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The Top 3 Questions We Heard at “Lawyers in Libraries”

Lane Ewing of the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm recently volunteered at Louisiana State Bar Association’s “Lawyers in Libraries,” an event in which lawyers seek to help the public become aware of options available to them when they cannot afford an attorney. As a part of Louisiana’s “National Celebrate Pro Bono Week,” the program is designed to deliver information about pro bono attorneys through the city’s public libraries.

People are given the opportunity to ask a legal question and get a brief response and advice on where to seek more information to solve their problem.

Typical questions include:

  • How do I get the title for my deceased parents’ home transferred to their heirs?
  • How do I protect my elderly parent from identity theft or telephone scams?
  • Is it necessary for me to draft a will to ensure my children are cared for in case something happens to me?

While fifteen minutes is usually not enough time to solve a complex legal issue, most who participate in the program are surprised to hear that there are clinics that offer free or reduced rate services.  Volunteers and the Legal Education & Assistance Program work to provide online and print resources that are available to the public year-round. Click here to read more about this important event.


Fighting Fraud Following Disaster: What to Watch out for

The waters recede, the winds calm, the storm passes. Finally, power returns to homes and neighborhoods, and the cleanup begins.

But as community members come together during the days following the storm to rebuild their city, clean up their parks, and feed their neighbors, scammers wait in the wings.  

The rush to provide aid to those in need following a disaster creates an ideal environment for fraudsters.  According to a report in The Washington Post, “In Baton Rouge, where the National Disaster Fraud Center is located, the number of fraud reports went from 79 the week before Hurricane Harvey to 425 in the week after the storm hit,” center director and U.S. Attorney Corey R. Amundson said.

One such fraud is the too-familiar business practice of price gouging. In fact, following Hurricane Harvey, Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton told CNBC of “reports of $99 cases of water, doubling and tripling of hotel room prices.”

Similarly, in the recent wake of Hurricane Irma, Floridians took to social media to complain about various airlines escalating their flight prices thousands of dollars for those trying to evacuate before the storm hit. Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi, Bondi told The New York Times that Floridians logged more than 7,000 price-gouging complaints with her office.

Most states have laws against these unscrupulous practices, resulting in stiff penalties with high fines.

Other immediate fraud practices that may impact storm survivors:

  • The Better Business Bureau warns – beware of unlicensed contractors looking to rip-off homeowners.
  • Be on the lookout for robocalls. According to NPR, some reports from Florida claim that callers are posing as insurance agents demanding immediate payment for continuation of policies.
  • Watch out for charity scammers. Seemingly well-meaning people set up fake GoFundMe donation accounts to rake in money for themselves. Instead, if you wish donate to victims, find a reputable organization that can put your money to work.

Finally, following a declaration of a state of emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a federal agency dedicated to helping individuals, businesses, and communities recover and rebuild following a natural disaster, may step in. Unfortunately, according to The Washington Post, this phase of recovery often “brings the largest amount of fraud.”

According to Don Cazayoux, Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm Partner and former U.S. attorney and director of the National Disaster Fraud Center, “Scammers will often steal the identities of others who were actually affected by the disaster, file a claim for relief and divert the funds to themselves instead of the person who actually needs the assistance.”  

And because of the increased cases of identity fraud, federal agencies are “more aggressive in fighting disaster fraud related to identity theft,” Cazayoux said.  These cases often bring stiffer penalties including mandatory minimum sentences.  

People should be vigilant of price gouging, identity theft, and scammers.  If you feel that you are a victim of a scam, you should contact the National Disaster Fraud Center hotline at 866-720-5721 or email disaster@leo.gov.  


Public Corruption Crimes: Charges You Can’t Afford

For most people, the term “public corruption” probably conjures up images of pinstriped politicians in a dimly-lit, smoke-filled room, exchanging promises in exchange for money (more commonly referred to as “bribes”). But public corruption encompasses a broad array of activities, including fraud, bribery and racketeering to name a few, which ultimately pose a threat to our security or way of life. Thus, Congress has passed many statutes to punish and deter corruption of public officials.[1]

And while understanding these statutes is essential to understanding your duties and responsibilities as a person of public trust or as a person or organization that regularly deals with public officials, because the laws are so complex, it is fundamental that you consult with knowledgeable and experienced defense attorneys to protect your rights and interests as well.

Generally, most public corruption crimes are prosecuted by U. S. attorneys’ offices and the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section. These offices are armed with a wide net to catch—and ultimately charge—both high-profile defendants (like members of Congress and governors) and more innocuous, career-level government or public employees. Courts have broadly construed the title of “public official” to include: an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)[2]; a postal employee who had the responsibility of ensuring that bulk mail had the appropriate charge[3]; and a Private in the Army[4]. Thus, it is critical that all public officials and employees remain cognizant of both ethical and legal “red lines.”

Closer to home, recently the Attorney General for the state of Louisiana, Jeff Landry, “has vowed to make ending public corruption a priority statewide as part of his new Administration and to work closely with the FBI and other officials on these efforts moving forward.” And true to word, most recently is the guilty plea of former Homer Mayor on charges of malfeasance, the arrest of former Angola Mayor for misuse of public funds, arrest of former manager of Lafayette non-profit apartment complex for theft of public funds, the arrest of former Pointe Coupee Parish sheriff’s deputy for payroll fraud, and the arrest of former coroner for East Feliciana Parish for conspiracy. According to Attorney General Landry’s website (https://www.ag.state.la.us/Corruption), all aforementioned arrests, charges and indictments have occurred since March 2017. Convictions would mean possible job loss, restitution, probation and/or imprisonment.

While public corruption charges carry significant legal implications, they may also cause a very serious and damaging impact to your reputation as a public servant or politician; therefore, it is imperative that you have experienced and professional advocates on your side to defend your rights.

 

This article is intended for information only and should not be considered legal advice.

[1] Ashley Kircher et. al., Public Corruption, 45 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 825, 826 (2008).

[2] United States v. Gjieli, 717 F.2d 968 (6th Cir. 1983) (holding that an ATF agent was within the statutory definition of “public official” even though he did not have the ability to carry out the target action of the bribe).

[3] United States v. Gelb, 881 F.2d 1155 (2d Cir. 1989) (holding that a postal worker that was responsible for ensuring that bulk mail had the appropriate postage was a “public official” within the meaning of the federal bribery statute).

[4] United States. v. Kidd, 734 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1984) (dismissing defendant’s argument that Army Private was not a “public official” because she was an enlisted soldier, rather than an officer).


Online fraud scam leads to the conviction of seven people

A total of seven people have been convicted of orchestrating an online fraud scheme that included counterfeit checks, suspicious shopper websites, and work-from-home scams.

One of the convicted is Ann Louis Franzen, a 70-year-old woman from Mississippi, who, along with four others, admitted to conspiring to steal identities and government property. They were each sentenced to five years in prison on September 7 by U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr.

The remaining two—Funso Hassan and Anthony Shane Jeffers, a 27-year-old from Nigeria and a 44-year-old from Tennessee—admitted to all of the same charges along with using mail and an interstate facility to transfer the funds of their illegal work. Both were sentenced to five more years than their five counterparts.

If you have been charged with committing wire fraud, you should speak with a Baton Rouge wire fraud defense attorney at Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm as early on in the legal process as you can. Please call our offices in Baton Rouge at (225) 650-7400 today.


Scam Alert: FEMA issues warning to flood victims

As Louisiana recovers from devastating flooding, scammers are sure to be taking advantage of the situation. FEMA has issued some guidelines to remember in order to avoid such fraudulent schemes.

In dealing with housing inspectors:

  1. FEMA inspector will never ask for the applicant’s nine-digit registration number as they should already have that information.
  2. They will not ask for personal details like your bank information.
  3. Inspectors will not hire or endorse contractors for home repairs as their sole job is to appraise the situation.

When working with contractors:

  1. You can verify a contractor’s license number through the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors website.
  2. Get three written estimates before repair work begins and then check the contractor’s credentials by calling local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce.
  3. Before work starts, thoroughly inspect the contract and get a copy, making sure you understand all details of work, cost, completion, and the remedy for changes and disputes.
  4. Take photos of the contractor and their work-related resources like their vehicle, license plate, driver’s license, or business card, photograph or scan their contract license and insurance, scan any checks and money orders paid to keep for your records.

If you suspect anyone posing as a disaster relief supporter, call the FEMA toll-free Disaster Fraud Hotline or your local law enforcement officials.

If you have been accused of FEMA Fraud during a recent natural disaster, contact an attorney with Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm. Our attorneys understand how damaging a fraud charge can be on your career and personal life and are standing by to assist you in the legal process. Call us at (225) 650-7400 to discuss your options.


A Louisiana woman faces trial for fraud

A woman who allegedly received oil-spill recovery money of $150,000 faces trial. She claimed she lost wages as a Holiday Inn manager in Biloxi, but federal indictment says she did not work for Holiday Inn before the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The second indictment against Vanna Ly, formerly of Biloxi, alleges falsified bankruptcy petition and concealed her assets. She now lives in New Orleans and is set for trial on a court calendar starting September 6th. The Sun Herald reports she pleaded not guilty to all charges. Ly is charged with attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the oil spill case and concealment of assets and four counts of making false declarations in a bankruptcy proceeding.

If you have been charged with committing wire fraud, you should speak with a wire fraud defense attorney at Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm as early on in the legal process as you can. Please call our offices in Baton Rouge at (225) 650-7400 today.


Gretna ‘sovereign citizen’ convicted of mail fraud

A former maritime industry worker, Melvin Lewis II, was convicted Tuesday in federal court for 30 counts of mail fraud. Lewis considers himself a “sovereign citizen”,  and as such believes the government has no legal jurisdiction over individuals.

He sent several letters to co-workers, police officers, municipal employees and a state district judge, demanding millions of dollars for arbitrary reasons such as speaking his name without his permission. He also filed for liens on the property of some of his victims in order to receive payments. The 53-year-old man was convicted after a one-day bench trial before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. Lewis could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of his offences. Lewis’ fraudulent behavior began in 2013 after he was supposedly promised a promotion at Dynamic Industries Inc. but didn’t receive one.

If you have been charged with fraud, you should contact one of the Baton Rouge mail fraud defense attorneys at Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm. Call us at (225) 650-7400 to begin preparing a comprehensive legal strategy for your defense.


2 former attorney aids accused of funds appropriation

Attorney Michael S. Fawer of Covington recently filed suit against two of his former staffers due to suspected theft and fraud.

According to the May 3 lawsuit, defendants Hailey Lawton and Regina Lawton allegedly stole funds from their boss. The complaint revealed that Fawer became aware of Regina Lawton taking funds from his account without his permission. She was also suspected of padding her paychecks and issuing checks to Hailey Lawton for unearned hours of work. Regina Lawton was also suspected of transferring Fawer’s funds to her personal account, the suit alleged. Fawer is expecting to recover all of his losses, including legal costs, from the two defendants.

Facing fraud allegations can be a frustrating situation, especially if you are being threatened with prolonged imprisonment and hefty fines. However, working with a skilled attorney can ensure that your rights are protected through every step of litigation. Find out how an attorney at the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm may tirelessly work for you in Baton Rouge by calling (225) 650-7400.

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