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  • Schuette Recognizes January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month

     

    Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is recognizing National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on January 11, 2017, and commemorating January's national designation as Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month.

    Upon taking office in 2011, Schuette launched the state's first Human Trafficking Unit in the Attorney General's Office to prosecute human traffickers under state law. Visit Michigan.gov/HumanTrafficking to learn more about Schuette’s efforts to combat human trafficking in Michigan.

     

     



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Schuette Charges 10 in Lansing-Area Opioid Drug Ring

LANSING ­– Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced felony charges against 10 Lansing-area residents for their alleged roles in an opioid prescription drug ring whose members presented forged prescriptions at several Mid-Michigan area pharmacies in order to obtain prescription pain pills and defraud the Michigan Medicaid Program. After filling the prescriptions, the drugs were then sold for cash or traded for other drugs

“When misused, prescription drugs can be every bit as dangerous as street drugs,” said Schuette.  “We will continue to aggressively pursue anyone involved in diverting prescription drugs outside the realm of legitimate medical treatment who are contributing to the scourge of opioid addiction to make money, at the detriment to those addicted and to our state as a whole.”

The charges were filed following an investigation completed by Schuette’s Health Care Fraud Division after a complaint was referred to them by the Tri-County Metro Narcotics Squad, a multi-jurisdictional drug enforcement team that serves Ingham, Clinton and Eaton Counties.

“I’d like to commend the Tri-County Metro Narcotics Squad for their significant role in developing this case,” added Schuette.

Case Background

The felony complaints filed by Schuette allege that defendants Bicego, Gutkowski, Fritz, Burkett, Lafferty, Roe, Loveall, Madden, Pell, and Vito engaged in a scheme to illegally obtain prescription medications by using fake prescriptions. 

Specifically, it is alleged Bicego unlawfully obtained a prescription pad from a Lansing-area doctor’s office where she had previously worked.  Prescriptions were then allegedly forged for the controlled opioid-based substances OxyContin, Norco, Percocet, as well as Adderall. 

The complaints allege Lafferty, Burkett, Roe, Fritz, Gutkowski, Pell, Vito, Madden, and Loveall took the fake prescriptions to several Lansing area pharmacies to obtain the pills.  The pills would then be handed over in exchange for cash or drugs.  Several of these allegedly false prescriptions were billed to Medicaid.

Schuette filed the following charges on January 9th against all defendants in the 54B District Court in Ingham County:

Jennifer Bicego, 30, of Lansing:

  • Five counts of Medicaid Fraud-Conspiracy, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $50,000.00 or both.
  • Six counts of Conspiracy to Commit Controlled Substance - Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years, or a fine of not more than $40,000.00 or both. 
  • Two counts of Controlled Substance -Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $30,000.00 or both.

Luke Gutkowski, 22, of Mason: 

  • One count of Conspiracy to Commit Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $40,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $30,000.00 or both. 

Dustin Fritz, 20, of Lansing:

  • One count of Conspiracy to Commit Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $40,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $30,000.00 or both.

Trisha Burkett, 20, of Mason: 

  • One count of Medicaid Fraud-Conspiracy, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $50,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Medicaid Fraud-False Claim, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $50,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $30,000.00 or both. 

Jona Lafferty, 20, of Vernon: 

  • One count of Medicaid Fraud-Conspiracy, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $50,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Medicaid Fraud-False Claim, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $50,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $30,000.00 or both. 

Lance Roe, 33, of Holt: 

  • One count of Medicaid Fraud-Conspiracy, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $50,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Medicaid Fraud-False Claim, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $50,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, contrary to MCL 333.7407(1)(c), a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $30,000.00 or both.
  • Roe will be charged as a Habitual Fourth Offender. 

Charles Loveall, 34, of Holt: 

  • Two counts of Medicaid Fraud-Conspiracy, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $50,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Medicaid Fraud-False Claim, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $50,000.00 or both.
  • Three counts of Conspiracy to Commit Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $40,000.00 or both.
  • Three counts of Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $30,000.00 or both. 

Brandon Madden, 32, of Charlotte: 

  • Two counts of Conspiracy to Commit Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $40,000.00 or both.
  • Two counts of Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $30,000.00 or both. 

Andrew Pell, 31, of East Lansing:

  • One count of Conspiracy to Commit Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $40,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Attempt to Commit Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of not more than two years, or up to one year in a county jail, or $1,000.00.
  • Pell will be charged as a Habitual Second Offender.

Rachel Vito, 27, of Lansing: 

  • One count of Medicaid Fraud-Conspiracy, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $50,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Medicaid Fraud-False Claim, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $50,000.00 or both.
  • One count of Controlled Substances-Obtaining by Fraud, a felony punishable by imprisonment of not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $30,000.00 or both.

Eight of the 10 defendants were arraigned Tuesday, January 10, 2017 before Judge Andrea Larkin in 54B District Court in East Lansing. A personal recognizance bond was set for seven of the defendants at $25,000. Defendant Bicego's bond was set at $50,000. Andrew Pell and Lance Roe were arraigned Wednesday, January 11, 2017 before Judge Richard Ball in 54B District Court in East Lansing. Bond for both was set at $25,000.  

Schuette's Health Care Fraud Division

The Attorney General Health Care Fraud Division exists to identify, prosecute, and prevent fraudulent activity by doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and other health care providers participating in the Medicaid program.  Taxpayer dollars provide health care to indigent patients and other recipients. It is vital that these dollars be effectively spent to help those in need.  Fraud affects everyone including the recipients of care, the taxpayers who pay for it, and the overwhelming majority of providers who conscientiously provide quality care.  Anyone aware of fraud in the Medicaid program is encouraged to report it to Attorney General Schuette’s Health Care Fraud Division by calling 800-24-ABUSE.

A criminal charge is merely an accusation and all defendants in this case are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.  

       From left to right-first row:  Bicego, Gutowski, Fritz, Burkett and Lafferty

       From left to right-bottom row:  Roe, Loveall, Madden, Pell and Vito.

Mugshot for Bicego JenniferMugshot for Gutkowski LukeMugshot for Fritz DustinMugshot of Burkett TrishaMugshot for Lafferty JoanMugshot Roe LanceMugshot for Loveall CharlesMugshot for Madden BrandonMugshot Pell Andrew2Mugshot of Vito Rachel

              

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Schuette Recognizes National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day

LANSING ­– Following a difficult and challenging year for the law enforcement community, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today thanked and recognized Michigan’s law enforcement officers as part of National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.

“Our law enforcement officers occupy the fine line between good and evil, standing between us and those that wish to do harm to our families,” said Schuette. “The tragedies we saw this year in Michigan remind us in very plain language that our law enforcement officers face clear and growing dangers to keep us safe. When our police officers are at risk, we are all at risk.”

Schuette has called for an additional 1,000 law enforcement officers in Michigan to keep Michigan residents safe. The number of law enforcement officers in Michigan has dropped by 18% since 2001, falling from 22,500 to 18,500 officers.

Six Michigan Law Enforcement Officers Killed In The Line Of Duty In 2016

Law enforcement officer fatalities nationwide rose to their highest level in five years in 2016, with 135 officers killed in the line of duty. Six Michigan officers were killed in 2016, making Michigan the fifth deadliest state for law enforcement officers behind Texas (17), California (10), Louisiana (9) and Georgia (8).

Detroit Police Officer Myron Jarrett, 40, was killed in a hit-and-run accident during a routine traffic stop. He was an eight-year veteran of the Detroit Police Department and was a father of four.

Detroit Police Sgt. Kenneth Steil, 46, was shot in the shoulder area while pursuing a suspect who was believed to have already shot his father and been involved in carjackings.  He was a 20-year veteran of the department and is survived by his wife and two boys, ages 3 and 5.

Wayne State University Police Officer Collin Rose, 29, was shot in the head while investigating possible thefts of navigation systems from vehicles. Rose was engaged to be married. Rose's killer is still unknown and there is a $32,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the shooter.

Berrien County Bailiff Joseph Zangaro, 61, was head of security for the Berrien County Courthouse and was killed when a prisoner disarmed an officer and fired at bailiffs. Zangaro had worked in the Courthouse since May 2004.  Zangaro was a retired Michigan State Police First Lieutenant and is survived by his wife, two daughters and grandchildren as well as his mother, sister, and nephew.

Berrien County Bailiff Ronald Kienzle, 63, was a bailiff at the Berrien County Courthouse and was killed when a prisoner disarmed an officer while entering a courtroom and fired at bailiffs. Kienzle had been with the Berrien County trial court since April 2005 after retiring as a sergeant from the Benton Charter Township Police Department. He previously served in the United States Army. Kienzle is survived by his two daughters and grandchildren.

Branch County Deputy Mike Winter, 39, was a Branch County Deputy assigned to the sheriff’s posse who riding in the Quincy Memorial Day Parade when the horse bucked, causing Winter to fall to the ground, hitting his head. Winter had been a deputy with the sheriff's office and a member of the mounted patrol for five years and was a veteran of the United States Navy. Winter is survived by his wife and daughters.

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Schuette Statement on Selection of Stephen Markman as Chief Justice of Michigan Supreme Court

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today released the following statement on the selection of Justice Stephen Markman as the new Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.

“I would like to congratulate Chief Justice Stephen Markman on his selection as Chief Justice. He is an exceptionally smart lawyer, a man of keen intellect and will serve Michigan well during his years on the bench as Chief Justice. I would also like to thank Justice Young for his service and leadership during the last term.”

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Schuette Reminds Michigan Consumers Looking for a Healthy Start to 2017 to Shop Smart When Purchasing Gym Membership

LANSING ­– Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette once again is reminding Michigan consumers who may be looking to join a gym to start the New Year to shop smart. The Department of Attorney General has issued a consumer alert to help residents make educated choices about fitness center and health club memberships.

In 2016, the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division received 84 complaints from Michigan consumers against health clubs and fitness centers. The majority of the complaints involved discrepancies between what consumers say they were told by sales personnel and what the signed contract actually guaranteed. In particular, consumers reported the written cancellation procedure frequently differed from what they were told by the salesperson. Consumers also complained about high-pressure sales tactics and feeling rushed to sign contracts.

Consumer Tips for Joining Health Clubs or Fitness Centers

In the consumer alert, Lose Weight, Not Money, Schuette advises consumers to follow these guidelines to make smart choices when joining a health club or fitness center:

  1. Doctor's OK.  Check with your doctor prior to beginning a fitness program.
  2. Visit.  Stop by the club during the times you would normally use the facility to determine if it is overcrowded.  Examine the facility for cleanliness and the condition of the equipment.
  3. Budget. Carefully consider the cost of the membership and whether you can afford to make the necessary payments.  If the services of instructors and/or trainers are provided, inquire about the training qualifications of the staff and whether you will be charged for the service.  Do tannings, aerobics, or other classes require additional fees?
  4. Free trial period.  A long-term contract may not be right for you.  Ask whether a month-to-month or other short-term contract or trial membership is available.  Regardless of the length of your contract, ask if you can pay monthly.  If the club closes you may lose less money.
  5. Cancellation and Refunds. Make sure you understand the cancellation and refund policies before signing the contract. What happens if your move, are injured, or get a serious illness?  Also, what happens if the fitness center goes out of business?  A "lifetime" membership is really only good for the lifetime of the business, not your lifetime.
  6. Read any contract carefully before signing.  Don't be rushed prior to signing any contract; take your time and make sure you understand all of the contract terms before signing.  Ask for an unsigned contract to take home and review. 
  7. After you sign your contract, make sure you keep a copy.  Some companies may ask you to pay additional fees on top of what you have already paid or have agreed to pay for your membership.  If you are asked to pay additional fees, make sure that is allowed under your contract.  You may be asked to pay fees that are not mandatory for you to keep your membership in good standing.  This should be made clear to you by the company; if it is not clear, call the company and ask about the fee before you pay.
  8. Shop around and background check. Ask friends or relatives for recommendations. Search for reviews online and contact the Consumer Protection Division to find out if complaints have been filed against the health club you are considering.  If you are considering a membership at a large franchise, find out whether all of the locations will honor your membership.
  9. Exercise caution. If the club is advertising an unrealistically low price, be cautious.
  10. Closing or changing ownership. Immediately reference the Attorney General's Business Sudden Closure consumer alert.  If the business changes ownership but remains open, ask the new owner for a contract containing the same terms as the one you have.  Unless the new owner is honoring your old contract, you can't be required to join the new club.  If you cannot get written confirmation that your old contract will be honored and the new business refuses to provide a satisfactory resolution, file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division.
  11. Shop Smart!  Be an informed consumer to make sure the only weight you lose is not from your wallet.

Take the time to review all contracts carefully, prior to signing, to confirm that all promises made by the salesperson are written in the contract.  Also, make sure you understand your contractual obligations.  Many consumers mistakenly believe that if they are no longer using the fitness center, they can discontinue payments on the contract.

Attorney General Schuette's consumer alert, Lose Weight, Not Money, is available online at www.michigan.gov/ag. Attorney General Schuette encourages residents with questions or concerns to contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division toll-free by calling 877-765-8388.

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Raising Awareness: Schuette Recognizes January as National Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month

LANSING  — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced support of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, January 11, 2017, and commemorated January's national designation as Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month.

"As we spread awareness of this modern-day slavery, we make it easier to bring those responsible to justice. Just a few years ago human trafficking wasn’t on the national radar, now things have changed," said Schuette. “Through the use of force, fraud and coercion, traffickers endanger the lives of their victims, and I am working with law enforcement agencies across Michigan to put a stop to this crime and pull victims out of this dark world.”

2016 Human Trafficking Updates

In 2016, a human trafficking investigation into a trafficker included witness statements and evidence that brought to light now-former Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III use of prostitutes in several Lansing-area counties. Dunnings pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in jail and 3 years on probation following his conviction for felony misconduct in office and to a charge of soliciting a prostitute.

Schuette’s office has charged and convicted several traffickers in 2016 including a Sterling Heights man who allegedly recruited a 17-year-old for sex trafficking,  and a Bronx, New York man has been charged with multiple felonies, including Human Trafficking, Transporting for Prostitution, Accepting the Earnings of a Prostitute and Conducting a Criminal Enterprise in Oakland and Macomb Counties.

In April of 2016, Jahan Satati Green, 38, of Inkster, was sentenced to 20-40 years in prison following his conviction on five felonies for running a prostitution ring across Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties. He was arrested by Schuette’s Human Trafficking Unit in June 2015 after an extensive investigation conducted by the Department of Homeland Security.

New Human Trafficking Laws for 2017

In 2016, legislation was signed into law will make it easier for victims of human trafficking to expunge local ordinance prostitution violations and other human trafficking related crimes from their criminal record. Also signed into law was an increase for the penalty for human trafficking involving commercial sex, also known as sex trafficking. Those convicted can now see up to 15 years in prison for their crimes.

Michigan Human Trafficking Commission

In addition to quarterly meetings in 2016, the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission held its first conference this fall on Thursday, September 29, 2016 in Ann Arbor.

The conference, which was open to law enforcement, legal professionals, victim service providers, protective services workers, judiciary staff and other human trafficking related groups served as an opportunity to collaborate on how to bring further awareness to the issue of human trafficking and help eliminate the crime in our state.

The Commission is currently determining the date and location of future conferences.

Human Trafficking in Michigan

Second only to drug trafficking, human trafficking is the fastest-growing and second-largest criminal industry in the world. Victims of human trafficking are in bondage through force, fraud or coercion, solely for the purpose of sex or labor exploitation. Children are especially vulnerable, and existing data sources strongly suggest that the current reported human trafficking statistics do not provide a complete picture of the prevalence of human trafficking in Michigan. 

Upon taking office in 2011, Schuette launched the state's first Human Trafficking Unit in the Attorney General's Office to prosecute human traffickers under state law. Since 2011, eleven people have been charged with human trafficking by the Department of Attorney General.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also had an active presence in human trafficking cases in Michigan. In October of 2015, 19 underage victims were recovered and 12 pimps were arrested in the Detroit metro area as part of the FBI’s Operation Cross County IX.

Schuette served as one of ten attorneys general nationwide selected to lead the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Presidential Initiative on Combating Human Trafficking, called Pillars of Hope. Schuette works closely with his colleagues to craft a coordinated national strategy to combat human trafficking, including efforts to prosecute offenders, assist victims, analyze the impact of this crime and raise public awareness nationwide.

Human Trafficking Resources

Schuette encourages citizens to take a few moments to learn more about human trafficking by visiting the following websites:

State of Michigan:

www.michigan.gov/humantrafficking

Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force:

https://www.facebook.com/MHTTF

Michigan State University:

cj.msu.edu/programs/human-trafficking/

University of Michigan:

www.law.umich.edu/clinical/humantraffickingclinicalprogram

If you believe you have witnessed or are aware of a potential case of human trafficking, call your local police or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888.