Home » LAW » 2009 – 2010 Press Releases by the Attorney General of MA

2009 – 2010 Press Releases by the Attorney General of MA

May 06, 2009 – For immediate release:

AG Obtains Consent Judgment Against Boston Realty Company Resolving Allegations of Discrimination

BOSTON- Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office has obtained a consent judgment against a Boston realty company and one of its owners, resolving allegations that they violated Massachusetts antidiscrimination laws by asking a prospective tenant about her national origin.

“The Commonwealth’s antidiscrimination law prohibits landlords and realtors from asking prospective tenants about their national origin, or from recording national origin information on applications,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Real estate professionals must take care not to violate these prohibitions, which help to protect housing applicants from illegal discrimination.”

The judgment, entered yesterday by Suffolk Superior Court Judge John C. Cratsley, permanently prohibits Dakota Enterprises, Inc., which does business under the name Boston’s Best Realty, and its owner Kevin Lehrer from discriminating on the basis of a tenant’s national origin. Specifically, the defendants cannot inquire about or record a prospective tenant’s national origin, refuse to rent based on national origin or impose any special terms or conditions on a lease based on national origin. Dakota Enterprises and Lehrer will pay $8,000 to the prospective tenant and her husband, and $500 to the Commonwealth’s Local Consumer Aid Fund.

The consent judgment resolves a complaint filed in March 2008.Under today’s judgment, Dakota Enterprises has agreed to conduct a training on state and federal fair housing laws for all employees and agents within ninety days. The training must be approved in advance by the Attorney General’s Office and must be provided to all new employees within one month of the start of employment. The company also agrees to include the term “Equal Housing Opportunity” or the Equal Housing Opportunity logo in all electronic and print advertisements.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Anna-Marie Tabor of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division with assistance from Investigator Dean Bates of Attorney General Coakley’s Investigations Division.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 20, 2009 – For immediate release:

Everett Man Convicted, Sentenced to 10 Years in State Prison for Selling Cocaine to Undercover State Trooper

SALEM – An Essex Superior Court jury convicted an Everett man Monday in connection with selling cocaine to an undercover Massachusetts State Trooper.  Michael Castro, age 37, was found guilty of Trafficking in Cocaine over 100 grams, and Trafficking in Cocaine over 28 grams.  Immediately after the verdict, Superior Court Judge David Lowy sentenced Castro to serve 10 years in State Prison on the charge of Trafficking in Cocaine over 100 grams.  On the charge of Trafficking in Cocaine over 28 grams, Judge Lowy sentenced Castro to serve five years in State Prison. The sentences will run concurrently.

In April 2002, Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General’s Office began an investigation into Castro’s drug dealing activities.  During the month of April 2002, Castro completed two drug transactions in the Saugus area with an undercover Massachusetts State Police Trooper. During one of the transactions Castro sold over 100 grams of cocaine to the trooper, and on a separate date sold over 28 grams of cocaine to the same undercover trooper.

An Essex County Grand Jury returned indictments against Castro in June 2002.  At the time the defendant had fled to Florida.  Castro was apprehended by Massachusetts State Police in Florida and was returned to Massachusetts for arraignment in Essex Superior Court on October 27, 2003.  At arraignment Castro pled not guilty and was held without bail.  After a trial before Essex Superior Court Judge Richard Welch, Castro was convicted of these charges on November 15, 2005.  At that time Judge Welch sentenced Castro to concurrent sentences of 10 years in State Prison on the charge of Trafficking in Cocaine over 100 grams and five years in State Prison on the charge of Trafficking in Cocaine over 28 grams.

This first conviction was overturned on July 18, 2008, and the Attorney General’s Office again prosecuted Castro for his crimes.

Castro’s second trial began on May 14, 2009, and last for three days.  On Monday, the jury deliberated for approximately two hours before returning with a verdict of guilty.  After the verdict, Castro was sentenced by Judge Lowy.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Patrick Hanley of Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Enterprise and Major Crimes Division, and was investigated by Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General’s Office.

 

 

May 18, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Reaches $22 Million Medicaid Fraud Settlement From Eli Lilly

Funds Recovered From Pharmaceutical Giant to be Returned to state Medicaid Program

BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office has reached an agreement with pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly & Co. (“Lilly”), resolving allegations that the company engaged in the improper marketing of its atypical antipsychotic drug, Zyprexa. Under the terms of the settlement, Lilly has paid $22,499,433.04 to the Massachusetts Medicaid Program, which provides funds for health care products and services to eligible low-income individuals, including people with disabilities, children and elder citizens.

The Massachusetts recovery is part of a national settlement that has returned more than $700 million to Medicaid programs nationwide and an additional $65 million to other federal health care programs.  Attorney General Coakley’s office took a leading role in negotiating the agreement by serving as the lead representative and negotiator on the team responsible for protecting the interests of 36 states and the District of Columbia.  The coalition of states, which included attorneys general of the states of Ohio, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas and Delaware, worked in cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The federal government announced its settlement with Lilly on January 15, 2009.

“Our office will continue to take a leadership role, in Massachusetts and on a national level, in making sure health care corporations that engage in improper sales or marketing practices are held accountable.” said Attorney General Coakley. “Particularly during times of economic distress and budget cutbacks, it is not acceptable for any company whose products or services are paid for by the Medicaid program to conduct business in an unfair or deceptive manner.”

Federal and state investigators determined that Lilly promoted the sale and use of Zyprexa for unapproved uses through a marketing campaign called “Viva Zyprexa.”  The promotional activities undertaken by Lilly in the Viva Zyprexa campaign were designed to increase the prescribing of Zyprexa not only by psychiatrists but also by primary care physicians, and targeted such unapproved uses as the treatment of depression, anxiety, irritability, disrupted sleep, nausea and gambling addiction. As a result of these promotional activities, Lilly improperly caused physicians to prescribe Zyprexa for children and adolescents, dementia patients in long term care facilities, and in unapproved dosage amounts. The allegations that formed the basis of the joint federal-state investigation took place between September 1999 and December of 2005.

In addition to the civil settlements, Lilly has pleaded guilty to a one count misdemeanor violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and paid federal criminal fines and forfeitures totaling $615 million.  The company has also entered into a detailed and comprehensive Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) to be administered by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under which its sales and marketing of Zyprexa going forward will be strictly monitored.  The total monetary value to the state and federal governments of the combined criminal/civil resolution of this investigation – more than $1 billion – represents the largest recovery in a health care fraud investigation in U.S. history.

Lilly is a major pharmaceutical manufacturer incorporated in Indiana, with its principal place of business located in Indianapolis. Lilly’s Zyprexa is one of a class of drugs designated as atypical anti-psychotics. It is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of adults suffering from schizophrenia and certain forms of bipolar disorder.  This settlement is based on four whistleblower lawsuits filed in federal court in Philadelphia, all of which alleged that Lilly employed illegal off-label marketing schemes to promote sales of Zyprexa.

Off-label prescribing of pharmaceutical products by physicians is a common practice and is not unlawful, but the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits pharmaceutical manufacturers from marketing off-label uses of their products.  The settlement addresses these off-label claims only, and does not release Lilly from liability for consequential damages, including claims arising from adverse health effects suffered by Medicaid recipients or other health care consumers as a result of taking Zyprexa.

The matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Robert Patten of Attorney General Coakley’s Medicaid Fraud Division.  He was assisted by Data Analyst Anthony Megathlin, also of the Medicaid Fraud Division, and by Assistant Attorneys General from Ohio, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas and Delaware and the District of Columbia.

 

June 04, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley Reaches Settlement with Real Estate Company to Resolve Discrimination Claim

PLYMOUTH – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office has reached a settlement with a Brockton real estate company in response to a tenant’s claim of discrimination and retaliation.  The Assurance of Discontinuance filed in Plymouth Superior Court against Churchill Forge Properties, Inc., and its employee Joyce Levine, alleges that the real estate company and the employee violated state anti-discrimination laws by retaliating against an African-American tenant when he contacted the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).  Churchill Forge, which is headquartered in Newton, Massachusetts, manages several rental properties across the Commonwealth.

“It is against the law for anyone to retaliate against a person who exercises his or her right to make an allegation of discrimination,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley.  “If people do not feel free to speak out when they believe they have experienced discrimination, then the Commonwealth cannot effectively fight against discrimination.”

According to the tenant’s complaint to the MCAD,Levine initially denied the tenant an extra key for his son’s caregiver while providing extra keys to Caucasian tenants who requested them.  Levine also later allegedly threatened to evict the tenant and have his car towed when she learned that he had contacted the MCAD to complain about the alleged disparate treatment.  Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with another person in the exercise or enjoyment of any right granted or protected by the Massachusetts Anti-discrimination Act as well as to retaliate against them for reporting acts of discrimination.

The Assurance of Discontinuance requires that Churchill Forge and its employees agree to abide by federal and state fair housing and anti-discrimination laws; adopt and implement a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy; provide annual training for all employees on federal and state fair housing law; notify the Civil Rights Division of any discrimination complaints in the next five years; and pay $11,000 to the tenant.  These obligations apply to all of the properties that Churchill Forge manages and operates across the Commonwealth.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Maura Healey and Kiernan Joliat of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

June 18, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley Reaches $10,000 Settlement with Two Brookline Real Estate Brokers for Discriminating Against a Family with Young Children

DEDHAM  Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office obtained a consent judgment against Geoffrey Wells, doing business as (d/b/a) Harvard Real Estate of Brookline, and one of his employees, David Ravalli, accused of violating state antidiscrimination and lead paint laws by refusing to show a property to a family because they had young children.

The judgment, signed June 16, 2009, by Norfolk Superior Court Associate Justice Thomas McGuire, Jr., requires the brokers to pay the family $10,000 and prohibits them from discriminating against any person who seeks or applies for housing because they have children or otherwise discriminating against any person in violation of state and federal fair housing laws.

“Real estate companies and their agents need to recognize that deleading is a necessary requirement of doing business as a landlord in Massachusetts and that our lead paint and antidiscrimination laws contribute to the health and safety of the community,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because they have children or because the presence of children might trigger a property owner’s duties under the lead paint laws.”

The consent judgment resolves a complaint filed in October 2007 in Norfolk Superior Court, alleging that Geoffrey Wells, d/b/a Harvard Real Estate of Brookline, through its agent David Ravalli, refused to show an advertised unit to a mother of two young children and tried to steer her to other properties.  The complaint alleges that the discriminatory treatment was confirmed by two testers from the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston.  The Attorney General’s Office filed the complaint after the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) found probable cause that Harvard Real Estate of Brookline and Ravalli discriminated against the family.  Under state law, the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for enforcing fair housing laws and prosecuting housing discrimination cases following probable cause determinations from MCAD.

The judgment also requires both brokers to attend training on state and federal fair housing and antidiscrimination laws, to advertise any future rental property as “Equal Housing Opportunity” properties, to maintain a record of rental applicants submitted by prospective tenants, and to report all discrimination complaints to the Attorney General’s Office.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Adam Hollingsworth of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

July 30, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley Announces Multi-State Settlement with the TJX Companies, Inc., Over Massive Data Breach

Massachusetts to Receive over $950,000 to Ensure Protection of Personal Data

BOSTON – Today, a group of 41 Attorneys General, led by the Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, announced a settlement with the Framingham-based TJX Companies, Inc. (“TJX”)  The Assurance of Discontinuance between the parties, filed in Suffolk Superior Court today, resolves claims relating to TJX’s failure to appropriately protect its customers’ financial information and to guard against a massive data breach that placed thousands of consumers’ personal data at risk, nationwide.  TJX has agreed to pay $9.75 million to the states and to implement and maintain a comprehensive information security program, designed to safeguard consumer data and address any weaknesses in TJX’s systems in place at the time of the breach.  Under the terms of the settlement, Massachusetts will receive approximately  $951,000 to aid efforts to protect consumers’ personally-identifiable information and to cover the costs of the investigation.

 

June 29, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley Applauds Department of Public Utilities for Upholding $8 Million Fine Against National Grid

BOSTON – Attorney General Martha Coakley praised the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) for upholding an approximately $8 million fine against National Grid for the company’s failure to meet service quality standards in 2006.  On Friday, the DPU issued a ruling refusing National Grid’s request to exclude four storms from the calculation of service quality penalties in 2006.  The $8 million penalty will result in a slight decrease in rates for customers in National Grid’s service territory.

“We appreciate the DPU’s recognition that utility service quality is important and utilities that lose power repeatedly and fail to restore service quickly should be penalized,” said Attorney General Coakley.

From 2004 through 2006, National Grid failed to meet service quality standards because of repeated outages and its failure to timely restore service.  The company faced automatic penalties for its service quality failures for these years, and, under the terms of the company’s service quality plan, the penalty was doubled for 2006 for failing to meet the standards for three years in a row.   Arguing that four storms in 2006 that had led to outages were extraordinary, National Grid brought a petition requesting that the DPU exclude these four storms from the calculation of service quality penalties.  The Attorney General’s Office opposed the exclusion of the storms arguing that they were not extraordinary or excluded under the guidelines including that the Governor had not declared a state of emergency in each case. If these storms had been excluded, National Grid would have been penalized a lower amount in 2006.  On Friday, the DPU found these storms were not extraordinary and therefore ruled that the storms should not be excluded from the calculation of fines in 2006.  National Grid has met service quality standards since 2006.

In a separate matter, National Grid has recently asked the DPU for an approximate 18% increase in residential distribution rates (this is a total bill increase of 5.5%).  The Attorney General opposes this rate increase as excessive and unwarranted.  The DPU will host public hearings on the proposed rate increase next week in Nantucket, Worcester, and Andover where members of the public can testify.  Following the public hearings, the DPU will host evidentiary hearings where the Attorney General and the company will present witnesses.

The Attorney General serves as the ratepayer advocate and is authorized to intervene in administrative and/or judicial proceedings on behalf of consumers in connection with any matter involving the rates, charges, prices or tariffs of any gas company doing business in the Commonwealth.

Representing the Attorney General’s Office and ratepayers in this matter were Assistant Attorneys General Joseph Rogers and Tackey Chan.

July 28, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley Sues Boston Property Management Company and its Manager for Discrimination Against Foster Parent

BOSTON – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office has filed a lawsuit against Cornerstone Corporation, a for-profit property management company that manages the Roxse Homes residential housing development in Boston, alleging that the company and one of its employees discriminated against a tenant because she is a foster parent.  Under state and federal law, it is illegal to discriminate against a person based on his or her familial status which can include foster parent relationships.

“It is a violation of state and federal law to discriminate against foster parents because of the familial status or composition of their family,” said Attorney General Coakley. “Foster parents serve a critical need in supporting the care, welfare and safety of children across the Commonwealth.”

According to the complaint, the tenant had been a licensed foster parent for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families for many years and had lived in Roxse Homes with her family, including foster children, since 2006. The complaint alleges that despite knowing that the tenant was a licensed foster parent, the defendants falsely accused the tenant of operating a day-care center in her apartment in violation of the lease and later twice threatened to evict her and her family unless she ceased such activity.

The complaint, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, seeks injunctive relief and civil penalties.  This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Alan Jay Rom of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

August 24, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Coakley Praises Supreme Judicial Court Ruling in Independent Contractor Misclassification Case

BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley praised the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) recent decision in Somers v. Converged Access, Inc. (CAI). On Friday, the SJC ruled as to the proper measure of damages an employee must receive when misclassified as an independent contractor under the state’s Wage and Hour laws. The SJC ruled that in such circumstances the damages incurred are equal to the value of wages and benefits the worker should have received as an employee, but did not receive from his employer. In issuing the decision, the Court affirmed that the employer bears the burden of proof on the issue of whether an employee is properly classified as an independent contractor.  The Attorney General’s Office filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff in this case.

“The SJC’s ruling is an important victory for all workers in the Commonwealth,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Employers must know that they will be held responsible if they try to take advantage of their workers by not paying them all of the wages they are owed under the law.”

The case, Somers v. Converged Access, Inc., began in May 2006, when Robert Somers filed a lawsuit against his former employer claiming, among other things, that he was misclassified as an independent contractor.  In January 2008, the Middlesex Superior Court allowed the employer’s summary judgment motion by finding that even though the employer failed to show that Somers was an independent contractor, Somers failed to show any damages.  In reaching this conclusion, the trial court relied on the employer’s asserted statutory set-off claim, assuming that Somers would have earned less if he had been classified as an employee. The employee appealed the trial court’s ruling, and the SJC, on its own initiative, transferred the case from the Appeals Court.  The SJC heard arguments from the parties and the Attorney General’s Office in May 2009, and on Friday overruled the trial court on the independent contractor issue and remanded the matter to the trial court.

In the SJC’s decision, the Court ruled that the Wage Act, which includes the Independent Contractor/Misclassification statute, is a strict liability statute. The Court stated, “Although we have never been called to interpret the term ‘valid set-off’ in the context of § 150, we understand the term in the common, ordinary sense to refer to circumstances where there exists a clear and established debt owed to the employer by the employee.  Here, there was no evidence of any debt that the plaintiff owed to CAI, and no basis to invoke the ‘valid set-off’ defense.”  The Court also stated “Misclassification not only hurts the individual employee; it also imposes significant financial burdens on the Federal government and the Commonwealth in lost tax and insurance revenues. Moreover, it gives an employer who misclassifies employees as independent contractors an unfair competitive advantage over employers who correctly classify their employees and bear the concomitant financial burden.”

The Attorney General’s Office is responsible for enforcing the laws regulating the payment of wages laws, overtime and misclassification of employees in the Commonwealth.  The Attorney General’s Office issued an Advisory to provide guidance to employers on the Independent Contractor/Misclassification Law in April 2008.  Workers who believe they have been misclassified, have not been paid all their wages, including earned vacation pay or that their rights have been violated are strongly urged to call the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Hotline at (617) 727-3465.  More information about the wage and hour laws is also available in multiple languages at the Attorney General’s Workplace Rights website: www.massworkrights.com.

The matter was argued for the plaintiff by Harold L. Lichten. Assistant Attorney General Karla E. Zarbo, of Attorney General Coakley’s Fair Labor Division, participated at oral argument in support of the employee.

September 01, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley Settles with Cambridge Real Estate Company That Discriminated Against Family with Young Child

WOBURN – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office obtained a consent judgment against ABG Residential, a Cambridge-based realty company, and its agent, Georgina Zala, resolving claims that the company refused to rent an apartment to a couple because they had a nine-month old child whose presence would require abatement of lead paint hazards under state law.  The consent judgment, entered yesterday by Judge Thomas Billings in Middlesex Superior Court, orders the defendants to pay $3,500 to the couple and bars the defendants from future acts of discrimination.

“It is illegal to refuse to rent an apartment to a family with young children or to steer prospective tenants away from properties that may contain lead paint,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Massachusetts landlords, real estate companies and others involved in the rental property business need to abide by important state laws that are designed to combat discrimination and protect the health and safety of our children.”

 

 

 

According to the complaint filed yesterday by the Commonwealth, the couple responded to an apartment rental advertisement posted on Craigslist by the defendants by contacting an agent at ABG Residential, formerly known as Inman Realty.  The complaint alleges that when the couple spoke with ABG Residential’s agent, the agent told them that the company would not rent to anyone with a child under the age of six and abruptly cancelled the appointment to view the apartment.  Further investigation revealed that the advertised apartment was not de-leaded and therefore would have required the property owner to abate the lead prior to renting the apartment.

The settlement also requires the defendants to attend fair housing training and implement non-discriminatory policies.  The consent judgment further requires the defendants to advertise as equal housing opportunity real estate agents and maintain records of those apartments that they advertise that contain lead paint.

The Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits real estate companies, agents, landlords and others involved in property rentals, from discriminating against families.  In addition, the Massachusetts Lead Paint Statute requires landlords who rent to families with children under the age of six to abate lead hazards in a rental unit in order to prevent lead poisoning.  It is illegal to discriminate against families with children in order to avoid compliance with the lead paint law.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Alan Jay Rom of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

September 02, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Reaches Nearly $15 Million Settlement with Pharmaceutical Giant Pfizer

Coalition of Government Entities Reaches Historic $2.3 Billion Settlement with Drug Giant

BOSTON — Today, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office reached an agreement with pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer Inc. (“Pfizer”), resolving allegations that the company engaged in improper marketing practices to promote the sales of a variety of its drugs.  Under the terms of this landmark settlement, Pfizer will pay $14,728,408 to the Massachusetts Medicaid Program, which provides funds for health care products and services to eligible low-income individuals, including people with disabilities, children and elder citizens. Attorney General Coakley’s office took a leading role in negotiating this agreement by serving as the lead representative and negotiator for the multi-state settlement team.  This is the largest national settlement in history in a health care fraud matter.

“This settlement sends a strong message to the pharmaceutical industry and to the broader healthcare community that illegal and improper practices will not be tolerated.” said Attorney General Coakley. “State and federal prosecutors take very seriously their responsibility to police the Medicaid program, and we will continue to work together to identify and root out fraud and abuse in the health care industry.  Particularly in today’s climate of economic hard times and budget cutbacks, we will not tolerate improper sales and marketing practices that enrich corporations at the expense of taxpayer-funded programs serving our neediest citizens.”

The Massachusetts recovery is part of a national settlement that could return more than $700 million to Medicaid programs nationwide and an additional $295 million to other federally-funded health care programs.  Attorney General Coakley’s office took a leading role in negotiating this agreement by serving as the lead representative and negotiator for the multi-state settlement team.  The coalition of government entities involved in this multi-state agreement includes the United States Attorneys’ Offices for the District of Massachusetts, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Eastern District of Kentucky, and the United States Department of Justice, the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and representatives of the attorneys general of the states of Oregon, Ohio, New York, Virginia, Texas and Arkansas.

This settlement is based on nine separate whistleblower lawsuits filed against the company in federal courts in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.  A number of the suits alleged that Pfizer and its subsidiaries employed illegal off-label marketing to promote the sales of Bextra (an anti-inflammatory medication), Geodon (a drug used in the treatment of schizophrenia), Zyvox (an antibiotic), and Lyrica (a seizure medication).  Off-label prescribing of pharmaceutical products by physicians – the writing of prescriptions to treat a condition for which the drug is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – is a common practice and is not unlawful.  Nevertheless, the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits pharmaceutical manufacturers from marketing or promoting off-label uses of their products.  This portion of the settlement addresses these off-label marketing claims only, and does not release Pfizer from liability for claims arising from adverse health effects suffered by Medicaid recipients or other health care consumers as a result of taking these products.

The remaining lawsuits were based upon allegations that the company engaged in various kickback schemes to increase its sales of nine other drugs: Aricept (used for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease); Celebrex (like Bextra, an anti-inflammatory drug); Lipitor (a statin, or cholesterol-lowering drug); Norvasc (used in the treatment of high blood pressure); Relpax (approved to treat migraines); Viagra (used in the treatment of erectile dysfunction); Zithromax (an antibiotic); Zoloft (an anti-depressant); and Zyrtec (an allergy medication).  These kickbacks allegedly took many forms, including improper inducements to health care providers in the form of entertainment, cash, travel, and meals.  Both Massachusetts and federal law prohibit the payment of anything of value in exchange for the prescribing of a product paid for by the Medicaid program.

In addition to the civil settlements, Pfizer subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Company, Inc. will plead guilty to a one count felony violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (criminal misbranding of a drug with the intent to defraud or mislead), and will pay federal criminal fines and forfeitures totaling $1.3 billion.  The criminal plea will resolve charges that the company illegally promoted the sales of Bextra, one of a class of anti-inflammatory drugs known as Cox-2 inhibitors, which was subsequently withdrawn from the market because of unacceptably high risks of cardiovascular complications associated with its use.

Pfizer has also entered into a detailed and comprehensive Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) to be administered by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under which the company’s sales and marketing practice will be strictly monitored for a period of five years.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Patten of Attorney General Coakley’s Medicaid Fraud Division served as principal negotiator on behalf of the states in this national settlement.  He was assisted by Data Analyst Anthony Megathlin, also of the Medicaid Fraud Division, and by Assistant Attorneys General and data analysts from Oregon, Ohio, New York, Texas, Virginia and Arkansas.

September 17, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Files Lawsuit Against Developers for Falsifying Profits on Affordable Housing Project in Acton

WOBURN – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office has filed a lawsuit against Acton-based Crossroads Development LLC (“Crossroads”), its owners James Fenton and Michael Jeanson, as well as a related contractor, James Fenton & Son Contracting, Inc. (JF&S) for violating the False Claims Act (FCA) in connection with falsifying cost statements and profits on an affordable housing development in Acton.

In the complaint filed in Middlesex Superior Court, the Attorney General’s Office alleges that the defendants submitted a false cost certification to the Town of Acton in connection with the development of the 12-unit affordable housing complex located on Main Street known as “Crossroads.”  As a result, the developers fraudulently concealed a large sum of money owed to Acton’s Affordable Housing Fund.

Chapter 40B—the state’s affordable housing law—encourages the development of affordable housing by granting developers waivers from zoning and other local ordinances and bylaws in return for a commitment to earn a limited development profit. Under Chapter 40B, those developers who benefit from the advantages of the law are limited to a reasonable profit on the affordable housing projects they develop.  In this case, Crossroads had an agreement with the Town of Acton that capped its profits at 20 percent of the development costs and any profit above the allowable profit was to be paid to the town’s affordable housing fund.

According to the complaint, Crossroads and its principals included costs in its report for services not actually incurred and inflated costs on the project in order to pocket profits and circumvent the 20 percent profit cap allowed under the state’s affordable housing law.  The defendants claimed they earned less than a 20 percent development profit, when actual profit was much higher. The complaint alleges costs for the project were estimated at approximately $2.7 million with the developers’ profit capped at $540,413.  However, Jeanson and Fenton exceeded that threshold by adding an additional 10 percent global surcharge to the site work through JF&S, the site work contractor owned by Fenton, charging impermissible amounts for development fees, charging for labor, equipment and fees that were never provided, and charging  rates that far exceed costs that were actually paid. None of these excess charges were disclosed.

The complaint also alleges the defendants sold one of the condominiums to an entity they owned at a price lower than market value and then promptly resold the unit at market rate, making $50,000 on the resale. The developers fraudulently concealed this profit.  Jeanson and Fenton also charged excessive overhead costs by adding on a baseless 10 percent surcharge to JF&S billing rates, which already included overhead and profit.

The Attorney General’s Office began investigating this case last fall after a referral from the Inspector General’s Office. The False Claims Act gives the Attorney General the authority to recover, on behalf of the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions, such as cities and towns, triple damages and civil penalties from those who defraud the state or its political subdivisions.  The Attorney General’s Office seeks to recover these sums for the Commonwealth and the Town of Acton, as well as seeking multiple damages and fines.

This case was developed through the cooperation and collaborative investigation of the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Inspector General. It is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Matthew T. Connolly with assistance from Legal Analyst Jeffrey Walker of Attorney General Coakley’s Consumer Protection Division.

September 17, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Reaches Settlement with Waltham Real Estate Company That Allegedly Discriminated Against Woman with a Section 8 Subsidy

BOSTON – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office entered into a settlement with a Waltham based real estate company resolving allegations that the company refused to rent to a woman because she had a Section 8 housing subsidy to pay a portion of the rent.  The Assurance of Discontinuance filed in Suffolk Superior Court on September 15, 2009, against Chiccarelli Real Estate, Inc., orders the company to assist the woman to find an apartment and pay a portion of the rental cost.  The Assurance of Discontinuance also bars Chiccarelli Real Estate from discriminating in the future.

“It is illegal to refuse to rent an apartment to persons holding state or federal housing subsidies,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Massachusetts landlords, real estate companies and others involved in the rental property business must abide by Massachusetts law prohibiting discrimination against persons with state of federal housing subsidies.  These laws are important to ensuring equal housing opportunities.”

According to the complaint sent to the Attorney General’s Office, the woman was told by an employee of Chiccarelli Real Estate that they had too many Section 8 vouchers already and could not take any more.  The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston tested the company the next day and two testers spoke to another employee at Chiccarelli Real Estate who is alleged to have refused to rent for the same reason.

The resolution also requires Chiccarelli Real Estate personnel to attend fair housing training and implement non-discrimination policies. The Assurance of Discontinuance further requires Chiccarelli Real Estate to advertise as equal housing opportunity real estate agents and report complaints to the Attorney General’s office.

The Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits real estate companies, agents, landlords and others involved in property rentals, from discriminating against people with state or federal housing subsidies.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Alan Jay Rom of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

October 15, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley Sues Melrose landlords for Housing Discrimination

WOBURN – Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office filed a housing discrimination complaint against Carl and Karen Fontana, the owners of a two-bedroom rental property in Melrose.  The complaint, filed in Middlesex Superior Court, alleges that the Fontanas violated state antidiscrimination laws by refusing to rent to recipients of housing subsidies.

“We are facing critical housing needs in the Commonwealth and the strain on those needing rental or transitional housing assistance is particularly great,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Realtors, brokers and landlords in Massachusetts should understand that discrimination against those who hold housing assistance subsidies is illegal and we will seek to hold accountable those who break the law.”

According to the complaint, the Fontanas refused to rent the Melrose property to a prospective tenant who held a Section 8 federal housing subsidy and her six-year-old daughter.  The complaint further alleges that defendant Karen Fontana told the prospective tenant that she did not want to deal with the Section 8 program.  Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate against housing applicants because they receive public assistance.

The Attorney General’s Office is seeking an order prohibiting the Fontanas from engaging in housing discrimination, damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Gabrielle Viator of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

October 22, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Announces Indictments Against Former Newton Man Charged with Allegedly Stealing Over $23,000 in Rent Checks

WOBURN – Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office announces that a Middlesex Grand Jury has returned indictments against a former Newton man for allegedly stealing over $23,000 in rent checks while working as a property manager for an apartment building.  William Gauthier, age 55, is charged with Larceny over $250 by False Pretenses (3 counts), Forgery (2 counts) and Uttering (2 counts).

The Attorney General’s Office previously indicted Gauthier in September 2008 in connection with two check fraud schemes in which he allegedly stole over $1 million.  While released on bail on those charges, Gauthier worked as a property manager at an apartment building in Newton.  One of his duties was to collect rent checks from tenants and deposit them into his employer’s business account.

In June 2009, the Attorney General’s Office began an investigation into these new charges after Gauthier’s scheme had been discovered and referred by his former employer.  Authorities allege that during the period of June 2008 through June 2009, Gauthier used his position of trust to commit another check fraud scheme in which he defrauded his employer and other victims out of thousands of dollars in rent money.  Investigators discovered that Gauthier allegedly told these tenants to make out rent checks to him personally or to a business that he owned.  The tenants did as they were told because they trusted him as the property manager.  He then allegedly deposited these checks into his personal account.  Gauthier’s employer never gave him permission to deposit the checks into his own account, nor were these checks ever to be made payable to him.  Authorities allege that Gauthier also deposited two checks into his own personal account that were made payable to his employer by forging his employer’s signature on the back of the checks.  Gauthier later deposited a portion of the stolen money into his employer’s account.

A Middlesex Grand Jury returned indictments against Gauthier today.  He will be scheduled for arraignment in Middlesex Superior Court at a later date.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General David Waterfall, of Attorney General Coakley’s Corruption and Fraud Division, and was investigated by Jessie Dean of the Attorney General’s Financial Investigations Division.  Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General’s Office also assisted with this investigation.

October 28, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley Reaches Statewide Settlement with 20 Landlords and Real Estate Agents for Discriminatory Advertisements on Craigslist and Files Suit Against Six Others

BOSTON – Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office reached settlements in 20 cases against landlords and real estate agents across the Commonwealth accused of violating state anti-discrimination laws by making discriminatory statements in rental advertisements posted on the popular classified advertising website Craigslist.org (“Craigslist”).  The Attorney General’s Office also filed lawsuits against six other defendants based on similar allegations.  The settlements and lawsuits are a result of a statewide investigation into reports of widespread discriminatory Internet advertising, and involved properties or their owners in seven different counties: Suffolk, Middlesex, Norfolk, Essex, Bristol, Plymouth, and Hampden.

In connection with this enforcement initiative, the Attorney General’s Office is also issuing two advisories to provide information and guidance to tenants, landlords, property owners and real estate companies about housing discrimination laws.  The Attorney General’s Office hopes that this information will help prevent future discrimination against families with children and against recipients of housing subsides, the most common types of prohibited discrimination encountered.

View PDF copies of the Advisories issued by the Attorney General’s Office:

  • Advisory on Lead Paint and Discrimination against Tenants with Children
  • Advisory on Discrimination against Tenants Receiving Federal, State, or Local Housing Subsidies

“Housing discrimination is a serious problem in Massachusetts.  Particularly as more families face tough financial times and have no choice but to rent, landlords and real estate professionals must recognize that the rental market is a regulated industry and compliance with our antidiscrimination laws is among their most important obligations,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “While we hope that this enforcement initiative will have a deterrent effect, our office will continue to monitor Craigslist and take action against persons and entities that violate the law.”

Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because the presence of children might trigger a property owner’s duties under the lead paint laws or because someone receives a housing subsidy, such as a Section 8 voucher, to pay for some or all of their rent.  The advertisements in question in this investigation include such language as “no children” or “no Section 8,” in blatant violation of the law.

The settlements, filed today in Suffolk Superior Court, collectively require the property owners and real estate agents to pay the Commonwealth $18,250, ($8,750 of which is suspended pending compliance with the agreements), attend trainings on state and federal fair housing laws, remove lead paint hazards from the rental units, and prohibit the defendants from placing discriminatory advertisements or otherwise discriminating against any person who seeks or applies for housing because they are a member of a protected class.  The agreements also require defendants to advertise any future rental property as “Equal Housing Opportunity” properties, to maintain a record of rental applicants submitted by prospective tenants, and to report all discrimination complaints received to the Attorney General’s Office.  In an effort to increase awareness of this important issue, defendants also agreed to place over 60 postings on Craigslist informing other Craigslist users that the Attorney General monitors Craigslist for discriminatory advertising and that it is against Massachusetts law to state a discriminatory preference against families with children or against recipients of housing assistance subsidies.

Today, the Attorney General’s Office also filed complaints against six individuals who posted discriminatory advertisements on Craigslist and with whom settlement negotiations were unsuccessful.  The complaints allege that Alexander Cohen of Saugus, Linheart Smith of Hyde Park, Jason Griffith of South Dartmouth, George Cote of Fall River, Harriet Witkington of Fall River, and David Hanson of Nashua, New Hampshire each violated the Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Act by placing advertisements on Craigslist that discriminated against recipients of housing assistance subsidies.

Attorney General Coakley’s office has also reached out to Craigslist to make the company aware of the scope of the problem of discriminatory online advertising in Massachusetts.  Craigslist is one of the most frequently visited websites in the country, with more than 50 million visitors per month in the United States alone.  The Attorney General expects to work together with Craigslist in the coming weeks to address this issue and prevent this type of blatant discrimination from entering the stream of commerce in the future.

For additional information on lead paint discrimination and housing discrimination as it pertains to tenants receiving housing subsidies, please visit the Civil Rights portion of the Attorney General’s website.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Adam Hollingsworth and Patricio Rossi of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division,  Jeanne Veenstra of the New Bedford regional office, and Laurie Frankl of the Springfield regional office, with the assistance of John Harney of the Civil Investigations Division and investigator Jennifer Chaves of the Southeastern regional office.

##########

November 05, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley Obtains Consent Judgment Against Everett Landlord for Discriminating And Retaliating Against Family with a Young Child to Avoid Lead Paint Obligations

WOBURN – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office has obtained a consent judgment in a housing discrimination case against Sheryl Budd, the owner of a three-unit building located in Everett, who is accused of violating state anti-discrimination laws for refusing to de-lead an apartment after learning that a long-time tenant was pregnant.  The Commonwealth alleged that Budd attempted to avoid the costs associated with her legal obligation to abate the lead hazards in the apartment and that she later retaliated against the tenants by threatening to increase their rent by 50 percent after they complained to the Everett Board of Health.

The judgment, entered on November 4, 2009, by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Herman J. Smith Jr., requires Budd to pay the victim $10,000 and prohibits her from discriminating against any person because they have a child, whose presence would trigger her obligations under the lead paint laws, or otherwise discriminate against any person in violation of state and federal fair housing laws.

“Property owners need to recognize that de-leading is a cost of doing business as a landlord in Massachusetts and that our lead paint and antidiscrimination laws contribute to the health and safety of the community,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because they have children or because the presence of children might trigger a property owner’s duties under the lead paint laws.  Moreover, landlords cannot retaliate against tenants who try to enforce their rights under the law.  We will continue to vigorously enforce these important laws.”

The judgment resolves the complaint, filed in July 2006, amended in May 2009, alleging that Budd discriminated against the tenants by refusing to remove lead-based hazards after being informed that a tenant was pregnant.  According to the complaint, the tenants notified Budd several months advance that they were having their first child and were worried about possible lead hazards, but Budd refused to do an inspection or remove any lead hazards before or after the child was born.  The tenants then complained to the Everett Board of Health, who ordered Budd to comply with the lead paint laws.  After receiving the order, Budd allegedly called the tenants and yelled at them and threatened to increase their rent.  Days later, she sent them a letter with a 50 percent rent increase as retaliation for reporting her to the city.  The rent increase was directed only at the tenants who complained.

Budd failed to abate the lead until one year after first being informed of the impending birth, and only after being ordered to do so by the Board.  The tenants were forced to live in fear that their child would get lead poisoning and had to dramatically alter their lives to avoid harm to their child.

The judgment also requires Budd to attend training on state and federal fair housing and antidiscrimination laws if she acts as a landlord in the next five years, to advertise any future rental property as “Equal Housing Opportunity” properties, to maintain a record of rental applicants submitted by prospective tenants, and to report all discrimination complaints to the Attorney General’s Office.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Adam Hollingsworth of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division, with the assistance of Ashley Cinelli of the Victim Witness Services Division.

December 10, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Obtains Consent Judgment Against Property Owner for Discriminating Against a Parent with a Housing Subsidy

WOBURN – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office obtained a consent judgment against a Woburn landlord resolving allegations that he refused to rent to a woman and her children because she had a Section 8 housing subsidy to pay a portion of the rent.  The consent judgment entered by Judge Leila R. Kern in Middlesex Superior Court, orders Abdullah al-Mamun to pay the woman $4,000 and to pay $1,000 to the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston.  In addition, the consent judgment bars defendants from discriminating in the future and requires Mamun to attend a training seminar on state and federal fair housing laws.

“It is a violation of state and federal law to discriminate against persons with federal or state housing subsidies,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Refusing to accept a prospective tenant because a landlord does not want to comply with certain requirements of a housing subsidy program violates our antidiscrimination laws.”

According to the complaint filed November 20, 2009, Mamun, who is the co-owner of a two family property in Woburn, advertised the four bedroom rental unit on Craigslist.org.  A single parent with children responded to the advertisement.  Upon learning through conversation that the woman had a housing subsidy, Mamun allegedly refused to show her the apartment.  In response, the prospective tenant told Mamun that it was illegal to refuse to rent to people with housing subsidies to which Mamun allegedly responded that it was his property and that he could do anything he wanted with it.  According to the complaint, Mamun further stated that he “didn’t want to deal with the government paperwork.”

Testers from the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston conducted subsequent tests using both a “control” tester and a “protected class” tester, a woman pretending to have a housing subsidy.   According to the complaint, Mamun showed the unit to both testers, but only sent a rental application to the control tester, offering at least a two year lease.  He allegedly told the protected class tester that the apartment would only be available for one year and then he would be moving into it.

The matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Alan Jay Rom of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

December 16, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Obtains Consent Judgment Against Property Management Company for Alleged Discrimination Against a Foster Parent

BOSTON – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office obtained a consent judgment against Cornerstone Corporation (Cornerstone), a Massachusetts property management company, and its former manager, Linda Evans, resolving allegations that they violated state anti-discrimination laws by falsely accusing a foster parent of operating a day-care business out of her home and subsequently trying to evict her.  The consent judgment, entered by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Linda Giles, orders Cornerstone and Evans to pay the Commonwealth $15,000, of which $10,000 is suspended pending the defendants’ compliance with the terms of the consent judgment.  The consent judgment bars defendants from discriminating in the future, requires all employees to receive training on state and federal fair housing laws, and requires Cornerstone to adopt comprehensive non-discrimination policies.  The defendants will make payment of $30,864.08 to the victim under the terms of a separate agreement entered into by defendants.

“It is a violation of state and federal law to discriminate against foster parents or anyone else based on the composition of one’s family,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Foster parents serve a critical need in providing and supporting the care, welfare, and safety of children across the Commonwealth.”

Cornerstone manages Roxse Homes, a 346 unit residential housing development in Boston.  According to the Commonwealth’s complaint filed July 24, 2009, the tenant had been a licensed foster parent in Massachusetts since 1991 and had lived in Roxse Homes with her family since 2006.  The Commonwealth alleged that despite knowing the tenant was a licensed foster parent, Cornerstone and Evans falsely accused her of operating a day-care center out of her apartment and twice threatened to evict the tenant and her family unless she ceased such activity.

Under state and federal law, it is illegal to discriminate against a person based on his or her familial status, which can include foster parent relationships.

The consent judgment also requires defendants to acknowledge that being a foster parent does not constitute operating a day-care business and to conduct a thorough and documented factual investigation prior to accusing a resident of violating a lease provision.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Alan Jay Rom of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

December 18, 2009 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Sues Property Management Company and its Employee for Discriminating Against Disabled Woman

BOSTON – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office filed a housing discrimination complaint against Natick-based Franchi Management, Inc. and Marsha Lenhoff, the assistant property manager of Babcock Tower, a residential apartment building located at 270 Babcock Street in Boston.  The complaint, filed yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges that the defendants violated state anti-discrimination law by telling a woman with a disability that the management company would not provide services to people with disabilities.

“Persons with disabilities can and should have the same opportunity and access to housing as any other person in the state,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Equal participation in housing, employment, education and other aspects of daily living is critical for the well being of every resident in the Commonwealth and the Attorney General’s Office will continue to combat all forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities.”

According to the complaint, the prospective tenant, who suffers from mobility impairments, viewed the apartment and asked whether the property management company could make alterations to the bathroom to work with her commode and install push button door openers to accommodate her disabilities.  The employee for the property management company responded by telling her that it could not make the modification because the company does not accept tenants with disabilities.

Under Massachusetts law it is illegal to make any statement indicating a preference, limitation or discrimination against persons with disabilities.

The Attorney General’s Office is seeking damages and costs in addition to an order requiring the defendants to receive fair housing training, adopt appropriate antidiscrimination policies, and refrain from further acts of discrimination.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Jeanne M. Veenstra of Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

January 08, 2010 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Awards Over $1 Million in Grant Funding for Abandoned Property Rehabilitation

Funds from Fremont Mortgage Lending Settlement Allocated to Abandoned Property Rehabilitation Program

BOSTON — Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office announced that it will use monies obtained from the 2009 Fremont Settlement to fund over $1 million in grants for the Abandoned Property Rehabilitation Program.  Grants will support the rehabilitation of residential properties left abandoned due to foreclosure.  This grant program will allow community development organizations and non-profit housing groups to rehabilitate abandoned properties and stem neighborhood decline.  The funds awarded to grantees can be used to support the rehabilitation and renovation of abandoned properties, leverage additional funding, or provide services to make properties habitable.

“I am pleased that funds we have obtained through our subprime lending enforcement efforts will be allocated to abandoned property rehabilitation and will help to provide housing opportunities for the people of the Commonwealth,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley.  “This grant program will help alleviate the stress of the foreclosure crisis by utilizing funds to rehabilitate abandoned properties and will improve the safety and wellbeing of our communities by preventing these properties from being left in chaos.”

Grant recipients are community development organizations and municipal governments who are dealing with the effects of abandoned and foreclosed properties in some of the areas hardest hit by the fallout from the housing crisis.  Consideration was given to applicants whose programs are most likely to affect the largest number of properties and effectively leverage other funds to expand the impact of these resources.

The following organizations were awarded grant funding:

  • The City of Boston
  • Chelsea Restoration Corporation
  • The Town of Framingham
  • Lawrence Community Works
  • Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development
  • The City of Marlborough
  • The City of New Bedford
  • Twin Cities Community Development Corporation (Fitchburg, Leominster)
  • Worcester Community Housing Resources

The grant funding stems from a settlement obtained by the Attorney General’s Office in 2009 against Fremont Investment & Loan and its parent company, Fremont General Corporation.  Under the terms of the settlement, Fremont has also agreed not to foreclose upon unfair loans or originate unfair loans in the Commonwealth.

Since taking office in January 2007, Attorney General Martha Coakley has made foreclosure prevention and property rehabilitation a priority of her administration.  The Attorney General’s Office Abandoned Housing Initiative (AHI) was developed in the mid-1990s in response to complaints about crime and safety issues imposed by one or two abandoned homes in an otherwise viable neighborhood.  Through the AHI, staff in the Attorney General’s Office work with municipal inspectional services to identify properties that are abandoned and therefore a threat to the neighborhood.  In March of 2009, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced the expansion of AHI in collaboration with the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP) and was awarded $435,000 in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).  For more information about this initiative, please visit the AHI section of the Attorney General’s website.

The grants were awarded during the week of January 6, 2010.  For more information, please visit the Attorney General’s Office Grant Opportunities website.    

February 02, 2010 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Obtains Consent Judgment Against Berkshire County Newspaper for Alleged Publication of Discriminatory Housing Advertisements

PITTSFIELD – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office obtained a consent judgment against Shopper’s Guide newspaper of Great Barrington, MA, resolving allegations that Shopper’s Guide published over 100 rental property advertisements that violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws.  The consent judgment, entered yesterday by Berkshire Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini provides a broad range of relief and preventive measures to ensure Shopper’s Guide’s future compliance with state and federal fair housing laws.

“Housing discrimination continues to be a serious problem in Massachusetts and the laws prohibiting the publication of discriminatory housing advertisements are in place to ensure that all persons have equal access to housing opportunities,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “It is against the law for newspapers to publish discriminatory advertisements.  By enforcing fair housing laws, our office works to ensure that the welcome mat is not unlawfully pulled from prospective renters and purchasers.”

The Commonwealth’s complaint, filed January 29, 2010, alleges that from January 2007 to mid-September 2009, Shopper’s Guide published approximately 146 housing advertisements, both print and online, that unlawfully discriminated based on family status, sex, marital status, receipt of public housing assistance, and disability.  This matter was initiated at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination by the Housing Discrimination Project of Holyoke, MA.

Under state and federal law, it is illegal to make statements regarding the rental or sale of property that state a preference, limitation or discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, genetic information, ancestry, children, marital status, public assistance recipiency or handicap.  This prohibition applies to property owners who place advertisements for the rental or sale of real estate in newspapers as well as to the newspapers that publish the unlawful advertisements.

The consent judgment prohibits Shopper’s Guide from future publication of unlawful real estate advertisements.  The consent judgment requires Shopper’s Guide to pay a total of $15,000 to the Commonwealth and the Housing Discrimination Project of Holyoke.  In addition, Shopper’s Guide must provide annual fair housing trainings for Shopper’s Guide staff, $30,000 of free advertising space to the Housing Discrimination Project, and adopt appropriate screening- mechanisms to ensure that discriminatory advertisements are not published.  Additionally, Shopper’s Guide will sponsor a community fair housing training that will be open to the general public.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Laurie A. Frankl of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights and Western Massachusetts Divisions.

February 24, 2010 – For immediate release:

Court Orders Lexington Couple to Restore Wetlands and to Pay a $100,000 Penalty

BOSTON – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office obtained a judgment in Suffolk Superior Court ordering a Lexington couple, John and Diane Sellars, to restore wetlands they destroyed and to pay $100,000 in penalties.  The judgment also requires the Sellars to escrow $90,000 toward performance of the restoration.  This decision comes after a June 24, 2009 ruling that determined the Sellars were liable under the Wetlands Protection Act for the destruction of wetlands at 430 Concord Ave., Lexington, and on adjacent public conservation land, also in Lexington, since at least the early 1990s, as well as for violations of the Solid Waste Management Act. The Attorney General’s Office filed the original complaint in the case on May 25, 2007.

“Wetlands are a vital environmental resource and we take seriously the Commonwealth’s responsibility to safeguard them for the public interest,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “We are pleased the ruling requires the defendants to repair the harm caused by the destruction of the wetlands on the Sellars’ property. We hope the court’s decision sends a message to the public that those who violate wetlands laws will be held accountable.”

“Wetlands are an essential natural resource that filter pollutants and provide flood control and species habitat.  To unilaterally destroy these resource areas, and compound that damage by refusing to acknowledge that loss is unacceptable,” said MassDEP Commissioner Laurie Burt.

According to the court’s decision, John and Diane Sellars altered, graded, and filled wetlands with concrete rubble, trees, and other material despite repeated orders from the Lexington Conservation Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to restore the wetlands. The Sellars have also been receiving deliveries of parking lot sweepings, construction rubble, and other materials at their Lexington property for use as fill in their loam-making business without authorization under the Solid Waste Management Act.

In its decision, issued late last week, the court stated fashioning a remedy which restores the wetlands was its most important consideration and priority.

The Lexington Conservation Commission referred this matter to MassDEP in September 2006. The Attorney General’s Office began its investigation shortly after.

The Wetlands Protection Act is designed to prevent damage to the Commonwealth’s wetlands, which provide numerous benefits including flood control, storm damage prevention, pollution prevention, shellfish and fisheries protection, and wildlife habitat protection.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Louis Dundin and Betsy Harper of Attorney General Coakley’s Environmental Protection Division with assistance from Marc LaPlante, Elizabeth Sabounjian, and Heidi Zisch, of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

March 26, 2010 – For immediate release:

Boston Real Estate Company and Owner Indicted on Illegal Asbestos Removal and Disposal Charges

Defendants also face tax, payroll, and unemployment insurance charges

BOSTON — JM Realty Management Inc. (JM Realty), and its principal, John McGrail, age 46, were indicted for the improper removal and disposal of asbestos at various properties throughout Massachusetts and for failure to withhold income tax, provide pay records and evading unemployment insurance payments.

A Suffolk County Grand Jury returned indictments yesterday against JM Realty, a Boston-based real estate development and management company on charges of violating the Massachusetts Clean Air Act for failure to file notices of asbestos removal with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) (4 counts), failure to comply with procedures for asbestos emissions control (4 counts), and improper disposal of asbestos waste (3 counts).  JM Realty was also charged with failure to withhold income tax (4 counts).  McGrail was indicted on charges of violating the Massachusetts Clean Air Act for failure to file notices of asbestos removal with the MassDEP (3 counts), failure to comply with procedures for asbestos emissions control (3 counts), and improper disposal of asbestos waste (2 counts).  JM Realty and McGrail were also each indicted on charges of evasion of unemployment insurance (4 counts) and failure to provide pay records (4 counts).

Authorities allege that, for three years between 2005 and 2007, McGrail, the principal of JM Realty and the founder of a group of businesses known as the Mayo Group, instructed his employees to perform demolition and renovation services at three different Mayo Group properties in Lynn, Boston, and Worcester that had asbestos containing materials, including insulation, tiles, mastic, glazing and other building components.  Authorities allege that asbestos containing materials were transferred to a warehouse at 177 Old Colony Avenue in South Boston, and thereafter distributed in dumpsters at various Mayo Group properties around Boston to be picked up with the regular trash.  According to authorities, construction debris containing asbestos was also dumped at a vacant lot on Bubier Street in Lynn.  None of these locations was permitted for the disposal of asbestos waste.

Authorities further allege that McGrail and JM Realty violated the Massachusetts Clean Air Act by failing to notify MassDEP of asbestos demolition, failing to follow mandated asbestos removal procedures during the demolition and renovation, and improperly disposing of asbestos waste.  Authorities also allege that during the relevant time period, McGrail personally instructed his employees to pay workers in cash to remove and dispose of the asbestos containing materials.  JM Realty allegedly failed to withhold taxes, make unemployment insurance contributions, or provide pay stubs for the workers.

The indictments stem from an investigation by the Massachusetts Environmental Crimes Strike Force (ECSF), an interagency unit which is overseen by Attorney General Coakley, MassDEP Commissioner Laurie Burt and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian A. Bowles.  ECSF officials involved in this investigation included Environmental Police Officer Sgt. Patrick Haley, and MassDEP officials John Macauley and Don Heeley.  The ECSF comprises prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office, Environmental Police Officers assigned to the Attorney General’s Office, and investigators and engineers from the MassDEP which investigate and prosecute crimes that harm or threaten the state’s water, air, or land and that pose a significant threat to human health.

A Suffolk County Grand Jury returned indictments against McGrail and JM Realty yesterday.  McGrail and JM Realty will be summonsed for arraignment in Suffolk Superior Court on April 2, 2010.  

Assistant Attorneys General Andrew Rainer and David Lieberman, of Attorney General Coakley’s Environmental Crimes Strike Force, are prosecuting the case.

April 01, 2010 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office Reaches Settlement with Massachusetts Real Estate Company That Allegedly Discriminated Against Fair Housing Testers

BOSTON – Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office entered into a settlement with a Massachusetts real estate company, resolving allegations that the company refused to rent to fair housing testers who represented that they were looking for apartments for themselves and their young children.  The Assurance of Discontinuance filed in Suffolk Superior Court, against RE/MAX Landmark and its former agent James Harrison, orders the company to pay $10,000 to the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston and to adopt and implement a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy.  The Assurance of Discontinuance also bars RE/MAX Landmark and Harrison from discriminating in the future.

“We are facing critical housing needs in the Commonwealth and the strain on families with children is particularly great,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “Realtors, brokers and landlords in Massachusetts should understand that discrimination against families with children is illegal, and we will seek to hold accountable those who break the law.”

According to the complaint referred to the Attorney General’s Office, on multiple occasions between April and July of 2008, RE/MAX’s former agent, James Harrison, who worked in the Dorchester office, refused to show rental units to fair housing testers who claimed to have young children.  Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate against renters because of their familial status or because they have young children whose presence would require landlords to abate lead paint hazards.

In addition to the $10,000 payment to the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, the settlement also requires RE/MAX Landmark to train its personnel about the fair housing laws and to include in its advertisements that it is an Equal Housing Opportunity broker.

As an advocate for victims’ rights, Attorney General Coakley’s office works to ensure that the civil rights and liberties of visitors and residents of the Commonwealth are preserved and protected.  Under federal and state fair housing laws, it is illegal to discriminate against an individual or a family seeking housing because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex, familial status (e.g. children or marital status), national origin, or handicap/disability.  These laws also prohibit discrimination in advertising, public housing, and actions taken by realtors, landlords, mortgage lenders and brokers.  Since taking office in January 2007, Attorney General Coakley’s office has obtained judgments and settlements in 85 housing discrimination cases brought against landlords, property managers, and/or real estate companies.

This matter was handled by Brian Boyle, an Attorney in Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.

April 01, 2010 – For immediate release:

Attorney General Martha Coakley Obtains Consent Judgment Against Landlord for Alleged Posting of Discriminatory Housing Advertisement on Craigslist

Judgment part of statewide investigation into reports of discriminatory Internet advertising

SALEM – Attorney General Martha Coakley obtained a consent judgment against Alexander Cohen, a Revere landlord, resolving allegations that he made discriminatory statements in rental advertisements posted on the popular classified advertising website Craigslist.org (“Craigslist”). The judgment, signed yesterday by Essex Superior Court Judge Christine M. Roach, provides a broad range of relief and preventive measures to ensure Cohen’s future compliance with state and federal fair housing laws.  This judgment is the result of a continuing statewide investigation by the Attorney General’s Office into reports of widespread discriminatory housing advertisements on the Internet.

“As more families face tough financial times and have no choice but to rent, landlords and real estate professionals must recognize that the rental market is a regulated industry and compliance with our anti-discrimination laws is an important obligation,” said Attorney General Coakley.  “While we hope that this enforcement initiative will have a deterrent effect, our office will continue to monitor Craigslist and take action against persons and entities that violate the law.”

On October 28, 2009, the Attorney General’s Office reached 20 settlements and filed six complaints against landlords and real estate agents across the Commonwealth accused of violating state anti-discrimination laws on Craigslist.  According to the complaint filed in Essex Superior Court, Cohen placed an advertisement on Craigslist in April 2009, listing a unit for rent in Revere but stating “no Section 8.”  The Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits real estate companies, agents, landlords and others involved in property rentals, from discriminating against people who use state or federal housing subsidies to pay for all or a portion of their rent.

The consent judgment requires Cohen to attend trainings on state and federal fair housing laws and prohibits him from placing discriminatory advertisements or otherwise discriminating against any person who seeks or applies for housing because they are a member of a protected class.  The consent judgment also requires Cohen to advertise any future rental property as “Equal Housing Opportunity” properties.  In an effort to increase awareness of this important issue, Cohen is required to place postings on Craigslist informing other Craigslist users that the Attorney General monitors Craigslist for discriminatory advertising and that it is against Massachusetts law to state a discriminatory preference against recipients of housing assistance subsidies.  Cohen must also pay $750 to Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc., a legal services organization that provides assistance to poor and low-income persons in housing and a variety of areas.

As an advocate for victim and consumer rights, Attorney General Coakley’s office works to ensure that the civil rights and liberties of visitors and residents of the Commonwealth are preserved and protected.  Under federal and state fair housing laws, it is illegal to discriminate against an individual or a family seeking housing because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex, familial status (e.g. children or marital status), national origin, or handicap/disability.  These laws also prohibit discrimination in advertising, public housing, and actions taken by realtors, landlords, mortgage lenders and brokers.  Since taking office in January 2007, Attorney General Coakley’s office has obtained judgments in 86 housing discrimination cases brought against landlords, property managers, and/or real estate companies.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Patricio Rossi of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.