the wheel of a vehicle parked in a bank drive-thru. Upon searching his vehicle, authorities discovered a large quantity of methamphetamine and multiple firearms.
Elliott later confessed to his involvement in distributing methamphetamine across Southwest Virginia. He was found to have trafficked significant quantities of crystal ice methamphetamine and cocaine into the region over a sixteen-month period, including more than 30 kilograms of methamphetamine, some of which was 100% pure.
The announcement was made by United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, and Special Agent in Charge Craig B. Kailimai of the ATF’s Washington Division.
The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, along with the Coeburn Police Department. Special Assistant United States Attorney M. Suzanne Kerney-Quillen, a Senior Assistant Attorney General with the Virginia Attorney General’s Major Crimes and Emerging Threats Section, prosecuted the case for the United States.
This sentence highlights the ongoing efforts of law enforcement agencies to tackle drug trafficking and illegal firearm possession in the region, signaling a major victory in the war against drug-related crimes in Southwest Virginia.
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