Posts Tagged ‘Attorney General Masto’

Lawmakers Approve $11.7 Million Plan From Attorney General To Help Homeowners In Foreclosure Crisis

By Sean Whaley | 2:55 pm August 23rd, 2012

CARSON CITY – Several lawmakers raised questions today about a proposal put forth by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to spend $33 million over three years on outreach, counseling and legal assistance to homeowners who are facing foreclosure.

The program outlined for the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee (IFC) by Masto is proposed to be the first phase of a plan to use $57 million Nevada received from the country’s five largest banks as part of a national settlement over the mortgage crisis. Nevada received another $30 million in a separate settlement with Bank of America.

Despite the concerns expressed during a lengthy discussion, the vote to approve the program was unanimous.

Photo posted by Gruntzooki via Wikimedia Commons.

The program is expected to provide a one-stop shop for homeowners to get free access to certified counselors and legal assistance if needed so they can access the many programs available to those who qualify.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, expressed concerns that the IFC, made up of the members of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees, was being asked to approve a program before it could be evaluated by the full Legislature in 2013.

He also questioned whether the $33 million in expenditures for the services outlined by Masto was the best use for the money rather than getting it directly into the hands of homeowners in need.

Concerns were also expressed by a number of other Republican members of the IFC about aspects of the proposal.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, questioned if the IFC even had the legal authority to implement such a major policy decision.

“I mean, if this was a proposal that came to the Legislature, we would have days of hearings on it in multiple chambers,” he said. “This is a, I think, major policy decision about how we’re addressing one of the most significant problems facing the people of this state and it’s being made by a small subset of the legislative body and there are voters in this state who are disenfranchised from making this decision.”

But the Legislative Counsel said it was appropriate and similar actions have been taken in the past by the committee.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said the program outlined by Masto will help distressed Nevada homeowners access $25 billion available nationwide that will be doled out on a first-come, first-served, basis. Failing to get the program started now could mean that Nevada homeowners, among those hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, will not get their share of those funds, he said.

The debate over the $33 million is missing the big picture, Horsford said.

The approval today was only for the first year’s worth of funding of $11.7 million. The $10.8 million in years two and three will be part of the Attorney General’s proposed budget for the 2013-15 biennium that will be reviewed by lawmakers in 2013.

The first year budget includes $9.4 million for public outreach and access to HUD-certified counselors. Another nearly $1.2 million will go to Nevada Legal Services and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to provide assistance to homeowners. Former Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley is executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.

Nearly $570,000 will be spent on expanding an existing call center operated by the Nevada Affordable Housing Assistance Corporation (NAHAC), a non-profit arm of the Nevada Housing Division. Just under $500,000 will go to the Attorney General’s office for staff and expenses to investigate mortgage fraud and administer the entire program.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, expressed concerns about the funding for the legal aid, questioning if the money would be used to commence new legal actions against the banks on behalf of specific distressed homeowners. Her concerns were echoed by Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka.

Masto assured lawmakers the spending on legal aid will be used to assist homeowners, not initiate lawsuits.

“This is not about giving legal aid so they can go out and start suing,” she said. “This is actually about providing relief to the homeowners who are distressed. There’s a lot of legal issues they may deal with beyond just suing the banks. And that’s what legal aid provides.”

Despite the concerns lawmakers agreed the urgency of the situation required their action.

“We do need to get the ball rolling,” Goicoechea said. “It isn’t doing us any good in this state to have people living in homes, not making any type of mortgage payment on it, destroying that home, and the bank doesn’t have the ability to foreclose it, can’t get the certification in place, and it isn’t doing our state or our economy any good.”

The funds to be used for the program were paid by the banks to settle state and federal investigations into robo-signing allegations.


Audio clips:

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says the major policy decision should be made by the entire Legislature:

082312Kieckhefer :26 making this decision.”

Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea says that while he has concerns, the state needs to take action:

082312Goicoechea :17 economy any good.”

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto says the legal aid funds won’t be used to sue the banks:

082312Masto :13 legal aid provides.”


Nevada Attorney General Announces Sentencing Of Medical Equipment Provider For Medicaid Fraud

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 12:26 pm July 5th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Marcia Giller, 76, of Reno, has been sentenced to prison for two felony offenses of submitting false Medicaid claims, the Attorney General’s office announced this week.

Washoe County District Judge Steven Kosach sentenced Giller on Tuesday to 18 to 48 months imprisonment for each count, to be served consecutively, and additionally ordered Giller to pay $226,000 in restitution, penalties and costs.

“In addition to jeopardizing the provision of health care to people in need, medical providers who submit fraudulent claims victimize every taxpayer who funds this beneficial and necessary program,” said Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. “The Medicaid system must be protected, and those who commit Medicaid fraud will be punished.”

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

In December 2009, Nevada Medicaid provided information to the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) that AME Home Health Care (AME), a medical equipment company owned and operated by Giller, had submitted and been paid for Medicaid claims that were not supported by required documentation. Medicaid provides payment to medical equipment suppliers who furnish medical supplies that allow people to maintain hygiene, gain mobility and care for their own medical conditions.

Further investigation by the MFCU revealed that, in addition to the lack of supporting documentation, Giller repeatedly submitted claims for persons who did not actually receive supplies from AME. Giller nonetheless continued to submit fraudulent claims and receive payment over the course of several years. Although Giller submitted claims under supposed client names and numbers, those persons were unaware that their Medicaid information was being used in such a way.

The fraud occurred from January 2007 through May 2010.

Persons convicted of Medicaid fraud may also be administratively excluded from future Medicaid participation.

The case was investigated and prosecuted by the MFCU, which investigates and prosecutes financial fraud by those providing healthcare services or goods to Medicaid patients. The MFCU also investigates and prosecutes instances of elder abuse or neglect.

Nevada Attorney General Says Catalyst Fund To Help Economic Development Is Constitutional

By Sean Whaley | 5:15 pm February 21st, 2012

CARSON CITY – Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto today issued a legal opinion concluding that a $10 million Catalyst Fund created by the Legislature to help aid in business expansion and economic development does not violate the state constitution.

“The Nevada Constitution does not prohibit the state from disbursing Catalyst Fund money to regional development authorities that by definition must be local governments, or prohibit local governments from disbursing Catalyst Fund money to companies,” the opinion released today says.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

The opinion, requested by Steve Hill, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, was first reported by Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston.

The fund was created as part of a bipartisan plan by Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Legislature to promote economic development and job creation in Nevada.

The constitutionality of the fund has been questioned by the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

The conservative Nevada think tank cites Article 8, Section 9 of the state constitution, which says the state shall not donate or loan money to corporations except those created for educational charitable purposes.

State Lawmaker Asks AG To Respond To Query About $6 Million In Outside Legal Fees In Freeway Dispute

By Sean Whaley | 11:08 am January 25th, 2012

CARSON CITY – State Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, has asked Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto why an outside legal firm was retained to defend the state against a freeway construction dispute. Legal costs charged to the state will total $6 million by the end of an arbitration hearing set for next month.

The Jan. 12 letter asked Masto why her office retained, or advised the Nevada Department of Transportation to retain, an outside law firm to defend the state against a $40 million claim filed by Utah-based Ames Construction, which built the first phase of the 395 bypass in the capital that opened in February of 2006.

Carson City bypass. / Photo courtesy of NDOT.

Brower also asked about the process that led to the retention of the firm of Watt, Tieder, Hoffar & Fitzgerald to handle the case beginning in 2008. He also asks why a Nevada firm was not retained, and what controls are in place to monitor the fees being incurred.

Brower asked for a response within 30 days.

The attorney general’s office has not yet responded to Brower’s letter.

In a telephone interview, Brower said several constituents asked about the amount of fees incurred so far and why a Virginia law firm was retained to represent the state.

“Those two issues raised red flags with me, and so I thought it made sense to just ask a few questions of the attorney general’s office and ask her to clarify exactly, as I set forth in the letter, why the state has hired this out-of-state firm as opposed to an in-state firm or doing the litigation in the AG’s office,” he said.

“I think that some questions need to be answered, and I am frankly, concerned with the general management of litigation matters by the attorney general’s office,” Brower said. “And so here is another example that seems to raise some red flags.”

The concerns are strictly fiscal in nature, he said.

“We just don’t have money to waste,” Brower said. “At least this particular situation seems to suggest that maybe we are. Maybe there are good answers to all of these questions I raised in my letter but there is only one way to find out and that is to ask them.”

Scott Magruder, a spokesman for NDOT, said today the agency actually retained the firm, which is one of the leading construction litigation firms in the nation. The firm has an office in Las Vegas. The agency wanted quality representation because of the size of the claim, he said.

The $70 million contract for the first 3.5-miles of freeway bypass was awarded to Ames in 2003.

Gov. Brian Sandoval first raised concerns about the amount of legal fees at a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Department of Transportation earlier this month. He said he had not seen such costs for a legal challenge before.

“Because even at those rates, $6 million, I haven’t seen that before,” Sandoval said at the Jan. 9 meeting. “I mean this just gets us to the mediation, as you say, and then we don’t know what the outcome of the mediation is going to be after that.”

State Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

The rates charged by the legal firm’s attorneys are as high as $340 an hour for the senior partner, but members of the board were told the rates are not excessive and have not changed since the dispute first began.

“That’s not an unreasonable fee,” Masto said at the meeting. Masto also serves as a member of the Transportation Board.

Dennis Gallagher, NDOT’s chief legal counsel with the attorney general’s office, told the board at the meeting that the legal fees also cover the experts hired to defend the state. He said the case is extremely complex and that Ames has not backed down from its $40 million claim.

“The state vigorously disputes this claim; has been defending it in court since 2008; we finally got it to a point where it will go to mediation the end of February and this latest amendment is to bring the fees current through the mediation, Gallagher said.


Audio clips:

Sen. Greg Brower says the legal costs have raised red flags:

012512Brower1 :23 the AG’s office.”

Brower says he is concerned with the general management of litigation matters by the attorney general’s office:

012512Brower2 :23 go from there.”

Brower says the state does not have money to waste:

012512Brower3 :31 to ask them.”