Frederick M. Boss, Division Administrator
The Civil Enforcement Division generally is the Department's plaintiff's civil litigation arm, but also enforces selected criminal laws. The division is organized into five sections:
- Charitable Activities,
- Civil Recovery,
- Child Advocacy Section,
- Financial Fraud/Consumer Protection and
- Medicaid Fraud.
The Charitable Activities Section supervises and regulates the activities of charitable and, to some extent, other not-for-profit organizations. The section also enforces laws related to charitable trusts, charitable solicitations and nonprofit gaming. The fees it collects support its operations. The section has the ability to investigate and initiate civil legal actions against organizations in violation of the law. In most situations, the program works informally with charitable organizations to correct violations.
- Charities Registration and Education
The Department registers charities and licenses charitable bingo/raffle operations. The number of charitable activities in Oregon has been increasing steadily in recent years. In the early 1990's the department had 3,000 charities registered. As of January 1, 1998, there were more than 10,000 registrants/licensees. The program promotes informed charitable giving and focuses resources on educating the public. A number of publications focus on the responsibilities of nonprofit corporation directors for proper stewardship. There also are publications that contain wise giving tips. More than 10,000 copies of these publications are distributed to the public annually. The program also offers consumers tips related to charitable contributions and the ability to search for registered charities on its web site.
- Charitable Solicitation Enforcement
Fundraising is an important and essential activity for many nonprofit organizations. Direct solicitation in some form is used by most organizations. The section is responsible for registering and monitoring the activities of professional fundraising firms. Many solicitations involve the sale of goods or services, a part of which goes to the charitable cause. The Charitable Activities Section and the Division's Financial Fraud/Consumer Protection Section work closely to ensure that fraudulent or misleading solicitation campaigns are investigated and prosecuted when appropriate.
The Attorney General is required by statute to monitor the performance and activities of charitable corporations and trusts. Such private foundations must seek approval from the Attorney General before modifying their governing instruments or terminating the trust. Nonprofit organizations must also give written notice to the Attorney General for a variety of proposed actions. Nonprofit hospitals also must obtain the Attorney General's approval, after a public hearing and intensive review, before they may transfer substantially all of their assets to unrelated organizations.
One of the key activities performed by the program is the section's investigation of alleged breaches of fiduciary duties by officers, directors or trustees. These investigations are prompted through a review of the annual financial reports filed with the Department or through information received from outside sources. If wrongdoing is found, the Department may make recommendations for corrective action or pursue assurances of voluntary compliance or a civil complaint.
- Nonprofit Gaming Regulation
The 1987 Legislative Assembly established a new statewide program to regulate bingo and raffles under the supervision of the Department of Justice. The 1997 Legislative Assembly added Monte Carlo events to the licensing requirement. Licenses may only be obtained by bona fide nonprofit tax-exempt organizations. In addition to screening applicants for licenses, the section is responsible for ensuring compliance with specified operating rules. There are approximately 780 licensed organizations. Licenses can be revoked when there is evidence of "skimming" bingo proceeds or other substantial abuses relating to the organizations' operations or revenue.
The Civil Recovery section assists state agencies when litigation assistance in bankruptcy or post-judgment assistance of counsel is necessary to recover on a claim for money or monetary damages owed to the state; or to recover, or protect the state's interest in, real or personal property. Any state agency may refer cases to this section.
The section's legal functions include:
- Judicial foreclosure of mortgages, trust deeds and contracts for state agencies and legal action needed to secure physical possession of state property;
- Representing state agencies in bankruptcy court to ensure that the state can collect what it is owed. These cases occur both in state and out-of-state;
- Representing the Highway Divisions and Department of Administrative Services in cases involving damage to state property or monetary loss;
- Collecting overpayment of benefits to claimants and nonpayment of unemployment taxes by employers for the Employment Department;
- Assisting with legal problems related to the Department of Revenue's efforts to collect on cases referred to it by other state agencies;
- Recovering defaulted investments and development loans for state agencies;
- Recovering environmental cleanup costs for the Department of Environmental Quality.
The section also provides preventative legal advice in the form of periodic seminars that educate state agencies in the areas of collection, small claims court procedures and bankruptcy.
Child Advocacy Section
The Child Advocacy Section helps protect abused, neglected and abandoned children throughout Oregon by providing vigorous court representation and comprehensive legal advice to the Department of Human Services' Child Welfare Program (DHS). In addition, it helps to ensure that parents support their dependent children by assisting the Oregon Child Support Program in collecting child support and where appropriate, establishing paternity and support obligations.
Child Advocacy attorneys and associated staff are located in Department of Justice offices in Portland, Salem, Eugene and Medford. Attorneys regularly appear in juvenile and circuit court hearings and child support enforcement hearings in all 36 Oregon counties.
Section attorneys provide a wide range of legal advice and counsel to DHS child welfare workers, including legal review and staffing of all DHS dependency cases at two critical points during the first year of those cases. The attorneys often represent DHS in contested juvenile and circuit court hearings. Frequent litigation issues include provision of services to children and parents, intervention in the court proceedings by relatives or other interested persons, and overall permanency for children. If the return of children to a parent is not safe or legally possible, Section attorneys provide litigation services to DHS to help achieve safe and permanent placements for those children, including adoption subsequent to termination or relinquishment of parental rights, permanent foster care, guardianship, and other appropriate alternatives.
The Department of Justice's Division of Child Support receives legal assistance from section attorneys in establishing, enforcing and modifying child support orders, paternity judgments and medical support orders. Attorneys work with the administrative offices located in Salem and with the twelve branch offices located in Oregon communities. In addition, attorneys provide the Division with legal advice regarding administration of the Oregon Child Support Program.
Financial Fraud/Consumer Protection
The Financial Fraud/Consumer Protection Section fosters competition in a free and fair marketplace by educating consumers and businesses, and by invoking the Attorney General's civil enforcement authority to deter, stop, and punish unlawful conduct when education fails. The section enforces the Unlawful Trade Practices Act, commonly known as Oregon's consumer protection law.
- Direct Assistance to Individual Consumers
Consumer complaints continue to be the primary method of identifying potential fraud and marketplace abuses.
The section's Consumer Hotline receives tens of thousands of calls annually. The section staffs the Hotline's phones with volunteers from 8:30 - 4:30 daily.
As written complaints are received, the section's Enforcement Officers informally investigate and, where appropriate, mediate disputes between businesses and consumers. Thousands of consumers receive restitution through this process.
- Cooperation With Other Agencies
The section's investigators and attorneys routinely assist other state agencies in the discharge of their regulatory responsibilities including agencies such as the Department of Consumer and Business Services, Construction Contractors Board, Department of Agriculture, Department of Human Resources, Oregon State Mortuary and Cemeteries Board, the Secretary of State's office and the Public Utilities Commission.
The section places special emphasis on collaborating with other agencies to attack scams targeting older Oregonians.
The section devotes significant resources to consumer education through distribution of publications on many consumer topics in English and Spanish.
The section's Consumer Information Coordinator is a regular speaker at events and locations around the state, including senior centers, service clubs, local fairs, radio talk shows and community gatherings. To schedule a presentation, contact the outreach coordinator at (503) 884-8347.
- Trade Practices Act Enforcement and Civil Prosecution
Oregon consumers purchasing goods or services for personal, family or household purposes are protected by the Unlawful Trade Practices Act (UTPA). The Department is the primary enforcer of the statute.
The law requires that businesses be advised of the problem and be given an opportunity to enter into an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC) before the Department files a formal complaint. An AVC requires the business to stop the unlawful practice and agree to not violate the law in the future. AVCs are filed in court and a violation of the AVC is considered contempt of court.
In cases where businesses are engaged in conduct that may result in financial harm to consumers, the Attorney General may file a complaint and ask for $25,000 penalties for each violation, an injunction, attorneys fees and restitution.
The Attorney General is authorized by law to enforce both federal and state antitrust laws. Enforcement responsibilities are assigned to the Financial Fraud/Consumer Protection Section.
Typical antitrust complaints involve allegations of price fixing, unlawful group boycotts and bid rigging. The section has also participated in review of proposed mergers. The victims include consumers who are impacted by higher prices and limited choice of goods, and businesses that are deprived of the chance to compete fairly for customers. Antitrust matters are often complex and frequently involve other jurisdictions. Thus, much of Oregon's enforcement activity is conducted in cooperation with other states and with the federal government.
The Medicaid Fraud Unit deters, investigates and prosecutes fraud by Medicaid providers and physical or financial abuse/neglect of residents of Medicaid-funded facilities.
The Medicaid Fraud Unit receives referrals from many sources, including federal, state and local agencies; social service organizations; law enforcement agencies; provider associations; insurance companies; and private citizens. The Unit must first consider all referrals for potential criminal prosecution and, in appropriate cases, the unit may utilize available civil remedies.
If a case is to be pursued criminally, it is referred to the appropriate District Attorney's office. In most instances, a unit attorney will prosecute the case as a special assistant district attorney under an agreement with the local DA's office.
Health care fraud enforcement is a national priority. Oregon's Medicaid Fraud Unit works with the FBI, OIG investigators, and U.S. Justice Department officials in investigations of Medicaid providers alleged to be involved in nationwide or regional billing fraud schemes. These large-scale cooperative cases may take several years to investigate, but cases already pursued have brought millions of dollars back to the Medicaid program, and hundreds of thousands of dollars back to Oregon.