Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Purdue, Teva, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Jansesen named in multi-million lawsuit to hold companies responsible for epidemic of fatal overdoses

(L-R) Ms. Ann Marie Perrotto (mother of a 22 year old who died from an Opioid overdose, Mayor Bill de Blasio, First Lady Charlene McCray, Reverend Ray Rivera, Councilman Mark Levine, and Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson. 

  Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray announced a the City had filed a lawsuit today in New York State Supreme Court to hold manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids to account for their part in the City’s ongoing deadly opioid epidemic. The lawsuit aims to recover half a billion dollars in current and future costs the City will incur to combat this epidemic. In 2016, more than 1,000 people in New York City died in a drug overdose which involved an opioid, the highest year on record. More New Yorkers died from opioid overdoses last year than from car accidents and homicides combined.

“More New Yorkers have died from opioid overdoses than car crashes and homicides combined in recent years. Big Pharma helped to fuel this epidemic by deceptively peddling these dangerous drugs and hooking millions of Americans in exchange for profit,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “It’s time for hold the companies accountable for what they’ve done to our City, and help save more lives.”

“Today, New York City demands transparency and accountability from the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers and distributors who have profited from people’s pain,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who leads the City’s mental health and substance misuse efforts. “The greedy and reckless behavior of these companies has fueled a drug epidemic that is tearing apart families and damaging our communities. I am proud of our City’s resiliency and the tremendous courage of those New Yorkers who have saved lives and offered support. It is with this kind of compassion that we will help more people understand the disease of addiction and get more people on the path to recovery.”

Above - Ms. Ann Marie Perrotto tells of how after a car accident at age 19 her son became addicted to Opioid drugs, only to die at age 22.
Below - (L-R) Staten Island District Attorney Michael E. McMahon, NYC Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio, Ms. Perrotto, and Mayor de Blasio.

The City joins hundreds of municipalities across New York State and the nation as it seeks to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for their illegal actions. The suit charges that manufacturers’ misrepresentations of the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use and distributors’ oversupply of opioids that enable diversion to the illegal market continue to fuel the crisis and significantly contributed to creating and maintaining a public nuisance in the City.

The lawsuit alleges that the opioid crisis caused by manufacturers’ deceptive marketing, and distributors’ flooding of prescription painkillers into New York City has placed a substantial burden on the City through increased substance use treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, inpatient hospital services, medical examiner costs, criminal justice costs, and law enforcement costs.  Furthermore, manufacturers sought to create a false perception that using opioids to treat chronic pain was safe for most patients and that the drugs’ benefits outweighed the risks. This was perpetrated through a coordinated, sophisticated and highly deceptive promotion and marketing campaign – including unbranded messaging to evade extensive regulatory framework governing branded communications. These communications, which began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive around 2006 and continue today. 

Distributor defendants, who have both the obligation and the tools to track suspiciously large surges in opioid demand, including at the level of individual pharmacies or clinics, have failed to use these tools to warn public officials about suspicious orders, which they are legally required to do, or to reasonably exercise controls over the obvious oversupply of opioid pills.

Manufacturer named in the suit are Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson& Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; OrthoMcNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Allergan PLC f/k/a Actavis PLC; Actavis, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Watson Laboratories, Inc.; Actavis Pharma, Inc. f/k/a Watson Pharma, Inc. The distributors are McKesson Corporation; Cardinal Health, Inc.; and AmerisourceBergen Corporation.

“The opioid epidemic has been exacerbated by the irresponsible actions of drug companies - and they need to be held responsible for their actions,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio. “This deadly crisis has touched the lives of thousands of New Yorkers and their families, which is why we launched HealingNYC - a comprehensive plan to prevent overdoses and save lives. We have much more work to do - but NYC has continued to take this challenge head-on by distributing thousands of naloxone kits throughout the five boroughs, increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, and running media campaigns to give New Yorkers the information and tools they need to get better. This litigation is another tool to address the opioid epidemic in New York City.”

“Defendant manufacturers for decades engaged in an aggressive and highly deceptive marketing campaign to minimize the risk of addiction and convince doctors, patients and consumers that opioids were safe and effective for the long-term treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain, even though they knew no evidence existed to support that claim. Manufacturers’ campaign to expand the market for opioids and reap blockbuster profits triggered widespread opioid over-use, misuse, addiction and a devastating public health crisis across the nation and in the City. Defendant distributors also contributed to the crisis by shirking their legal obligation to track, control and report suspiciously large opioid pill orders and thereby flooding the City with these highly addictive narcotics. Our suit seeks hundreds of millions of dollars  the City has spent and will be required to spend to deal with the public nuisance created by the drug companies. Together with cities and counties across the country, we will work to hold the drug companies responsible for their actions,” said City Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter.

“Sharp increases in opioid painkiller prescribing unnecessarily exposed New Yorkers to this risky medication and facilitated today’s opioid crisis,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Manufacturers and distributors need to be held accountable for their role in the opioid overdose epidemic. Today’s announcement complements HealingNYC, the City’s comprehensive approach to prevent overdoses, save lives and connect people to care. We will continue to educate health professionals about judicious prescribing practices, raise awareness that effective treatment for opioid addiction is available and remind New Yorkers that carrying naloxone can save a life.” 

The opioid crisis has had serious impacts on New York City. The number of drug overdose deaths has increased within the City in each of the last six years. Rates of drug overdose deaths in New York City more than doubled between 2010 and 2016, increasing from 8.2 per 100,000 residents in 2010 to 19.9 per 100,000 residents in 2016. DOHMH reports that while drug overdose deaths impact every neighborhood and demographic in New York City, residents of impoverished neighborhoods are the hardest hit. Roughly 2.7 million opioid prescriptions were filled within New York City each year between 2014 and 2016. 

Under HealingNYC, a $38 million initiative to address the opioid epidemic announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray last March, the Health Department has already distributed over 60,000 naloxone kits to opioid overdose prevention programs; expanded access to medications for addiction treatment; launched Relay, a new peer-based program in hospital emergency departments for people who experienced an overdose; trained more than 630 clinicians to prescribe buprenorphine; offered 1:1 education on judicious opioid prescribing to 1,000 doctors; and significantly increased community outreach and public education efforts.

“The reckless decision to push highly addictive prescription pills on an unsuspecting public undoubtedly led to the heroin and fentanyl epidemic that is currently devastating Staten Island, the city, and the entire country. Given the lives, hours, and resources that have been put into this fight, it is long overdue that we hold the manufacturers and distributors accountable for the people and families that have been destroyed by opioids,” said District Attorney Michael E. McMahon. “Many of the earliest victims of this drug epidemic fell prey to the misleading and deceptive marketing behind these pills and the unchecked supply that flooded our communities for years. Tragically, nothing can be done to bring back the loved ones we have already lost, but the actions being taken by the Mayor and First Lady will only strengthen our fight against drug abuse across the city.”

5 Former KPMG Executives And PCAOB Employees Charged In Manhattan Federal Court For Fraudulent Scheme To Steal Valuable And Confidential PCAOB Information

And Use That Information To Fraudulently Improve KPMG Inspection Results

A Sixth Defendant -- Former KPMG Partner and Former PCAOB Associate Director Brian Sweet -- Has Pled Guilty to His Role In the Scheme and is Cooperating With the Government

  Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Philip R. Bartlett, the Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, announced the unsealing yesterday of an Indictment in Manhattan federal court charging DAVID MIDDENDORF, THOMAS WHITTLE, and DAVID BRITT, former executives of accounting firm KPMG LLP (“KPMG”), CYNTHIA HOLDER, a former employee of KPMG and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (the “PCAOB”), and JEFFREY WADA, a former employee of the PCAOB, with conspiracy and wire fraud charges in connection with their scheme to defraud the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) and the PCAOB by obtaining, disseminating, and using confidential lists of which KPMG audits the PCAOB would be reviewing so that KPMG could improve its performance in PCAOB inspections.  MIDDENDORF was arrested yesterday morning in Marietta, Georgia, and was presented before a Magistrate Judge in Atlanta.  HOLDER was taken into custody yesterday morning in Houston, Texas, and presented before a Magistrate Judge in Houston.  WADA was arrested yesterday morning in Tustin, California, and presented before a Magistrate Judge in Santa Ana.  WHITTLE was arrested yesterday morning in Gladstone, New Jersey.  BRITT surrendered yesterday morning in New York, New York.  WHITTLE and BRITT were presented and arraigned before Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck in Manhattan federal court.  The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge John Paul Oetken.

BRIAN SWEET pled guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud charges in connection with this scheme before Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger on January 5, 2018.  The Information to which Sweet pled guilty was also unsealed yesterday.  His case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “These defendants were each meant to be the watchmen of our financial system.  The defendants who formerly worked for KPMG were vested with the responsibility to audit publicly filed financial statements and issue audit opinions relied upon by the investing public.  The defendants who formerly worked for the PCAOB were supposed to help ensure the quality of the work behind those audits.  But, as alleged, these defendants chose to cheat the system and to undermine the safeguards put in place to protect investors.  We will work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to root out corruption like this wherever it is found.”

Inspector-in-Charge Philip R. Bartlett said:  “As alleged, the defendants took advantage of confidential information stolen from the PCAOB and used it to tip off KPMG partners of impending audit inspections.  This undermined the overall integrity of the program.  The PCAOB was created by Congress as part of the Sarbanes Oxley Act to reduce accounting scandals but, in this case, certain former employees and KPMG insiders created their own corruption scandal.  The Postal Inspection Service stands committed to helping to ensure the integrity of information that affects the marketplace.”
As alleged in the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:[1]

The PCAOB is a nonprofit corporation overseen by the SEC that inspects the audit work performed by registered accounting firms (“Auditors”) with respect to the financial statements of publicly traded companies (“Issuers”).  The PCAOB inspects the largest U.S. accounting firms on an annual basis.  As part of the inspection process, the PCAOB chooses a selection of audits performed by the accounting firm for a closer review.  Until shortly before an inspection occurs, the PCAOB does not disclose which audits are being inspected, or the focus areas for those inspections, because it wants to ensure that an Auditor does not perform additional work or modify its work papers in anticipation of an inspection.  Following the completion of an inspection, the PCAOB issues an Inspection Report containing any negative findings or “comments” with respect to both the specific audits reviewed and the accounting firm more generally.  The PCAOB transmits these Inspection Reports to the SEC, which utilizes them in carrying out its agency functions.

KPMG is one of the largest accounting firms in the world.  In recent years, KPMG fared poorly in PCAOB inspections and in 2014 received approximately twice as many comments as its competitor firms.  By at least in or about 2015, KPMG was engaged in efforts to improve its performance in PCAOB inspections, including but not limited to recruiting and hiring former PCAOB personnel such as SWEET.  At the time, MIDDENDORF was head of KPMG’s Department of Professional Practice (the “DPP”), which was broadly responsible for the quality of KPMG’s audits and KPMG’s performance in PCAOB inspections.  BRITT was a partner in the audit group within the DPP and WHITTLE was head of the inspections group within the DPP.
KPMG’s efforts to improve inspection results, however, were not limited to legitimate means.  Instead, between 2015 and 2017, MIDDENDORF, WHITTLE, BRITT, HOLDER, WADA, and SWEET worked to illicitly acquire valuable confidential PCAOB information concerning which KPMG audits would be inspected, in an effort to game the system and improve inspection results.  For example, beginning in SWEET’s first week of employment at KPMG in 2015, MIDDENDORF, WHITTLE, and BRITT began asking SWEET for confidential PCAOB information about which KPMG audits would be inspected by the PCAOB that year.

MIDDENDORF told SWEET to remember where his paycheck came from and to be loyal to KPMG, while WHITTLE told SWEET that he was most valuable to KPMG at that moment and would soon be less valuable.  As requested, SWEET shared the PCAOB’s confidential 2015 list of inspection selections.  Shortly thereafter, SWEET helped his former PCAOB colleague, HOLDER, get a job at KPMG, where she reported to SWEET.  During the pendency of her efforts to obtain employment at KPMG, HOLDER – in violation of PCAOB Rules – continued to work on KPMG inspections at the PCAOB.  Once she secured a job at KPMG, HOLDER, like SWEET before her, stole valuable confidential information on her way out of the PCAOB and then passed it on to SWEET, her new boss at KPMG.

In March 2016, HOLDER obtained the PCAOB’s confidential 2016 inspection selections for KPMG from WADA, who was still working at the PCAOB but who had recently been passed over for a promotion.  WADA – who was not responsible for KPMG inspections at the PCAOB
– accessed and stole valuable confidential information from the PCAOB and passed it on to HOLDER.  HOLDER, in turn, provided the 2016 inspection selections to SWEET, who passed them to MIDDENDORF, WHITTLE, and BRITT.  MIDDENDORF, WHITTLE, BRITT, and SWEET then agreed to launch a stealth program to “re-review” the audits that had been selected.  In order to cover up their illicit conduct, BRITT gave other KPMG engagement partners a false explanation for the re-reviews.  The stealth re-review program allowed KPMG to double-check its audit work, strengthen its work papers, and, in some cases, identify deficiencies or perform new audit work that had not been done during the live audit.

In January 2017, WADA, who had again been passed over for promotion at the PCAOB, again stole valuable confidential PCAOB information, misappropriating a preliminary list of confidential 2017 inspection selections for KPMG audits and passing it on to HOLDER.  At the same time, WADA provided HOLDER with his resume and sought her assistance in helping him to acquire employment at KPMG.  SWEET shared the preliminary inspection selections provided by WADA with WHITTLE and BRITT, while noting that the information was only preliminary.  WHITTLE’s response was to ask SWEET to confirm that they would get the final list as well.

In February 2017, WADA texted HOLDER saying “I have the grocery list. . . . All the things you’ll need for this year.”  WADA then spoke to HOLDER and provided her with the full confidential 2017 final inspection selections.  HOLDER again shared the stolen information with SWEET, who shared it with MIDDENDORF, WHITTLE, and BRITT.  MIDDENDORF, WHITTLE, BRITT, and SWEET agreed to inform engagement partners on the list so that extra attention could be paid to these audits in light of the forthcoming PCAOB inspections.

In 2017, a KPMG partner who received early notice that his/her engagement was on the confidential 2017 inspection list reported the matter, as a result of which KPMG’s Office of General Counsel launched an internal investigation.  Thereafter, HOLDER and SWEET took a number of steps to destroy or fabricate evidence relevant to the investigation.  For example, HOLDER deleted a number of relevant text messages, emails, and documents, and said she was going to purchase a “burner phone” so her conversations could not be monitored.  Similarly, SWEET burned evidence of the 2017 inspection list and provided a falsified version of the list to KPMG counsel.

Count One of the Indictment charges MIDDENDORF, WHITTLE, BRITT, HOLDER, and WADA with participating in a conspiracy to defraud the United States.  Count Two charges MIDDENDORF, WHITTLE, BRITT, HOLDER, and WADA with participating in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud.  Count Three charges MIDDENDORF, WHITTLE, and BRITT with wire fraud.  Counts Four and Five charge MIDDENDORF, WHITTLE, BRITT, HOLDER, and WADA with wire fraud.

Set forth below is a chart containing the names, ages, residences, charges, and maximum penalties for the defendants.  The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Berman praised the investigative work of the United States Postal Inspection Service and also thanked the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has brought an administrative proceeding against the defendants.  Mr. Berman also thanked Trial Attorney Heidi Boutros Gesch of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section for her assistance in the investigation.

The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Marietta, Georgia
Conspiracy to
defraud the United States;
Conspiracy to
commit wire fraud;
Wire fraud (three counts)
85 years in prison
Gladstone, New Jersey
Conspiracy to
defraud the United States;
Conspiracy to
commit wire fraud;
Wire fraud (three counts)
85 years in prison
New Canaan, Connecticut
Conspiracy to
defraud the United States;
Conspiracy to
commit wire fraud;
Wire fraud (three counts)

85 years in prison
Jersey Village, Texas
Conspiracy to
defraud the United States;
Conspiracy to
commit wire fraud;
Wire fraud (two counts)

65 years in prison
Tustin, California
Conspiracy to
defraud the United States;
Conspiracy to
commit wire fraud;
Wire fraud (two counts)

65 years in prison

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictment, and the description of the Indictment set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Volunteer Wrestling Coach In Rockland County Sentenced To 13 Years In Prison

  Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that MARCUS STROUD, 20, was sentenced to 13 years in prison by United States District Judge Cathy Seibel for his receipt of files containing sexually explicit images of a minor.  The sentencing today followed STROUD’s guilty plea on June 5, 2017.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Marcus Stroud’s crime is the nightmare of every parent.  Stroud used social media platforms to prey upon and exploit a teenage boy for his own sexual gratification.  As today’s sentencing underscores, we will continue to use every tool available to law enforcement to prosecute and punish those who sexually exploit children.”                                                                                                           
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in related court proceedings:
In late December 2015, STROUD met Victim-1 at a youth wrestling tournament in Rockland County, New York.  STROUD and Victim-1 connected online on SnapChat and Instagram.  Thereafter, Victim-1 connected with a SnapChat user using the account name “thechsenpug.” (“Pug”).  In fact, unbeknownst to Victim-1, STROUD was Pug.  Purporting to be Pug, STROUD sent Victim-1 nude photos of a female and requested nude photos in return.  After Victim-1 provided several nude photos, STROUD, purporting to be Pug, told Victim-1 that Pug would release the photos on social media unless Victim-1 provided a video of Victim-1 engaging in a sexual act with another person. 

In January 2016, STROUD told Victim-1 that he would be willing to help Victim-1 by performing the sexual act with Victim-1 to prevent the photos from being released.  On or about February 20, 2016, STROUD told Victim-1 that he had been notified that nude photos of Victim-1 had been posted on an online web page.  STROUD told Victim-1 that he had been able to delete the photos.  STROUD told Victim-1 that they should just do the sexual act and get it over with.  Later that day, STROUD met with Victim-1 in Rockland County, New York, engaged in sexual activity with Victim-1, and recorded it.  STROUD told Victim-1 that he would send the video to the female who had requested it and would put a virus on the video so that, when she opened it, STROUD would be able to take control of her phone and delete Victim-1’s photos.

In sentencing STROUD, Judge Seibel underscored the “predatory” nature of STROUD’s offense.  In addition to the prison term, STROUD, 20, was sentenced to 15 years of supervised release.
Mr. Berman praised the efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Clarkstown Police Department, and the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office in connection with this investigation.

A.G. Schneiderman Announces Settlement With Aetna Over Privacy Breach Of New York Members' HIV Status

Last Year, Aetna Revealed HIV Status of 2,460 New York Members via Mailing 
Aetna Required To Pay $1.15 Million in Penalties, Change Privacy Practices, Hire Independent Consultant To Monitor Settlement 
  Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a settlement with Aetna Inc. (“Aetna”), following claims that Aetna revealed the HIV status of approximately 2,460 New York members through a mailing in July 2017 in which the envelopes’ oversize transparent address window revealed text confirming the members’ HIV status. As part of the settlement, Aetna will pay a $1.15 million civil penalty; develop and maintain enhanced operating procedures with regard to privacy protections of personal health information and personally identifiable information in mailings; and hire an independent consultant to monitor and report on the settlement’s injunctive provisions.
“Through its own carelessness, Aetna blatantly violated its promise to safeguard members’ private health information,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Health insurance companies handle personal health information on a daily basis and have a fundamental responsibility to be vigilant in protecting their members. We won’t hesitate to act to ensure that insurance companies live up to their responsibilities to the New Yorkers they serve.”
Attorney General Schneiderman opened an investigation in July 2017 following Aetna’s July 28th mailing to 2,460 New York Aetna members with HIV. The mailing was sent in envelopes with a large transparent glassine window that could easily reveal the members’ HIV status, which was noted in the enclosed letter’s text. Due to the large-window envelope and the way in which the letters were folded and inserted in the envelope, individuals’ names, addresses, and claim numbers, as well as the first several lines of the letter containing instructions related to HIV medications, were clearly visible from the outside of the envelope – revealing to third parties the HIV status of some of the New Yorkers who received the letter.
Ironically, Aetna’s July mailing was intended to notify members of a class action lawsuit that, as a part of the lawsuit’s resolution, they could purchase HIV medications at brick and mortar pharmacies instead of via mail order/delivery. The class action suit had challenged the delivery policy since mail order deliveries may compromise member privacy when drug packages are visible to neighbors and family members.
As part of his investigation into the HIV member mailing, Attorney General Schneiderman discovered an additional privacy breach. On September 25, 2017, Aetna sent 163 New Yorkers a mailing containing materials related to a research study regarding atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heartbeat condition that can lead to stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications. Aetna’s mailing to members with AFib used envelopes that displayed the logo of the research study, “IMACT-AFIB,” easily viewed by third parties – which could have been interpreted as indicating that the recipient member had an AFib diagnosis.
New York State Public Health Law Section 18 requires that patient information, such as the information at issue here, be revealed only with written authorization from the patient. Moreover, federal law, pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), prohibits the disclosure of protected health information, except in very limited circumstances.
Following the Attorney General’s investigation, Aetna agreed to implement and maintain a series of enhanced privacy protections, including modifications to its Standard Operating Procedure for Print/Mailing Quality-Prevention of PHI/unwanted disclosure(s), and Use of Protected Health Information in Litigation – Best Practices Policy to provide enhanced safeguards to protect from negligent disclosure of personal health information and personally identifiable information through mailings.
“As an HIV positive person, I was personally horrified to learn of this security breach. A person’s HIV status is a highly private and personal matter and Aetna needs to treat it as such,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “Although it was an accident, revealing this information to third parties was unacceptable. This agreement with the Attorney General will protect the safety and wellbeing of thousands of LGBTQ and HIV positive individuals across the State of New York.”

Comptroller Stringer and Advocates Condemn Bank of America’s Outrageous Attempt to Jack Up Fees on Low-Income Customers

Set to reap billions from the GOP tax plan, Bank of America to charge exorbitant fees that target everyday New Yorkers
Bank of America to eliminate e-checking accounts popular with low-income customers and profit off of working people despite earning $21 billion in profit last year
New step could be out of compliance with state banking laws, which require low-fee basic banking accounts for New Yorkers.
  New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and a coalition of advocates today condemned Bank of America’s move to target its low-income customers with new, high fees just as the bank is set to reap massive profits from the recently-passed GOP tax plan.
Bank of America announced yesterday it would eliminate a free checking account program – popular among low-income individuals – and force its customers into new accounts that charge a $12 monthly fee unless they maintain $1,500 at a given time, or have $250 in direct deposit. These new fees are especially onerous for New Yorkers with limited means, and come at a time when New York faces an extraordinary affordability crisis.
The announcement comes when, according to reports, Bank of America is estimated to reap $3.5 billion in tax breaks from the Trump administration. The bank has roughly $93 billion in revenue annually, with $21 billion in profits last year alone. Its CEO earned $20 million in compensation in 2017.
“This is outrageous. Just when we face an affordability crisis like never before, Bank of America is wittingly making it that much harder for everyday people to get by. A shocking number of New Yorkers don’t even have access to a checking account – and Bank of America just openly chose to exacerbate that crisis. It’s as heartbreaking as it is unconscionable,” Comptroller Stringer said. “We have a moral and a financial obligation to stand up and speak out on behalf of working families. Billions in tax breaks, tens of millions in CEO pay, and higher fees for low-income people – that’s what this is about. No wonder so many New Yorkers feel like the deck is stacked. This move is wrong – and Bank of America knows it.”
According to a 2015 study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs:
  • While New York City is the financial capital of the world, an estimated 1.14 million households are unbanked or underbanked.
  • 360,000 households in New York City, or 11.7 percent, do not have a bank account, compared to 7.7 percent of households nationally.
  • An additional 780,000 households in New York City, or 25.1 percent, are underbanked compared to 20 percent of households nationally.
  • In some neighborhoods like Mott Haven and Hunts Point in the Bronx, over 30 percent of residents are classified as “unbanked.”
Comptroller Stringer’s previously released “Take it to the Bank” report showed:
  • For a low balance customer, the average cumulative cost of maintenance and transaction fees for a basic checking account amounted to $73 per year. Bank of America’s new announcement targeting low-income New Yorkers means they could be paying double – up to $144 per year.
Further, Bank of America may now be out of compliance with state law, which requires banks to offer and promote low-fee basic banking accounts for New Yorkers.
Comptroller Stringer and advocates decried the decision.
“Big banks on Wall Street just don’t get it. Americans are angry at their predatory excesses, system-rigging and ripoff fees — and now Bank of America does this?  Comptroller Stringer is fighting back on behalf of regular New Yorkers, fighting for fairness and affordability. We are with him 100%,” said Michael Kink, Executive Director of Strong Economy For All Coalition.
“Banks received a massive windfall from Trump’s tax scam, and now they are trickling down increased fees to consumers and the poor. We join Comptroller Scott Stringer in calling on Bank of America to halt their plans to charge low-income families for having a checking account,” said Jonathan Westin, Executive Director of New York Communities for Change.
“Just weeks after getting a windfall from Trump’s tax bill, Bank of America is insisting that it needs to hike fees on checking accounts, a move that will hurt its most vulnerable customers and exacerbate inequality,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison, Co-Executive Director and Network President of the Center for Popular Democracy. “This is an outrageous move that we will resist at all costs, and just one more example of why we need to insist on more accountability and oversight for banks and other financial institutions.”
“I’m proud to stand with Comptroller Scott Stringer, who valiantly fights for New York City’s working poor every day. It is unfortunate that Bank of America is removing the free account option for low-income families. The banking industry as a whole should have more consideration for the poor and working class people of America, especially as we continue to see the fiscal divide continue is this country at epic rates. At the Urban Upbound Federal Credit Union, a certified Community Development Financial Institution, we will continue to offer free accounts for low-income individuals and families: we don’t charge monthly or low balance fees, even for an account with as little as $10,” said Bishop Mitchell Taylor, Co-Founder and CEO of Urban Upbound.
“In eliminating free checking accounts for low-income people, the highly profitable Bank America is increasing the financial burdens on those who can least afford it. Clearly they are trying to drive these customers away. New York State already has the greatest income inequality in the country, Citizen Action condemns Bank of America, which stands to reap billions from the Republican tax giveaways,  for taking yet another step to increase that that deplorable disparity,” said Té Revesz, Board Member of Citizen Action of New York City.
“As we have seen through New Economy Project’s financial justice hotline, Bank of America has a long history of driving poor New Yorkers toward inferior products and services, and ultimately out of the bank. This latest action is only the most blatant demonstration that Bank of America has no interest in serving low-income New Yorkers — despite benefiting from our public money. All of this leads New Economy Project to ask: If Bank of America doesn’t want to do business with New York, why should New York do business with Bank of America?” said Raúl Carrillo, Staff Attorney, New Economy Project.
“We are disappointed that Bank of America is eliminating a program that has benefited the low to moderate income clients NYLAG serves. If you live paycheck to paycheck, are paid in cash or have cyclical income you will not be able to meet the balance or direct-deposit minimums required to avoid a fee,” said Doug Ostrov, Director of the Financial Counseling Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group. “At a minimum we would expect that low-income consumers would be given some options or flexibility in meeting these challenging requirements, which will likely result in vulnerable New Yorkers being forced to pay overdraft fees or to rely on informal and onerous options like high-fee pay day lending and check cashing services.”
“This is an attack on our hard working immigrant families of faith who live paycheck to paycheck and need the flexibility to provide for their families. We stand here today to call on Bank of America to stop profiting off the backs of hard working individuals and families,” said Rob Solano, Executive Director & Co-Founder of Churches United For Fair Housing ( CUFFH ).
To view Comptroller Stringer’s “Take It To the Bank Report”, please click here.


Record high placement rates for animals at City shelters in 2017

  The de Blasio administration today announced the location of the City’s new Bronx Animal Shelter. Projected to open in 2024, the 47,000-square-foot Bronx shelter will be located in the East Bronx, and have space for 70 dogs, 140 cats, 30 rabbits and 20 animals from other species. The City will also renovate its existing Brooklyn shelter to expand its current facilities, renovation will be complete by 2022. These investments build upon the Mayor’s commitment to have a fully operational animal shelter in each borough.

In 2017, more than 93% of all dogs and cats at City-operated shelters were placed either through adoptions to the public or through the adoption partner program. This historic placement rate puts New York City as a national leader in the placement of dogs and cats among shelters that publicly report data and have average annual intakes exceeding 30,000 animals.

“Our animal shelters deliver services to upwards of 30,000 animals. These two new facilities in the Bronx and Brooklyn will build upon the City’s record 93% placement rate to ensure that all missing, homeless and abandoned animals within the city receive the care they need. These shelters also will offer direct adoption because we know how much New Yorkers love their pets, especially those in need of a home,” said Mayor de Blasio.

"Our continued investments in Animal Care Centers of NYC will create valuable services for pet owners and pets alike," said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio. "These exciting new investments in the Bronx and Brooklyn build on the Mayor's commitment to have a fully operational animal shelter in each borough, and I thank the Health Department and ACC on their collaboration towards this important step."

"Creating full service shelters in every borough has been a priority for the Council for almost two decades and I am glad to take part in the first major step toward that goal," said Speaker Corey Johnson. "New York City deserves state-of-the-art animal shelters designed by experts in animal welfare and I look forward to the public processes as the plans for these shelter projects progress.”

“The planned improvements at Animal Care Centers of NYC build on our commitment to New Yorkers and their animals,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “I thank ACC for its partnership and excellent work in providing the best services available to New Yorkers looking for new companions, and I thank Mayor de Blasio for his efforts to expand the animal adoption system throughout the five boroughs.”
“We are a completely different organization than we were even five years ago. We have become the go-to resource for NYC animal related issues – from pet adoption to rescue to help with keeping pets and families together,” said ACC President and CEO, Risa Weinstock. “We are excited to bring that level of service to the Bronx, with the addition of a new facility.”

The de Blasio administration has investment $98 million in the development and renovation of full-service animal shelters in all five boroughs. Animal Care Center currently runs full-service shelters in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island and admissions centers in the Bronx and Queens. New York City operates one of the largest animal shelter in the country, taking in more than 30,000 animals every year. The new Bronx shelter will undergo a thorough community engagement process throughout the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) before construction begins.

ACC rabbits, cats and dogs available for adoption can be viewed online at http://nycacc.org/AdoptionSearch.htm, or on ACC’s free mobile app (available on Google Play and iTunes).


  Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is demanding that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) issue an immediate emergency declaration in order to speed the procurement process and replace defective boilers in their developments.

The call for an emergency declaration comes in the wake of the recent severe cold that struck the city earlier this month, during which mobile boilers across the five boroughs stopped working, leaving public housing residents in the cold. Borough President Diaz made the request in a letter to NYCHA Chair & CEO Shola Olatoye.

“NYCHA residents should not be forced to suffer in the cold due to the glacial pace of the procurement process,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “An emergency declaration will set the ball rolling for the faster replacement of out-of-service boilers in our city’s public housing developments. The hundreds of thousands of residents who call NYCHA their home deserve action, not excuses.”

The complete letter to Ms. Olatoye can be read at http://on.nyc.gov/2DDvcRL.

An emergency declaration is the first step in a process that would cut the bureaucratic red tape on the applicable procurement rules that NYCHA says is tying their hands. Declaring an emergency is a critical step in ensuring residents the services that they deserve. It also allows the agency to access resources, and to do so in an expeditious manner.

“In time of crisis we must act immediately,” wrote Borough President Diaz in the letter. “It is inhumane to have hundreds of thousands of tenants living in apartments without dependable hot water and heather during the freezing winter. It is time for NYCHA to act and approve an emergency declaration to cut through the red tape.”