Archive for the ‘US Attorney & DOJ’ Category

Texas man charged with defrauding Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3 of $4.5 million

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

Scheme allegedly involved kickbacks paid in bricks of cash wrapped in silver bags

OAKLAND – Scott A. Wilson was arrested today in connection with a complaint unsealed in Oakland alleging that he defrauded the Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3, based in Alameda, California, of approximately $4.5 million, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge John L. Bennett, and U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General Special Agent in Charge Quentin Heiden.

According to the complaint, Wilson, 52, of Corsicana, Texas, was the director of the union’s information technology department, where he had authority to purchase goods and services.  While working for the union, Wilson allegedly set up a front company called OST.  Using the alias, “John Lasson,” Wilson allegedly used OST to receive funds from the union, at first directly and then through two other front companies set up by a friend and a relative under Wilson’s direction.  Between 2011 and 2017, Wilson allegedly used these front companies to fraudulently invoice the union for IT-related goods and services that were never to be delivered, taking some funds directly through OST, and others through kickbacks paid by his friend and relative.  Wilson also allegedly used the front companies to conceal payments made with union funds to his own family members, primarily for work that was never done.  At one point, according to the complaint, Wilson arranged for the union funds to be withdrawn from the front companies’ accounts and delivered to him at various restaurants around the Bay Area in the form of cash, wrapped in the shape of bricks and placed in silver bags.

The complaint alleges that over the course of six years, in total Wilson fraudulently directed approximately $4.5 million to the front companies, of which $2.5 million was kicked directly back to Wilson in various ways.  The complaint further alleges that Wilson used the allegedly embezzled funds to, among other things, purchase land in Corsicana, Texas, and build himself a house there.

According to the complaint, the scheme was discovered when the union’s finance department learned that Wilson had concealed that he was the principal behind one of the front companies with which his IT department was conducting business.

Wilson was arrested on June 26, 2020, in Corsicana, Texas, and made an appearance in federal court in Dallas this afternoon.   He was ordered to appear in federal court in Oakland on July 13, 2020.

A complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and a fine of up to $250,000, along with potential restitution and forfeiture.  However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

The case is being prosecuted by the Special Prosecutions Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General and Office of Labor Management Standards.

 

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Supervisors, protesters overlook Grand Jury report calling for increased Sheriff, police staffing in Contra Costa

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

Supes close to forming Office on Racial Justice and Equity; hear from County Clerk-Registrar of Voters urging vote-by-mail for November Election

By Daniel Borsuk

While critics of Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston and his department again blasted the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors with complaints over the $2.8 million in proposed increased funding for the 2020-2021 fiscal year at their meeting Tuesday, no one paid any attention to an important Grand Jury report on “Police Department Staffing” that supervisors unanimously approved as a consent item during the same meeting.

In other action, Supervisors Federal Glover of Pittsburg and John Gioia of Richmond announced the potential formation of a County Office of Racial Justice and Equity for the upcoming 2020-2021 fiscal year. The board also received a progress report on the 2020 November election from Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Debi Cooper that heavily endorsed voters to mail ballots.

Grand Jury Report on Police Staffing

“The Grand Jury found that relatively low authorized sworn officer levels and ongoing unfilled officer positions contribute to mandatory officer overtime, reduced level of police services such as traffic enforcement and school resource officers, and longer response times,” the Grand Jury report stated.

The Grand Jury report found that the Sheriff’s Office and 15 municipal police departments have difficulty recruiting, hiring and retaining officers. “Fewer applicants than in the past are applying to law enforcement due to different career expectations, the availability of less dangerous jobs, and negative perceptions of policing,” the report stated.

The Contra Costa Herald contacted Sheriff Livingston’s office for comment about the Grand Jury’s findings, but there was no comment from the Sheriff’s Office by deadline

“Accountability is needed,” demanded Pittsburg resident Don Hernandez. “You guys (i.e., the Board of Supervisors) need to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

Hernandez was one of more than 18 speakers opposing increased funding for the Sheriff’s Office, but one unidentified caller supported extra funding for the sheriff saying without extra resources sheriff deputies will not be able to properly respond to emergencies when they arise.

County worker Christopher Brown said “Racism is systemic. Something needs to change. Mental health is a huge issue. Mental health deserves to be a bigger part of the budget, not the sheriff.”

“We need a criminal justice system that does not go backwards. We need a system that solves problems.” said Walnut Creek resident Karen Perkins. “I urge you to drive away funds from the Sheriff’s Office and form a racial justice commission.”

Based on 2019-2020 data, the Sheriff’s Office and 15 cities are below the state ratio of 1.48 patrol officers per 1,000 residents. Only the cities of El Cerrito with a 1.77 ratio and San Pablo with a 1.85 ratio were above the state average. The Sheriff’s Office had a 1.06 ratio.

The report also found that every police department except Clayton, Moraga, Oakley and Walnut Creek had unfilled positions mainly as a result of retirements, officers on leave, lateral transfers of the department and resignations.

The Sheriff’s Office had the most number of unfilled positions due to resignations at 65, with Richmond having 15 unfilled positions, Antioch 10 unfilled positions, Martinez and Concord each six unfilled positions, El Cerrito 5 unfilled positions, Brentwood and San Ramon each 4 unfilled positions, Pleasant Hill 3 unfilled positions, San Pablo 2 unfilled positions, and Pinole, Pittsburg, Lafayette and Danville with 1 unfilled position each.

Even then, supervisors received a number of complaints from citizens that the sheriff does not deserve a proposed $2.8 million increase in 2020-21 funding, even though later on during the meeting County Administrator David Twa forecast that the Sheriff’s Office might lose $13 million in state Proposition 72 funds later this year.

“The sheriff will have less money next year,” said Twa, who gave a gloomy fiscal forecast. The District Attorney Office’s budget might be down $6.2 million, he predicted. The county hospital is losing $60 million in revenue and earlier this month the county laid off 30 library workers.

Yet, with all this gloomy financial news, Twa announced that after two years of labor negotiations, the county and the 9,000 members of the In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority and SEIU Local 2015 have agreed to a new labor pact that ends in 2022.

Proposed Office of Racial Justice and Equity Moves Forward

After listening an hour-long presentation from supporters for the formation of a County Office of Racial Justice and Equity, Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg and John Gioia of Richmond said they plan to soon present to the full Board a new Office on Racial Justice and Equity.

Both supervisors serve on the Public Protection Committee where the proposal to form an Office on Racial Justice and Equity Is taking shape.

“One thing we will bring is the discussion of the formation of an Office of Racial Justice and Equity. Your voice has been heard. We plan to bring this proposal before the Board in the near future,” said Glover.

Gioia said it is possible supervisors can consider a proposed office at its next board meeting on July 14. “It’s a matter of listening to the community in Contra Costa County. There should be a community process on how it should be done. There will be a lot more community input.”

In what is shaping up to be a difficult fiscal year, proponents of an Office of Racial Justice and Equity called on Supervisors to defund the Sheriff’s Office and transfer those funds to the new office to assist residents of color with a 14.5 percent unemployment rate in Contra Costa County on April 2020 compared to 3.1 percent on February 2020.

Additionally, 45 percent of African Americans, 57 percent of Latinx, 26 percent Asian/Pacific Islanders, 29 percent Native Americans and 20 percent White households were financially precarious before the pandemic, according to an Insight Center study.

County Recorder-Registrar of Voters Urges Vote by Mail

Contra Costa County Recorder-Registrar of Voters Debi Cooper informed supervisors it is untrue that voting by mail promotes fraud. “Despite what you hear, voting my mail does not increase fraud, she said. Outreach and education to vote by mail has been increased. The postage is free.”

Cooper described how the department she leads that will have 45 drop boxes and six polling locations throughout the County on Nov. 3. She said voting by mail will be the safest way to vote because COVID-19 will still be present.

Cooper expected to mail 700,000 ballots and more than 500,000 ballots will be returned by voters.

“I find it unacceptable to have six polling locations in the county,” said supervisor Gioia of Richmond. “I would reevaluate churches. Churches would be willing to be polling locations and to have equipment on locations for four days.

County elections officials expect about 150,000 voters will show up at the polls to cast ballots. There were 85,000 voters at the polls in the March election.

Bowling Alleys, Bars, Hotels to Open July 1 – Possibly

With word that the Contra Costa County Department of Public Health reported 34 new COVID-19 cases last week, department director Anna Roth said the county is still moving ahead to open hotels, bowling alleys and bars on July 1 and starting on July 15 movie theaters, card rooms and banks will open.

But the news was not all that great. The county is on the state watch list because of a spike in cases. Last week the county reported 34 new COVID-19 cases bringing the county’s grand total to 2,454 cases. There have been 52 deaths in the county. “Clearly there’s been an increase,” said Roth, who attributed the rise to persons in low income communities and living in long term care facilities.

Deputy County Health Director Dr. Sarah Levine said there has been an increase in the number of young patients being diagnosed positive with COVID-19 mainly because they do not practice the main hygiene principles – constantly washing hands, covering mouths, social distance, and staying home.

However, based on the announcement by the Contra Costa Health Services on Friday, that date for those activities is in doubt. (Please see related article).

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Two from Antioch, Pittsburg among five Bay Area residents indicted for stealing over 70 guns from Vacaville store

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

Theft occurred during height of recent civil unrest; arrested following high-speed police pursuit

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Five individuals were indicted Thursday for the burglary of a Vacaville gun shop, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.

According to court documents, on June 1, police responded to reports of suspicious activity at Guns, Fishing and Other Stuff, a two-story gun and outdoor recreation store in Vacaville. Guns, Fishing and Other Stuff is a federally licensed firearms dealer. When officers responded, four vehicles fled the scene. After a high-speed chase on Interstate 80 during which vehicles reached over 100 miles per hour, one vehicle, a rented minivan, was stopped, and its five passengers were arrested after a foot pursuit. In total, the gun store reported that over 70 firearms had been stolen.

According to the criminal complaint, inside the minivan were bolt cutters, a power saw, and 13 handguns with price tags from Guns, Fishing and Other Stuff still attached. Donte Marcel Anderson, 31, of Antioch; Desteny Estrella Leilani Salazar, 22, of San Francisco; Donley Thompson, 27, of Pinole; Tracy Whitfield, 31, of Pittsburg; and Adrian Oscar Duran, 23, of San Francisco, were arrested. They are charged with possession of a stolen firearm and burglary of a federally licensed firearms dealer.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Vacaville Police Department, Fairfield Police Department, Antioch Police Department, Vallejo Police Department, and California Department of Justice – Bureau of Firearms. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Justin L. Lee and Brian A. Fogerty are prosecuting the case.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for both counts. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. The Department of Justice reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department’s renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally based strategies to reduce violent crime. To learn more about Project Safe Neighborhoods, go to www.justice.gov/psn.

This case is also part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities. For more information about Project Guardian, please see www.justice.gov/projectguardian.

 

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Antioch to receive Department of Justice grant to address COVID-19 pandemic

Saturday, May 16th, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson today announced that counties and cities throughout the Northern District of California have been allocated a total or more than $7 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to respond to the public safety challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Justice awarded the grants through the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program, which was authorized by recent federal stimulus legislation. Antioch will receive $161,353. 

“First responders continue to work hard to keep the public safe at this time,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson. “They deserve not just our admiration and appreciation, but also our support. We are pleased to announce this funding to assist law enforcement and public safety efforts throughout our district.”

“The outbreak of COVID-19 and the public health emergency it created are sobering reminders that even the most routine duties performed by our nation’s public safety officials carry potentially grave risks,” said Katharine T. Sullivan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs. “These funds will provide hard-hit communities with critical resources to help mitigate the impact of this crisis and give added protection to the brave professionals charged with keeping citizens safe.”

The law gives jurisdictions considerable latitude in the use of these funds for dealing with COVID-19. Potential uses include hiring personnel, paying overtime, purchasing protective equipment, distributing resources to hard-hit areas and addressing inmates’ medical needs.

Agencies that were eligible for the fiscal year 2019 State and Local Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program are candidates for the emergency funding. Local units of government and tribes will receive direct awards separately according to their jurisdictions’ allocations. Information on how to apply for grants is available at https://bja.ojp.gov/funding/opportunities/bja-2020-18553.

California counties and municipalities throughout the Northern District received grants through the program:

Jurisdiction Name Grant Allocation
ALAMEDA CITY $41,660
ALAMEDA COUNTY $133,882
ANTIOCH CITY $161,353
BERKELEY CITY $135,693
CONCORD CITY $105,655
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY $82,337
DALY CITY $56,072
EAST PALO ALTO CITY $32,226
EMERYVILLE CITY $32,903
EUREKA CITY $50,185
FREMONT CITY $89,657
GILROY CITY $43,922
HAYWARD CITY $132,068
HUMBOLDT COUNTY $60,602
LAKE COUNTY $45,281
LIVERMORE CITY $43,242
MARIN COUNTY $58,008
MENDOCINO COUNTY $69,733
MONTEREY COUNTY $58,337
MOUNTAIN VIEW CITY $33,660
NAPA CITY $65,354
NAPA COUNTY $58,008
OAKLAND CITY $1,330,582
PETALUMA CITY $51,091
PITTSBURG CITY $63,695
REDWOOD CITY $42,488
RICHMOND CITY $221,800
ROHNERT PARK CITY $47,469
SALINAS CITY $235,764
SAN FRANCISCO CITY AND COUNTY $1,449,067
SAN JOSE CITY $865,998
SAN LEANDRO CITY $107,391
SAN MATEO CITY $58,562
SAN MATEO COUNTY $70,864
SAN PABLO CITY $46,867
SAN RAFAEL CITY $51,242
SANTA CLARA CITY $39,923
SANTA CLARA COUNTY $70,261
SANTA CRUZ CITY $107,845
SANTA CRUZ COUNTY $65,506
SANTA ROSA CITY $149,879
SONOMA COUNTY $140,146
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO CITY $40,751
SUNNYVALE CITY $37,584
UNION CITY $60,450
WATSONVILLE CITY $63,318

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), directed by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan, provides federal leadership, grants, training, technical assistance and other resources to improve the nation’s capacity to prevent and reduce crime, assist victims and enhance the rule of law by strengthening the criminal and juvenile justice systems. More information about OJP and its components can be found at www.ojp.gov.

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California federal prosecutors and FBI to hold telephone Town Hall Monday on COVID-19 scams

Saturday, April 18th, 2020

Seniors, public invited to listen – must register, first

SAN FRANCISCO – Prosecutors from the four United States Attorney’s Offices in California, along with representatives from the FBI, will participate in a telephonic town hall to help California residents identify and avoid fraudulent schemes related to Coronavirus and COVID-19.  The event is being coordinated by the American Association of Retired Persons (“AARP”).

The telephonic town hall will happen on Monday, April 20 from 10 to 11 a.m. PDT. During the event, a special agent from the FBI and a federal prosecutor will make presentations, and participants from across California will be allowed to ask questions to a panel of Assistant United States Attorneys from the four offices that serve California.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network is providing the infrastructure for the event. Approximately 100,000 AARP members will receive a phone call Monday morning inviting them to participate in the town hall. Those who wish to receive an invitation may sign up here (https://vekeo.com/aarpcalifornia/).

During the current health crisis, federal investigators and prosecutors continue to fulfill their critical mission of protecting public safety. Federal officials have prioritized the disruption, investigation and prosecution of crimes related to Coronavirus and COVID-19, including fraudulent schemes, unapproved treatments, and scams related to stimulus money. During the town hall, federal officials will discuss the types of schemes currently being seen, along with tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.

Soon after the town hall event, a recording will be available at https://vekeo.com/aarpcalifornia/.

REPORT COVID-19 CRIME.  Contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline: 866-720-5721 or disaster@leo.gov.

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U.S. Attorney General Barr issues statement on Religious Practice and Social Distancing

Friday, April 17th, 2020

Department of Justice files Statement of Interest in Mississippi church case

U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Official portrait by DOJ.

On Tuesday, April 14, 2020, United States Attorney General William P. Barr, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, issued the following statement:

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the President has issued guidelines calling on all Americans to do their part to slow the spread of a dangerous and highly contagious virus.  Those measures are important because the virus is transmitted so easily from person to person, and because it all too often has life-threatening consequences for its victims, it has the potential to overwhelm health care systems when it surges.

To contain the virus and protect the most vulnerable among us, Americans have been asked, for a limited period of time, to practice rigorous social distancing.  The President has also asked Americans to listen to and follow directions issued by state and local authorities regarding social distancing.  Social distancing, while difficult and unfamiliar for a nation that has long prided itself on the strength of its voluntary associations, has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of American lives from an imminent threat.  Scrupulously observing these guidelines is the best path to swiftly ending COVID-19’s profound disruptions to our national life and resuming the normal economic life of our country.  Citizens who seek to do otherwise are not merely assuming risk with respect to themselves, but are exposing others to danger.  In exigent circumstances, when the community as a whole faces an impending harm of this magnitude, and where the measures are tailored to meeting the imminent danger, the constitution does allow some temporary restriction on our liberties that would not be tolerated in normal circumstances.

But even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.  Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings.  Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.

Today, the Department filed a Statement of Interest in support of a church in Mississippi that allegedly sought to hold parking lot worship services, in which congregants listened to their pastor preach over their car radios, while sitting in their cars in the church parking lot with their windows rolled up.  The City of Greenville fined congregants $500 per person for attending these parking lot services – while permitting citizens to attend nearby drive-in restaurants, even with their windows open.[1]  The City appears to have thereby singled churches out as the only essential service (as designated by the state of Mississippi) that may not operate despite following all CDC and state recommendations regarding social distancing.

As we explain in the Statement of Interest, where a state has not acted evenhandedly, it must have a compelling reason to impose restrictions on places of worship and must ensure that those restrictions are narrowly tailored to advance its compelling interest.  While we believe that during this period there is a sufficient basis for the social distancing rules that have been put in place, the scope and justification of restrictions beyond that will have to be assessed based on the circumstances as they evolve.

Religion and religious worship continue to be central to the lives of millions of Americans.  This is true more so than ever during this difficult time.  The pandemic has changed the ways Americans live their lives.  Religious communities have rallied to the critical need to protect the community from the spread of this disease by making services available online and in ways that otherwise comply with social distancing guidelines.

The United States Department of Justice will continue to ensure that religious freedom remains protected if any state or local government, in their response to COVID-19, singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions.”

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U.S. Attorney urges public to report suspected COVID-19 fraud

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson of the Northern District of California today urged the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or to the NCDF e-mail address disaster@leo.gov.

In coordination with the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr has directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus fraud schemes. The NCDF Hotline can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes.

“Unfortunately, there are fraudsters out there who will try to use this public health emergency to scam the public and profit on the pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson. “As communities throughout Northern California take steps to limit the spread of COVID-19, we are working closely with our law enforcement partners to guard against fraud and bring swift justice to those who try to ply their scams in our district.”

Some examples of these schemes include:

  • Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
  • Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Malicious websites and apps that appear to share Coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
  • Seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.
  • Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.

In a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys issued March 19, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen also directed each U.S. Attorney to appoint a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator to serve as the legal counsel for the federal judicial district on matters relating to the Coronavirus, direct the prosecution of Coronavirus-related crimes, and to conduct outreach and awareness activities.   The Northern District of California has appointed an Assistant U.S. Attorney to be a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator who can be reached at 415-436-7200.

The NCDF can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate, and prosecute fraud schemes.  The NCDF coordinates complaints with 16 additional federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state Attorneys General and local authorities.

To find more about Department of Justice resources and information, please visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

 

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