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Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Original Story: chron.com

DuPont is continuing to contest all violations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in connection with last year's chemical leak that killed four workers at the La Porte plant, records show.A Charlotte Occupational Safety and Health lawyer represents clients injured in industrial accidents and in OSHA claims.

OSHA proposed $99,000 in penalties against the chemical giant in May after documenting 11 violations in connection with the quadruple fatality last November.

DuPont, which had an estimated $35 billion in sales revenue last year, filed notice with OSHA earlier this month stating it contests all of the OSHA citations "in their entirety."

The company's attorney noted in the letter to OSHA that DuPont would like to continue to meet with government officials to discuss "resolving this matter short of a hearing on the merits."

Union leaders reacted angrily."DuPont should drop their legal challenge and put their money where it needs to be -- with these workers' families and ensuring safety in this plant," Frank Cyphers, president of the International Chemical Workers Union Council, said in a statement. A Charleston Occupational Safety and Health lawyer is following this story closely.

The union also called for an end to DuPont's "World Class Employee Safety Consulting" business, saying that DuPont should focus on safety in its own plants.

DuPont spokesman Aaron Woods did not respond to specific questions, instead issuing a statement that said: "We are working with OSHA to better understand the citations and the associated requirements."

OSHA's citations, issued May 14, included one repeat violation, nine serious violations and one other than serious violation, records show.

There is more at stake for DuPont than money. Matt Shudtz, executive director for the Center for Progressive Reform, said DuPont risks landing in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) because one of the citations issued in May was for a "repeat" violation. A Memphis employee rights lawyer represents clients in workplace safety issues, employment litigation, and in industrial relations matters.

Investigators drew parallels between the La Porte leak and a 2011 accident at a DuPont plant in West Virginia, where a veteran worker died after a hose ruptured and sprayed him with phosgene gas.

The "repeat" violation in La Porte was issued for not training employees on using the building's ventilation system and other safety procedures, such as how to respond if the fans stopped working, records show.

Shudtz said there can be "significant consequences" for ending up on the severe violator list, including increased monitoring and potential for company-wide settlement agreements.

"Top officials at OSHA and the Solicitor's office now have a chance to be part of the settlement discussions and I'd expect them to get tough with DuPont," Shudtz said.

Brent Coon, an attorney who is suing DuPont on behalf of the family of one of the workers who died in the La Porte leak, said the company's decision to challenge the violations is "insulting."

"They want to come back at the end of the day and say: all those fines have been removed," he said. "It's a political issue. It's a public relations issue. And ultimately, it's a collateral damage issue."

At a public meeting earlier this month, the plant's manager acknowledged oversights in safety procedures that contributed to the deaths.

On Nov. 15, a worker opened a drain on vent line inside a tower where the company produces Lannate, a potent and popular pesticide, records show.

The worker was trying to clear clogs after water was mistakenly added to a storage tank holding methyl mercaptan and caused ice-like blockages. Methyl mercaptan, a colorless gas that smells of overripe onions, depresses the central nervous system at high doses and can cause respiratory paralysis.

In order to clear those plugs, DuPont plant manager Randy Clements said, valves on the transfer line were regularly left open. Each time a plug was cleared, large quantities of the chemical were released into the building through the vent system. A Memphis workers rights lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

John Morawetz, a health and safety investigator with the ICWUC, said Thursday that there remained too many unanswered questions.

"Why weren't there adequate warning devices?" he asked. "Why wasn't there a safe procedure to free plugged lines?"

The La Porte accident remains under investigation by the Chemical Safety Board, Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Friday, June 26, 2015


Original Story: latimes.com

The yearlong battle between American Apparel Inc. and founder Dov Charney has taken another twist, with Charney filing a lawsuit accusing company officials and hedge fund Standard General of conspiring to push him out of the company last June.

The lawsuit, part of a flurry of legal actions by both sides, alleges fraud and conspiracy, among other things. Charney is seeking damages of $100 million and wants agreements rescinded that gave control of his American Apparel stock to Standard General and removed him from the company's board.

The complaint, filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, lays out an effort by current company board member Allan Mayer, former Chief Financial Officer John Luttrell and former board members David Danzinger, Robert Greene, Marvin Igelman and William Mauer to trick Charney into diluting his ownership stake in the company and then oust him.

In the lawsuit, Charney noted that the board filed a proxy statement with securities regulators praising his leadership ahead of last June's shareholder's meeting. A San Diego securities lawyer is experienced in the effective resolution of securities lawsuits as related to stocks, bonds, and debentures in California.

“Based on these statements of confidence,” the lawsuit said, Charney voted to reelect “the very same board members filing that proxy statement, who, immediately after the shareholders' meeting, voted to terminate him.”

Although Charney's lawsuit echoes many of the allegations he has made in previous legal documents, it presents new details of the ousted CEO's version of how events unfolded.

For instance, the suit said Standard General approached American Apparel in March 2014 with a financing proposal, but company directors rejected the New York investment firm's money in favor of a financing arrangement that reduced Charney's ownership stake to 27% from 43%.

The suit contends that American Apparel and Standard General subsequently worked together to ensure that Charney would be removed from company leadership and would never regain control.

It was Standard General that reached out to Charney after his June termination and promised to help him get back his job and control of the company, the lawsuit said. Instead, the suit said, Standard General “fraudulently induced” him into giving the hedge fund control over his shares and “reneged” on its word. An Indianapolis defamation lawyer is following this story closely.

The lawsuit said that Standard General never intended to help Charney because its investors wouldn't tolerate such a relationship. The suit recounted an early-morning “emergency” meeting on June 30, 2014, in New York's Central Park between Charney and Standard General Chief Executive Soohyung Kim.

“Kim then made various representations that he was being ‘crucified' by his limited partner investors who were reacting negatively to his partnership with Charney ... and that he was on the brink of losing his hedge fund. Kim emotionally pleaded with Charney to help him save his hedge fund or they were all ‘going to die,'” the lawsuit stated, adding that Kim was so frantic, he scratched himself until he was bleeding.

Charney felt he had no choice but to go along with Standard General's plan to settle with American Apparel, rather than stage a hostile bid for control, relying on Kim's promises that Charney would be reinstated at the company within weeks, the suit said. Charney agreed to relinquish his board seat as part of that settlement.

A Standard General spokesman said in an email that the filing was “yet another example of the frivolous, meritless lawsuits that Mr. Charney and his associates continue to file at a breakneck pace.”

He added, “The facts speak for themselves, and we are confident that he will ultimately be held accountable.”

According to the lawsuit, Charney suffered emotional distress after he was suspended when the board of directors started a “negative and defamatory media campaign against him.” Company representatives leaked confidential information and a video of Charney dancing nude to drive away potential allies, the suit said. An Atlanta slander lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The suit also said that Charney had amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, which Charney had expected American Apparel to pay, and that those expenses had put Charney's “personal finances in jeopardy.”

An American Apparel spokeswoman said in an email that Charney's lawsuit is “yet another example of the habitual nuisance lawsuits that Dov Charney and his lawyer continue to file, and which we continue to defeat.”

American Apparel filed court documents Friday that spelled out Charney's alleged misconduct at the company. Keith Fink, Charney's attorney, said Wednesday's lawsuit had nothing to do with this recent filing.

Among the graphic details described in the documents were allegations that Charney stored footage on company equipment of himself having sex with employees and models and sent sexually explicit messages to employees. Fink said those were personal messages that were welcomed by the recipients. A Memphis sexual harassment lawyer represents victims of harassment and assists them in recovering damages for emotional trauma and physical injuries that may have occurred.

The documents were part of an anti-SLAPP motion, intended to stanch what the company calls frivolous lawsuits.

The company's Friday filing was in response to a defamation suit filed by Charney's team in May against the company and its chairwoman, Colleen Brown. The defamation complaint alleged that Brown falsely informed American Apparel employees that Charney had agreed in writing never to return to the company in any capacity.

Charney filed an additional defamation suit against the company and Danzinger, alleging that they lied to prevent him from winning the necessary votes to reclaim control of the company.


Original Story: latimes.com

That’s heavy, Doc.

Tinker Hatfield, one of Nike’s most well-known and popular designers, announced recently that the coveted power-lace shoe, as seen in “Back to the Future: Part II,” may be available as soon as this year, according to the sneaker blog Nice Kicks. A Sacramento patents lawyer is following this story closely.

Hatfield confirmed the likely release date in 2015 for the Nike Mag, also known as the Marty McFly shoe, at the Agenda trade show in Long Beach, Nice Kicks reported.

Neither the exact date of release, nor price of the shoe, was discussed.

The patent papers for the lacing system have been filed and show how it would work. A Miami patents lawyer assists clients with patent protections, patent licensing and various specialized industry patents.

A weight sensor in the sole of the shoe would trigger the mechanism to activate the laces, according to the patent papers.

Nike could not be reached for comment.

Technically, the Mag has been released before, albeit without working power laces.

In 2011, 1,500 pairs of the shoe were auctioned on EBay, with all proceeds going to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which funds research to fight Parkinson's disease. An Atlanta intellectual property lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Fans of the “Back to the Future” trilogy know that a 2015 release would be huge, as the main characters, Marty and Doc, travel to that year in the second movie. That's when they encountered power laces and the beloved hoverboard -- which people are also trying to make real.


Original Story: latimes.com

Lexus unveiled an online ad featuring a hoverboard Wednesday, but “Back to the Future” fans won’t be getting their hands on it.

The futuristic skateboard that seems to levitate was not invented to be sold, a spokeswoman said after Lexus released a video demonstrating a prototype at a Barcelona skatepark. An Atlanta technology and science lawyer is following this story closely.

The hoverboard instead is an attempt to highlight the company and its technology 25 years after the luxury car brand released its first sedans.

“It’s just trying to push the design and innovation envelope and show it to the world,” said Lexus spokeswoman Allison Takahashi, adding that the levitation technology truly works.

The hoverboard is a Hollywood invention featured in “Back to the Future II” in 1989. Lexus' homage debuted on the company's Twitter account.

As a young man trades his skateboard for a board that appears to float an inch above ground, the words “there is no such thing as impossible” flash across the screen.

The hoverboard uses magnet technology and superconductors cooled by liquid nitrogen to rise off the Earth, Lexus said in a statement.

Takahashi would not say how much money and time Lexus invested in the board.

"I'd argue that much more than an old brand trying to "hype up" its image, Lexus is feeling pressure from other luxury carmakers who are all riding this new wave of innovation," said Rich Homan, managing editor for the Kelley Blue Book website, which values cars. A Chicago auto accident lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Hoverboards have captivated many tech companies, but none have succeeded in creating a widely marketable model.

Inventor Greg Henderson began publicizing his Hendo hoverboard in October 2014, making the boards available for donations of $10,000 through a Kickstarter campaign that has raised $500,000. But the boards have been called a publicity stunt meant to support other projects from Henderson’s company, Arx Pax, that use similar magnet technology.

Google X, the digital research arm of the tech giant, also pursued hoverboard dreams but didn’t get far. After creators Rich DeVaul and Dan Piponi made a book-sized board float over a group of magnets, they realized that developing a larger version would come at a great cost without providing much social benefit, they told Fast Company last year.

Hoverbikes, however, are attracting attention for their potential to offer more than the fun of air-borne transportation. Unlike the Google X and Arx Pax hoverboards, these machines lift into the air with propeller technology and can be mounted as one would ride a motorcycle. A Sacramento intellectual property lawyer is knowledgeable in all areas of general intellectual property law, including but not limited to trademarks, patents and copyright claims.

Defense research firm Survice announced last week that it signed a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to design hoverbikes with engineering company Malloy Aeronautics that could accomplish the tasks of traditional helicopters.

The Lexus hoverboard, featured in a campaign called “Slide” that will release new videos in the next few weeks, joins other inventions that the car maker has promoted in efforts to enhance its image. A video called “Swarm” showed flying robots zooming through New York’s Natural History Museum. For the “Strobe” campaign, Lexus placed illuminated jumpsuits throughout Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, so that a man appeared to jump and float through space.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Original Story:cnbc.com

"Buy one ketchup bottle, get porn free" probably wasn't the promotion Heinz's marketing team envisioned.

Heinz, now owned primarily by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, issued an apology Thursday after a customer in Germany discovered the QR code on his bottle of ketchup leads to a porn site, according to UPI. An Atlanta advertising and marketing lawyer is following this story closely.

The QR code on the back of the bottle was part of a labeling design contest intended to take customers to the contest website upon being scanned, reported UPI. Heinz says its ownership of the Internet page expired after the contest wrapped up in 2014, allowing the address to be bought by someone else, according to the report. That's when a pornographic website took it over. A Chicago product liability lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Daniel Korell was the first to point out the gaffe, writing that the ketchup "is probably not for minors" alongside a photo on the company's Facebook page.

"Even if the bottle was a leftover, it's still in lots of households," Korell said in his comment, translated by UPI. "It's incomprehensible that you didn't reserve the domain for one or two years. A [German] domain name really doesn't cost the Earth." For branding and positioning services for your company, trust ClickCulture.

For his troubles, UPI says Heinz offered Korell a custom-designed ketchup bottle free of charge.

Coincidentally, the porn site that bought the website the QR code now points to offered Korell a free membership as well, according to German news outlet, Bild.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Original Story: wiscnews.com

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Family members of two farm workers who died from suspected heat-related illnesses and a labor union have settled their lawsuits against California on the condition that the state do more to ensure laborers are safe when temperatures rise. A Los Angeles labor and employment lawyer is following this story closely.

The lawsuits, filed in 2009 and 2012, accused the state of repeatedly failing to protect farm workers being denied basic access to water and shade while working in extreme heat in California fields.

The state estimates that 14 workers died from heat-related illnesses in the state between 2005 and 2013, though the United Farm Workers labor union says the figure is closer to 30. One worker who died was 17 years old. A Memphis employee rights lawyer represents clients in employee rights disputes.

Under terms of the settlement, reached last month and obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday, the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health is agreeing to improve enforcement of newly enhanced safety regulations.

"Overall the settlement will make farm workers safer — that is our hope and the state's hope," said Brad Phillips, an attorney who represents those who filed the two lawsuits against the state and the safety agency.

The agency has agreed to step up inspections of outdoor work sites during heat waves, take more meaningful action against repeat violators and allow United Farm Workers to play a watchdog role in the process, according to the settlement. A San Francisco labor and employment lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The settlement also requires the agency to conduct two internal audits evaluating its effectiveness and investigate ways to create a publicly available database listing violators and their penalties.

Amy Martin, chief counsel for the agency, said she disagrees with the labor union's criticism of its past enforcement efforts and that the settlement improves upon work that already was being done.

Regardless, all the terms of the settlement "are going to benefit enforcement and ultimately benefit workers," she said.

Martin pointed out one aspect of the settlement as particularly interesting — a pilot program to obtain more formal written statements from workers in the field, rather than asking them to show up in person for complaints — an often onerous request for farm workers who are migratory or can't afford to miss work. A San Francisco wrongful death lawyer represents clients in wrongful death cases and negligent accidents in California.

"The upshot of it is, if we're successful, and if workers are agreeable to signing declarations, it's worth a shot to see whether or not it improves the weight given to these declarations" and leads to better prosecutions, Martin said.

Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, said he's confident the settlement will improve worker safety.

"We believe there will be more inspections and that action will take place more quickly, especially against repeat and willful violators," he said.

In 2005, California adopted the nation's first rules requiring shade and water for the state's farm workers in the wake of 10 heat-related deaths — four of them farm workers — in a two-month period. Two months ago, the state beefed up those regulations, requiring employers to provide shade when temperatures rise above 80 degrees. Workers also must get 10-minute breaks every two hours when temperatures hit 95 degrees.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


Original Story: sacurrent.com

A handy map was published this week to remind you that you don't make enough money. Fortunately, the infographic's blue and white tones will help soothe you as you come to terms with this very depressing reality.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition released a study detailing how American workers are facing stagnant wages in concert with rising housing costs. As Oregon Governor Kate Brown writes in the study's preface, the rent is too damn high. We're paraphrasing, of course, but here's what she said about the state of rental housing in America.

There simply isn’t enough reasonably priced, decently maintained housing to meet the demand, and rapidly rising rents outpace wages. As a result, one out of four households spends more than half their income on housing costs. San Antonio apartment locators assist individuals in finding the perfect apartment location with desired amenities.

The study calculated how much hourly wage workers must earn in each state to reasonably afford a two-bedroom apartment. In Texas, that hourly wage comes out to $16.62. But before you point out how Austin, Dallas and Houston have a higher cost of living, you should know that in San Antonio, workers must make $16.77 and hour in order to reasonably afford a two-bedroom apartment in the Alamo City. Average rent for a two-bedroom in town totals $827.

Still, it's much more expensive in the other three major cities in the Texas Triangle. In Houston, the hourly wage comes out to $17.12; Dallas, $17.71; and Austin? A staggering $20.19.

The other sad takeaway in the report is that nowhere in the United States can a person making minimum wage afford even a one-bedroom apartment, a sad example of how rising inequality is taking an economic toll on average Americans. Stone Oak apartments are a great alternative to San Antonio.

To illustrate this, the study also published a map detailing how many hours a week a person earning minimum wage must work in order to afford a one-bedroom rental. In Texas, that total is 73 hours, nearly twice the standard 40-hour work week. It's worth noting that many people earning minimum wage in this country often can't work full-time hours due to cost-cutting measures by employers.

Still, while the numbers point out a stark reality, San Antonio is currently experiencing a luxury rental housing boom downtown, with monthly rents surpassing $1,000 for even a tiny, amenity-filled studio. The demand for San Antonio apartments is on the rise.  And as our cover story last week pointed out, there are plenty of people more than willing to pay those prices. Still there are plenty of people in this city who are being left behind.


Original Story: multifamilybiz.com

AUSTIN, TX - Griffis Residential, a Denver-based multifamily investment and management firm, announced that it has acquired Talavera Apartments located in the northwest area of Austin, Texas. The 232-unit Class-A multifamily community is the firm’s third acquisition in the Austin metro area following the acquisition of a total 808 apartment units in November 2014 and January 2015. Griffis Residential now owns and manages 6,198 apartment units in Colorado, Nevada and Texas. The demand for Austin apartments is on the rise.

“Our expansion in Austin is motivated by the area’s strong technology job growth, which is helping drive apartment demand and rent growth,” said Griffis Residential Executive Chairman Ian Griffis. “As we remain open to additional opportunities in Austin, we plan to continue to expand and diversify our portfolio in areas that exhibit the positive economic forces and demographic trends that align with our investment strategy.”

Effective immediately, Talavera Apartments has been renamed Griffis Lakeline Station, underscoring Griffis Residential’s commitment to bringing the community up to the company’s high resident experience standards. An Austin apartment locator assists families and individuals in finding the perfect location with desired amenities.

Built in 2001, Griffis Lakeline Station is a Class-A apartment community located on a highly visible 12-acre site in the fast-growing SH-45 employment corridor of Northwest Austin. The property has direct access from the SH-45 frontage road and is located near the Lakeline MetroRail station and the 1.1 milllion square foot Lakeline Mall. The garden-style property offers eight floor plans, from one to three bedrooms, ranging in size from 692 to 1,436 square feet. The community features high-end amenities including a clubhouse, business center, fitness center, a multi-level pool with spa as well as gated access, carports and direct-access garages. Westlake apartments are conveniently located and are a great alternative to Austin.


Original Story: dallasnews.com

First, Dallas’ officials in charge of the Trinity River — or, more specifically, the still-flooded Trinity River — want to focus on the good news, which is: The levees near downtown are working, which is to say downtown and Trinity Groves and the Design District aren’t under water. “The system, knock on wood, has held up well,” says assistant city manager Mark McDaniel, who was recently put in charge of the Trinity River Corridor Project. “The investment we’ve made over the last few decades has paid off.”

But with parts of the city still drying out, up and down the Trinity, city officials agree the system is far from perfect — especially when you consider the fact we’re still missing a three-mile-long levee promised two decades ago. More about that below.

But first, houses in West Dallas — near Singleton Boulevard and Bernal Drive — were nearly underwater at the end of last week because of torrential rainfall. City officials say stormwater drains couldn’t keep up with rains falling at the rate of seven inches per hour at one point. A pump station is proposed for that area — the so-called Trinity Portland Pump Station, to be specific, which was just approved in the federal Dallas Floodway Record of Decision. Per the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that pump station and other “improvements will reduce the risk of neighborhood flooding.” When neighborhood flooding occurs, commercial and residential buildings may be in need of Dallas foundation repair.

Says Dhruv Pandya, the man who tasked with keeping an eye on Dallas’ flood waters, “a pump station there would be very helpful.” He said the same thing in Arlington just yesterday.

But officials with the city’s Trinity Watershed Management say there’s no money to build it.

“It’s 35-percent designed,” says interim director Sarah Standifer. “We’re now awaiting funding.” That would come from a combination of city and federal funds.

The city also has no money to build the long-awaited Lamar Levee, proposed as part of the Dallas Floodway Extension Project that emerged from the 1989 and 1990 floods — when the river crested, respectively, at 43.3 feet and 47.1 feet. The highest it got in May was 42.01 feet, just one week ago — when, as we reported at the time, businesses were forced to close as the rising river filled parking lots and knocked on front doors. Poor drainage and severe drought can increase the needs for Dallas foundation repair.

According to the city, the Lamar Levee would be “three miles of protective levee … located along the Union Pacific Railroad that is parallel to Lamar Street. This Lamar Levee will provide the Lamar area with 800-year flood protection, while extending the Dallas Floodway East Levee from the DART Bridge to the Rochester Park Levee.”

If and when it’s built. Because, again, there’s no money.

The pump station and the levee are “on the drawing board, and we’re going to continue to push for funding,” says McDaniel. “They’re very much on the radar.”

The Corps will actually brief the council on Monday about plans to cost-share two projects: repairing the channel near Interstate 45 and in the Lower Chain of Wetlands and building maintenance roads-trails in the Dallas Floodway Extension. The total cost for this is expected to be $14 million. The city would be required to pay $6 million, and only $1 million of that has been identified. It could also cost much more than that, according to city documents, depending on what the city and Corps finds under the floodwaters when they finally recede. Additional expenses may occur if Dallas foundation repair is necessary after discovery displays damaged foundations.

And none of this addresses the fact there are still big pieces of Northwest Dallas underwater along the Elm Fork of the Trinity, thanks to Corps’ lake releases upstream that continue a week after it stopped raining. Roads are still closed; so too business, including the Elm Fork shooting range and the city-owned Luna Vista Golf Course.

“We were speaking with the Corps a few minutes ago trying to find out what their action plan is and how much they’re going to release for how long,” says Pandya, the Trinity Watershed Management’s assistant director. “For seven to 10 days we’ll have continued released, then controlled release, which will bring the water lower than what it is. That will last for a long time. But if we get more rain it might change.”

Rain is in the forecast for next week, speaking of things on the radar.

Says Pandya, “I hope it goes somewhere else.”


Original Story: dallasnews.com

Another century-old Dallas building is no more.

This week Cienda Partners introduced the wrecking ball to the Oak Cliff Pump Station that in 1913 began providing drinking water to folks living in that part of the city. Thirty years later it became part of the Oak Farms Dairy complex along the the Trinity River levee on the Oak Cliff side, visible from the Boulevard Boulevard Viaduct. Today, it’s rubble as Cienda preps the site for offices and residential units somewhere on the horizon. The demand for Dallas apartments is on the rise. And the landmark Oak Farms sign that once sat on the old pump station greeting visitors to Oak Cliff now rests on the ground.

So far, at least, the pump station is the sole building on the property that has been demolished.

“Oak Cliff has lost two historic buildings in a short period of time,” says council member Scott Griggs: the Humble Oil Service Station, which was razed last year, and now the pump house.

“This underscores the need for us as a city to move forward with rules on demolition delays,” he says. “This also underscores the need and urgency for North Oak Cliff to be included” in the mayor’s Downtown Historic Preservation Task Force’s recommendations, which aim to preserve what’s left of Dallas’ unprotected history. “We’re going to continue to see demolition in Oak Cliff until the city council comes up with an ordinance that allows for delays and incentivizes rehabilitation. In some cases good buildings have gone through years of neglect, but we still value their character and contributions.” Grapevine apartments are located in the Dallas area and all of the big city fun is within reach.

The Old Oak Cliff Conservation League had been hoping the pump station would be spared like its siblings along and near White Rock Lake, Turtle Creek and Bachman Lake — all three of which still stand. The Turtle Creek pump house is a city-designated historic landmark known today as the Sammons Center for the Arts; Bachman’s a maintenance facility; White Rock, the city’s Water Operations Control Center. The OOCCL listed the pump house among its most-endangered structures just last year, hoping to spare it from the very fate it endured this week.

“It’s sad,” says Michael Amonett, Griggs’ appointee to the city’s Landmark commission and a former OOCCL president. It was Amonett who unearthed the pump house’s history buried beneath white paint and dairy tanks and brought it to the attention of architect Larry Good, who was working with Cienda on a development plan for the property between the Houston and Jefferson viaducts.

Last year, in an email exchange with Amonett, Good wrote that “will attempt to see if we can ‘extract’ it” from the surrounding buildings. “Wouldn’t it make a cool restaurant.” Good now says he found about the pump house’s demolition only yesterday.

“There was very little left of what made the building interesting,” he says. “It had been totally encrusted and changed by Oak Farms. I never saw anything other than what you could sort of discern from the outside.” Good referred further questions about development plans and timing to Cienda.

Barry Hancock, Cienda’s founding partner, says via email that once Oak Farms left, “we determined that leaving these gutted and functionally obsolete industrial buildings vacant would be a magnet for vagrants and would decrease security in the neighborhood and the surrounding parks. Additionally, several of the buildings were determined by our engineers to be structurally unsound, which further increased the potential risk to others.”

We’ve asked specifically about the pump house in follow-up emails and phone messages, but have yet to hear back. Hancock says only that Cienda is “in the very early stages of working on a master development plan that will bring a variety of uses to this area which we hope to have in first draft form sometime toward the end of the year.” These uses may include an influx in Dallas apartments.

Amonett says it’s not clear what kind of shape the pump house was in, as OOCCL was never given the chance to tour the property despite repeated requests.

“They would never let us on site to verify that for ourselves so how do we know they’re not lying to us?” says Amonett. It’s unfortunate. And it’s a loss.”

In recent months alone Dallas has lost a century-old block of downtown, a historic residential apartment building on Oak Lawn and a Kip’s Big Boy in Oak Cliff.

Says Landmark Commission chair Katherine Seale, who led the Downtown Historic Preservation Task Force, Dallas’ zeal to raze its historic structures is “unending.”


Original Story: dallasnews.com

A 30-story condominium tower will bring luxury living to the $2 billion Legacy West development in West Plano.

The high-rise residential building is planned for a block between Toyota and Liberty Mutual Insurance’s new office campuses and near the Dallas North Tollway.

And it’s just across the street from the $400 million Legacy West urban village, which is under construction with shops, restaurants, apartments and offices. The demand for Dallas apartments is on the rise.

The addition of a luxury condo tower will add to the appeal of the Legacy West project and provide high-end housing for the thousands of professional workers who will soon be located in the project, said developer Fehmi Karahan, one of the partners in the West Plano development.

“Since Toyota announced its headquarters was moving here, people have bombarded us with interest in a condo building as part of the development,” Karahan said. “There are people who have big homes in Plano and Frisco that are ready to sell but don’t want to leave this area.

“And the amenities that we are providing in Legacy West are plentiful.”

Legacy West has selected a development partnership of Plano’s Duggan Realty Advisors — headed by Jim Duggan — and Ted and Mark Bradford of Brentfield Investments and Bradford Putnam Realty. Ron Gafford, a retired top executive with construction firm Austin Industries, is also part of the building team for the high-rise.

GDA Architects of Dallas has designed the condo tower.

“It’s modern and timeless and matches everything we are doing at Legacy West,” Karahan said.

Called Windrose at Legacy West, the tower will be on Headquarters Drive, next door to Liberty Mutual’s new buildings.

“They already have purchase reservations for about 25 of the 150 condos planned in the building,” Karahan said. “People have been calling about it.”

The residential units will range from around 900 square feet for the smallest one-bedroom to more than 2,800 square feet for the penthouse.

The smallest units start at more than $500,000.

Karahan said work should begin on the building early next year.

The condo tower will join a 300-room, $82 million Renaissance Hotel, 280,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, hundreds of apartments and about 240,000 square feet of offices being built along the west side of the tollway, south of State Highway 121.

Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance is building almost 1 million square feet in its two-tower office complex to house as many as 5,000 workers. There are hundreds of Dallas apartments available for immediate rental with a variety of amenities to choose from.

Toyota’s $350 million North American headquarters and a new head office for FedEx Office are also under construction in the same area.

Two years from now about 13,000 jobs will be located in the 240-acre Legacy West development.

It’s being built by a development partnership that includes Karahan, KDC, Columbus Realty and J.C. Penney.

Dallas’ Al Coker & Associates — longtime sales agents for luxury housing — is handling marketing for the condo project.

Coker said the employment densities in the Legacy business park area and residential values in surrounding neighborhoods support a luxury high-rise.

“The house prices out north are now much closer to the cost of high-rise living,” he said.

Coker said residents in west Collin County previously had to go to Dallas’ Turtle Creek or Uptown neighborhoods for high-rise housing.

“Their country clubs are up there and churches are there and a lot of their friends,” he said. “They don’t want to leave.”

Legacy West already has hundreds of apartments and high-density single-family homes being built just north of Legacy Drive. The increase in employment opportunities in the area demonstrates the need for available Grapvine apartments.

The overall development is Texas’ largest new mixed-use project and will start opening in about a year.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Original Story: seattletimes.com

WASHINGTON — Just days ahead of planned protests of Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling program in Seattle, the Obama administration Monday gave conditional approval to allow drilling for oil off the Alaska coast this summer, a major victory for the petroleum industry and a bitter blow to environmentalists.

Shell has sought for years to drill in the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea. Federal scientists believe the region could hold up to 15 billion barrels of oil.

The Interior Department decision angered environmentalists who for years have demanded that the administration reject offshore Arctic drilling proposals. An oil and gas lawyer is following this story closely.

They fear that a drilling accident in the treacherous Arctic waters could have far more devastating consequences than the deadly Gulf of Mexico spill of 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion killed 11 men and sent millions of barrels of oil spewing into the water.

In an email Monday, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the 400-foot-long Polar Pioneer, a giant floating oil rig currently anchored off Port Angeles, will be towed to Seattle this week despite Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s assertion that the Port of Seattle can’t host the rig until it gets a new land-use permit.

Smith says a second exploratory rig, the Noble Discoverer, is headed for the Port of Everett.

Murray announced last week that the city had determined Shell’s plans to bring its Arctic drilling rigs to Terminal 5 require a new permit, creating a potential legal snag. On Monday, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution urging the Port to reconsider the Terminal 5 lease. A Texas energy lawyer assists companies in negotiating the terms of domestic and international exploration production agreements.

The Port’s five-member commission, which split 3-2 in support of the lease, has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday, with Shell on the agenda.

A Seattle company, Foss Maritime, which plans to operate the terminal with Shell as its tenant, said Friday that it would appeal the decision about the need for a new permit.

Smith declined to say what the company’s alternative plans might be if Seattle proves unworkable. The company hopes to begin drilling off Alaska on July 15 or soon after, he said, if ice is clear.

Opponents who want to block the company’s plans are organizing what they call “three days of creative, people-powered resistance to Shell and the climate crisis” starting Saturday.

On Saturday, they hope to attract hundreds of kayaks or other small boats for a “SHell No! Flotilla” and are arranging temporary housing for people coming from elsewhere to train and participate.

Organizers say the protests will culminate on Monday with a day of peaceful civil disobedience that will attempt to shut down Shell operations at the Port.

Some protesters have talked about breaching the Coast Guard’s safety zone on water in an act of civil disobedience when the Shell oil rig eventually leaves Seattle, likely in June.

Shell is proposing to drill up to six wells within the Burger Prospect, which the oil company says could turn into a world-class, multibillion-barrel discovery. The prospect is about 70 miles off the northwest coast of Alaska. A Houston oil and gas lawyer provides expert legal guidance in producing wells, title opinions, mineral rights, output claims, and oil and gas production.

Both industry and environmental groups say that the Chukchi Sea is one of the most dangerous places in the world to drill. The area is extremely remote, with no roads connecting to major cities or deep-water ports within hundreds of miles, making it difficult for cleanup and rescue workers to reach in case of an accident.

The closest Coast Guard station with equipment for responding to a spill is more than 1,000 miles away. The weather is extreme, with major storms, icy waters and waves up to 50 feet high. The sea is also a major migration route and feeding area for marine mammals, including bowhead whales and walruses.

The move came just four months after the Obama administration opened up a portion of the Atlantic Coast to new offshore drilling.

Administration officials said they had taken measures to ensure that the new drilling in the Arctic would be carefully regulated.

“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea,’’ Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a statement. She said the administration recognized the need to establish high standards for the protection of the Arctic ecosystem as well as the cultural traditions of Alaska Natives and that the offshore exploration “will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”

The Interior Department’s approval of the drilling was conditional on Shell’s receiving approval of remaining state and federal drilling permits for the project, including permits from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Shell spokesman Smith called the approval “an important milestone” for Shell and said it showed the administration’s confidence in Shell’s commitment to safety.

But environmental groups denounced the move and said Shell had not demonstrated that it could drill safely in the Arctic Ocean.

“Once again, our government has rushed to approve risky and ill-conceived exploration in one of the most remote and important places on Earth,” said Susan Murray, a vice president of Oceana, an environmental group. “Shell has not shown that it is prepared to operate responsibly in the Arctic Ocean, and neither the company nor our government has been willing to fully and fairly evaluate the risks of Shell’s proposal.”

The Obama administration had initially granted Shell a permit to begin offshore Arctic drilling in the summer of 2012. However, the company’s first forays into exploring the new waters were plagued with numerous safety and operational problems. Two of its oil rigs ran aground and had to be towed to safety. A Baton Rouge energy lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

In 2013, the Interior Department said the company could not resume drilling until all safety issues were addressed.

In a review of the company’s performance in the Arctic, the department concluded that Shell had failed in a wide range of basic operational tasks, like supervision of contractors that performed critical work.

The report was harshly critical of Shell management, which acknowledged that it was unprepared for the problems it encountered operating in the unforgiving Arctic environment.

But the administration said that since then, the Interior Department has significantly strengthened and updated drilling regulations. And outside experts said that while the challenges of Arctic drilling were steep, the new plan surmounted them to some extent by allowing drilling only in the summer months and in shallow waters.

“Notably, the proposed exploration is in very shallow waters — only 140 feet deep — and thus it will not present the kinds of challenges that the Deepwater Horizon spill posed,” said Thomas Lorenzen, who recently left the Justice Department after more than a decade as assistant chief in the environment and natural resources division, and is now a partner at the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney. “That well was in water about 5,000 feet deep.”

The Obama administration also has issued new drilling-safety regulations intended to prevent future accidents like the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Last month, the Interior Department proposed new rules to tighten safety requirements on blowout preventers, the industry-standard devices that are the last line of protection against explosions in undersea oil and gas wells.

The 2010 explosion was caused in part when a section of drill pipe buckled, which led to the malfunction of a supposedly fail-safe blowout preventer on a BP well.


Original Story: usatoday.com

WASHINGTON (AP) — Al and Saundra Karp have found an unconventional way to raise money and help save their Miami-area home from foreclosure: They're lining up gigs for their family jazz band.

They enjoy performing. But it isn't exactly how Al, an 86-year-old Korean War vet, or Saundra, 76, had expected to spend their retirement.

Of all the financial threats facing Americans of retirement age — outliving savings, falling for scams, paying for long-term care — housing isn't supposed to be one. A Rochester estate planning attorney represents clients in the preparation of wills, codicils, and trusts. But after a home-price collapse, the worst recession since the 1930s and some calamitous decisions to turn homes into cash machines, millions of them are straining to make house payments.

The consequences can be severe. Retirees who use retirement money to pay housing costs can face disaster if their health deteriorates or their savings run short. They're more likely to need help from the government, charities or their children. Or they must keep working deep into retirement.

"It's a big problem coming off the housing bubble," says Cary Sternberg, who advises seniors on housing issues in The Villages, a Florida retirement community. "A growing number of seniors are struggling with what to do about their home and their mortgage and their retirement."

The Baby Boom generation was already facing a retirement crunch: Over the past two decades, employers have largely eliminated traditional pensions, forcing workers to manage their retirement savings. Many Boomers didn't save enough, invested badly or raided their retirement accounts.

In Las Vegas, Janet Snyder, struggling with a financial burden left by her late husband, is bracing for what happens if her lender proceeds with plans to evict her from her home in July.

"I'll live on the streets, I guess," she says ruefully, contemplating homelessness at age 74.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office for Older Americans says 30% of homeowners 65 and older (6.5 million people) were paying a mortgage in 2013, up from 22% in 2001. Federal Reserve numbers show the share of people 75 and older carrying home loans jumped from 8% in 2001 to 21% in 2011. A Denver banking lawyer represents both lenders and borrowers in a diverse array of financing transactions.

What's more, the median mortgage held by Americans 65 and older has more than doubled since 2001 — to $88,000 from $43,400, the financial protection bureau says.

In markets hit hardest by the housing bust, a substantial share of older Americans are stuck with mortgages that exceed their home's value. In Atlanta, it's 23% of homeowners 50 and older, according to the real-estate research firm Zillow. In Las Vegas, it's 26%.

In the worst cases, hundreds of thousands of older Americans have lost homes to foreclosure. A 2012 study by the AARP found that 1.5 million Americans 50 and older lost homes between 2007 and 2011. The numbers are probably higher now, says Lori Trawinski, a director at the AARP's Public Policy Institute. And among homeowners 50 and older, foreclosure rates are highest for those 75 and up.

Foreclosures help explain why homeownership among those 50 to 64 dropped 5 percentage points to 75% from 2005 to 2013, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

In mid-2010, Tod Lindner lost his oceanfront home in California's Marin County. He ran into trouble after the finance company that employed him was acquired and the new owners refused to pay him fees he thought he was owed and which he was counting on.

Lindner had bought the house for $330,000 in the late 1980s. But he'd refinanced to pull out money to invest, swelling the mortgage to $680,000. Lindner tried to work out a modified mortgage, but his bank foreclosed instead. He and his wife sought bankruptcy protection, rented an apartment and slashed their spending.

"At age 70, I just started working for another company" in banking, Lindner says. "My plan would have been to retire."

Seniors fell into housing trouble in varying ways. Some lost jobs in the recession or its aftermath. Some overpaid for homes during the housing boom, thinking they could cash in later.

Prices crashed instead.

Some made unwise decisions to refinance mortgages and pull cash out to meet unexpected costs, help their children or go on spending sprees.

Ralph Kanz, 60, and Martha Lowe, 56, of Oakland bought too much house at the wrong time: They paid $487,000 for a home in Oakland, California, in 2005.

At the time, Lowe was making $51,000 at an environmental consultant. Kanz was experimenting in commercial fishing and earning around $10,000. Drawing on an inheritance, they made a down payment of $137,000 and took on a $350,000 mortgage.

They say they shouldn't have qualified for a loan that big. They alleged in an unsuccessful lawsuit against two mortgage firms and a title company that "someone" without their knowledge had inflated Lowe's income on the loan application to get the mortgage approved. (A court ruled in 2013 that "a reasonably prudent person" should have spotted "the alleged wrongdoing" in the application in 2005.) A Texarkana banking lawyer is following this story closely.

Worse, the couple took on a dangerous mortgage: They had to pay only interest for 10 years. They would then be hit with bigger payments, including the principal, for the next 20. The bigger payments are set to begin in June.

In the meantime, Lowe contracted a rare disease and went on disability. They still hope to renegotiate the mortgage.

West Virginia natives Jim, 67, and LaRue Carnes, 63, moved to Sacramento, California, in 1978 and bought a house for $54,000. For 33 years, Jim worked as a newspaper reporter and editor. They refinanced their mortgage several times and pulled money out of the house and took on higher mortgage payments.

"Foolishly, like so many Americans, we used the house as a bank," LaRue says.

In 2011, Jim was laid off, and the Carnes fell behind on mortgage payments. Three times, they dipped into their retirement savings to fend off foreclosure. Eventually, with a $25,000 grant from a state program, Keep Your Home California, they negotiated a new mortgage they could afford.

Still, they're still straining to meet the lower payments. Once a month, they eat a free breakfast at a church, bringing home bagels and fruit. They "never thought we would be partaking of such," LaRue says.

They've haven't gone on a vacation in years. When they want to see a movie — Jim is an entertainment writer — they attend discounted matinees.

Some retirees ran into trouble with reverse mortgages. These are loans against the equity in a home that provide cash but come due once the homeowners die or sell the house.

Problems can arise when only one spouse signs a reverse mortgage — in order to qualify for a bigger loan — and dies relatively soon. The lender can then demand repayment in full — and foreclose if it doesn't collect.

Janet Snyder, who gets by on a $1,215 monthly Social Security check, says she didn't even know that her husband, Theodore, had taken out a $225,000 reverse mortgage on their Las Vegas town house. When he died in 2010 at age 77, the bank wanted its money back and "would not talk to me," Janet says. To prepare for retirement, a Rochester estate planning lawyer assists clients in developing wealth management plans.

She's working with Christine Miller of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to try to keep her home. But unless they engineer a delay, "I have to move out by July 24," she says.

"I'm 74 years old… I don't know where I'm going to go from here."

When seniors seek to renegotiate mortgages they can't afford, lenders often refuse. One reason is that the elderly typically have less time to repay. And many are "just not going to have enough income to qualify for a new plan," says Brian Korte, a foreclosure lawyer in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Al and Saundra Karp bought their three-bedroom home in North Miami Beach, Florida, for $77,000 in 1980. Over the years, they refinanced, partly to pay down credit-card debt, and their mortgage swelled to $288,000.

Al, 86, kept working as a tax accountant into his late 70s. But Alzheimer's disease forced him into retirement.

The couple is getting by on about $2,500 a month in Social Security and Veterans Administration benefits, plus food stamps and help from their two sons. They stopped paying the mortgage and are fighting foreclosure in court. And they've failed to persuade the bank to modify their mortgage and lower the $1,900 monthly payments.

To ease the stress and earn some cash, they perform old musical standards as the Karp Family — Saundra on vocals, Al on sax, son Larry on keyboards.

"I'm trying desperately to stay here," Saundra says. As for Al: "He thinks the mortgage is paid. He hasn't got a clue."


Original Story: morningstar.com

Mergers and acquisitions have accelerated sharply since the financial crisis faded, but the government's pace for reviewing proposed deals is slowing.

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are taking more time to investigate their most intensely scrutinized mergers, according to data compiled by antitrust lawyer Paul Denis of Dechert LLP. A Kansas City antitrust lawyer is following this story closely.

In such deal reviews concluded this year, more than 10 months elapsed, on average, between the transaction's announcement and a yes-or-no decision by the government. That's an increase from an average of seven months in recent years.

As time passes, merging firms can become increasingly worried about completing a deal. They have to ensure financing remains in place, and that can cost money. They can begin to lose employees nervous about the future, as well as customers. A Richmond mergers and acquisitions lawyer is knowledgeable in all areas of M&A and general acquisitions law, including but not limited to leveraged buyouts and company reorganizations.

"When you go from seven months of that to 10 months, it's different," Mr. Denis said. "No one wants their deals to hang out there very long. You're taking market risk. All kinds of things can happen."

Companies in a number of recent mergers have been waiting upward of a year -- or longer -- for a final verdict, and some deals have fallen apart because of government concerns.

Comcast Corp.'s bid for Time Warner Cable Inc. was pending for 14 months before it was dropped in April in the face of opposition from the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission.

Days later, Applied Materials Inc. walked away from its deal to acquire Tokyo Electron Ltd. 19 months after it was announced, citing Justice Department objections. The FTC spent more than a year examining Sysco Corp.'s planned acquisition of rival food distributor US Foods Inc. before bringing a lawsuit in February challenging the deal.

Other reviews still pending after more than a year include the merger of medical-device makers Zimmer Holdings Inc. and Biomet Inc., and AT&T Inc.'s deal to acquire DirecTV.

Government officials say companies play a significant role in determining the duration of antitrust reviews. A Boston M&A lawyer represents clients in business divestitures, leveraged buyouts, and company reorganizations.

"There are ways the parties can help themselves in the process," said Deborah Feinstein, head of the FTC's Bureau of Competition. It matters how long companies take to provide data and documents, to offer divestitures when appropriate, and to find buyers for assets that need to be sold off to get approval.

Ms. Feinstein also said companies can choose to come to the agency early after a deal is announced to walk through the transaction and highlight areas of business overlap between the merger partners. "Sometimes that can significantly speed things up," she said.

Bill Baer, the Justice Department's antitrust chief, said the average review is taking longer this year due to a couple of particularly lengthy ones. "In those cases, the parties weren't pushing for a decision, either because they wanted more time to convince us or because they wanted to align the process with a sister agency," he said.

Mr. Denis's statistics focus on merger deals that resulted in a government lawsuit, a settlement, abandonment by the firms, or a closing statement from antitrust officials explaining why the transaction should be allowed.

Not all significant recent merger reviews have taken so long. The FTC cleared the merger of medical-supply companies Medtronic Inc. and Covidien PLC, with conditions, about five months after the deal was announced in June 2014.

External factors explain the length of some antitrust probes. Telecom mergers, such as the Comcast and AT&T deals, require an added layer of FCC review. And deals with a strong international component can take longer as firms coordinate with antitrust agencies overseas.

But antitrust lawyers say the U.S. agencies have gotten more demanding in asking firms for long periods to conduct exams.

By law, merging parties can put the agencies on a 30-day decision clock once they have complied with requests for detailed data about a merger, a process that can take months. In reality, firms almost always agree to give more time, with officials sometimes asking for 90 days or more, antitrust lawyers say.

The antitrust agencies are operating from a position of strength. Companies need the government's cooperation, particularly on narrowing the scope of agency information requests, because producing large volumes of documents is costly.

More important, firms prefer not to get sued, so they are usually willing to give the government more time if it might make a difference between a suit and a settlement. "If parties are unwilling to litigate, the agencies will sense it, and it can give the agencies greater leverage to lengthen investigations," said lawyer Joshua Soven of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, who has worked at Justice and the FTC.

The Justice Department's Mr. Baer said it is mutually beneficial to have an endgame to talk through potential antitrust concerns. "If there's a way to get to a meeting of the minds before we have to litigate, most companies want to do that," he said.

Even when the risk of a lawsuit fades, the process of completing divestitures and other settlement conditions can push back a closing date. Some lawyers say the time it takes the government to sign on the dotted line has increased, particularly at the FTC.

"The agencies want to make sure they get it right. The last thing they want to do is a lengthy investigation and then not fully replicate the competition being lost," said Matt Reilly, a former FTC lawyer now at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. "It's going to take a long time. And it is going to be a little bit of a roller coaster."


Original Story: wsj.com

Banks have hired armies of security experts to combat shadowy hackers from breaking into customer accounts.

Now, a top law-enforcement official says banks should also focus closer to home.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is urging big banks, such as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co., to rein in their tellers’ access to some customer data and take other steps to detect potential misbehavior, according to a letter he sent to the banks Friday. A Washington DC criminal lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Mr. Schneiderman’s office continues to investigate numerous instances of tellers accused of stealing customer data and money, a person familiar with the matter said. While teller-fraud cases often get overlooked because of the small dollar amounts involved, Mr. Schneiderman and his investigators believe there are hundreds of examples going on across the country, the person familiar with the investigations said.

“Bank customers are still at risk,” Mr. Schneiderman wrote in the letter, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Schneiderman also wrote that banks should be more alert to unusual activity by employees and report suspicious conduct to authorities. A Des Moines criminal lawyer is following this story closely.

In addition to Bank of America, J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo, the letter was sent to Citigroup Inc., Banco Santander SA, Capital One Financial Corp., HSBC Holdings PLC, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and TD Bank. Most of the banks declined to comment. HSBC and TD Bank both said they are serious about protecting customer information. HSBC said it has “strict security safeguards” to protect customer privacy and is “committed to continually enhancing those safeguards as needed.” TD Bank said it offers “multiple layers of security protection against fraud and has tools in place to monitor for unusual or suspicious activity.”

While other agencies have carved out niches investigating money laundering or interest-rate rigging, Mr. Schneiderman in recent years has focused among other things on tellers and other low-level employees allegedly stealing customer data.

The initiative, internally named “Operation Pen & Teller,” a play on the magician duo Penn and Teller, underscores that banks’ regulatory risks extend beyond the billion-dollar penalties for mortgage abuse and consumers’ risks go further than sophisticated cyberattacks.

In Mr. Schneiderman’s investigations, tellers often first search a customer database for people with common names and high balances. Then, they use the customers’ Social Security numbers and other personal information to withdraw cash from other branches. They also at times use the stolen information to create fake identification documents. A Birmingham criminal defense attorney provides counsel and strategic advice to individuals, corporations, and other entities facing criminal investigations or charges.

Mr. Schneiderman’s office last year announced the arrest of five people that it accused of running an identity-theft ring focused in Westchester County, N.Y. Three were tellers that had worked at banks including Bank of America, J.P. Morgan, TD Bank and Wells Fargo.

Mr. Schneiderman’s office said the tellers passed customer information to two accomplices. One used the information to create fake identification documents; the other arranged for people to impersonate customers across the New York City area, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The five stole a total of $850,000 by using the personal data of hundreds of customers, said Mr. Schneiderman. All five pleaded guilty; the ringleader faces up to nine years in prison.

The four banks reimbursed affected customers. J.P. Morgan, TD Bank and Wells Fargo notified the affected customers and offered free credit monitoring or similar services. Bank of America declined to comment on the details of its response.

A report last year by Mr. Schneiderman’s office found that “insider wrongdoing” such as the tellers’ crimes was the No. 3 cause of data breaches in New York, behind hacking and lost or stolen equipment. The report analyzed the data-breach notices that the attorney general’s office received from 2006 to 2013.

In the letter, Mr. Schneiderman laid out what he saw as weaknesses in the banks’ protocol for protecting customer data from ill-intentioned employees and his suggestions for improvements.

For example, Mr. Schneiderman said his office had found that in many cases, tellers had “unfettered” access to customers’ account information. He suggested limits, such as allowing a teller access only to customer accounts in the local area, unless a supervisor gives permission.

Mr. Schneiderman said much of the wrongdoing could have been caught if the banks had noticed and shared red flags, for example an employee accessing an unusually large number of accounts or looking up accounts without dealing with those customers.

He added that the tellers or co-conspirators who accessed stolen data would sometimes call the banks to ask about an account. A potential red flag: They would sometimes call about multiple, unrelated accounts from the same phone number.

The state official also complained that, when the banks did question tellers, many of them would resign. The bank would then close its investigation, Mr. Schneiderman said, and the teller would find employment at another bank.

Mr. Schneiderman’s letter asks the banks to implement his suggestions and to contact his Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau for further discussion.


Original Story: wsj.com

When tax-preparation giant H&R Block Inc. reports quarterly results on Monday, it may be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul in a rush to get paid by Sam.

Uncle Sam, that is. H&R Block typically is profitable for only one quarter of the year because most of its revenue revolves around the April 15 tax-filing deadline. Tax services Encino range from basic tax management and accounting services to more in-depth such as payroll tax services and financial planning.

That still will be the case this time around, but the company’s fiscal third quarter ended Jan. 31 was a bit stronger than usual. The Internal Revenue Service was quicker this year in opening its electronic-filing system. So early birds, usually those anticipating refunds, had an extra 10 days during that period to submit returns. Revenue rose 155% compared with a year earlier.

Analysts’ revenue expectations for H&R Block’s fiscal fourth quarter through April have since dropped by about $250 million, to $2.298 billion, according to FactSet. That estimate still may be a tad high, though, given how much extra revenue showed up in the earlier period and how the tax season shaped up overall. An LA CPA provides business accounting services to businesses in a variety of industries.

The number of returns H&R Block processed fell nearly 1%, according to an April 23 statement. That compares with an increase reported by the IRS in overall returns processed of about 1%. The amount refunded—an important number for H&R Block because those payments are in and of themselves a source of profit—fell slightly on a national level.

The hit to earnings may be mitigated because the company also cut promotional activity such as free preparation of certain returns, thereby losing less-profitable customers. A wild card is how much penalties or subsidy adjustments tied to the Affordable Care Act may have pinched returns for H&R Block’s typically lower middle-class clients. Analysts see H&R Block reporting earnings of $2.72 a share for the fourth quarter, down sharply from $3.29 a year earlier.

Whether investors will be of a mind to forgive any weakness, though, may depend on an issue that is tangential to H&R Block’s tax business: its bank. The hope is that management will confirm that the long-delayed disposal of this unit will happen on schedule. The latest date given was June 30.

If that doesn’t happen, “the check’s in the mail” won’t cut it.


Original Story: wsj.com

Republican presidential hopefuls always clobber one another over immigration policy. This cycle has been no exception, with Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and others carving out their own territory. The winner is the Democratic nominee, who can use immigration as a powerful weapon against the eventual Republican candidate. Hillary Clinton no doubt sees the potential. While she has commented on little else, she has already promised that if elected she would go beyond President Obama’s questionable executive order.

The GOP needs to end the family drama and resolve the policy dispute, not least because it is the right thing to do in every sense—economically, politically and morally. With a world on fire and economic growth strangled by government regulation, it would be unacceptable for Republicans to lose a critical election over immigration. A Washington DC immigration attorney is following this story closely.

This isn’t a matter of finding the “right” candidate. The question is whether Republicans can unite around a set of rational principles. Here are a few that any serious contender should be able to support.

  • Sovereignty. The U.S. has the right to determine the conditions under which noncitizens can cross its borders. The next president must work with Congress to make that determination, in accordance with the Constitution, which isn’t the path the current administration has chosen.

  • Border security. One of government’s primary duties is to protect citizens. Given terrorism and organized crime—drug cartels, weapons and human trafficking—the federal government must secure the borders as a first step to reform. Even candidates perceived as more open on immigration agree.

Gov. Bush said in New Hampshire last month that “we need to control our border first of all.” Sen. Marco Rubio similarly acknowledged that Americans are not going to support immigration reform “until you show them—not tell them, you better show them—that illegal immigration is under control.” A Washington DC immigration lawyer represents clients on a wide range of immigration issues, whether localized or on a global scale.

  • Enforcing our laws: The U.S. is a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of laws. The federal government must enforce our laws internally, penalizing those who overstay their visas, and implementing a universal verification system so employers can be sure they are hiring employees legally.
  • Legal immigration policies should support economic growth. If current quotas are bringing in enough talent, let’s keep them. If more immigration or less red tape will boost the economy, let’s try that. Guest-worker visas should ebb and flow with the economy. Legal immigration should focus more on what workers can contribute to the economy, as is the case in most other nations, and less on distant familial relationships.

The best way to protect American workers is to generate economic growth. This is not synonymous with aggressively restricting immigration. Most studies conclude that immigration contributes to economic growth as well as innovation, and research and development. The American Enterprise Institute found in 2011 that “temporary foreign workers—both skilled and less skilled—boost U.S. employment” and that immigrants with advanced degrees working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields “boost employment for U.S. citizens.” Every Republican who aspires to the presidency should acknowledge that immigrants of all skill sets can benefit the economy.

  • Addressing the illegal population. The next president will need to work with Congress to establish consequences for violating our laws that are harsh enough to be meaningful but also reasonable. But with some 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally, every candidate should support a path to legal status—short of citizenship—for illegal immigrants willing to accept responsibility for their actions and take the consequences. 

Such consequences could include passing a background check, paying a fine, demonstrating the ability to be independent of welfare, engaging in community or military service, learning English and taking an American civics course. Every option should be on the table, except amnesty, which forgives illegal conduct. It isn’t amnesty if immigrants admit wrongdoing and accept punishment.

  • Citizenship. American citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Whether candidates support requiring people who are here illegally to return to their home countries to become citizens, or whether they propose allowing immigrants to remain in the U.S. and go through an arduous naturalization process, the privilege of citizenship is something worth protecting. A Washington DC immigration attorney provides comprehensive guidance to business clients with respect to their foreign national workforce, including short and long-term strategy and planning. 

Candidates will disagree on the best way to implement these points. This is simply an attempt to set forth unifying principles that are easily articulated and essential if Republicans have a chance at winning the next presidential election. Absent rational immigration principles, the odds of winning aren’t very good.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Original Story: usatoday.com

From devastating droughts to flash floods, it seems that Texas can't get a break from extreme weather associated with climate change. Emerging recently from a multiyear record-breaking drought, with reservoirs at near record lows, now the state is suffering from flooding and record precipitation. We are entering a new normal. Texas is definitely being messed with. With the increase in extreme weather, local homes may be in need of Dallas foundation repair.

Texas is witnessing an increase in extreme high temperatures. That means more hot days and heat waves, which make illness, death and disease more common (with Texas projected to see the highest death tolls nationally). That also means more severe droughts, which makes forest fires more likely, fire seasons more lengthy and groundwater more stressed.

That's the bad news. And it's not pretty, people are dying while others are still missing.

The good news is that Texas has been responding to all this global warming-induced extreme weather in innovative and entrepreneurial ways. A Texas energy lawyer assists clients in developing small-scale community wind projects and in transactions involving the purchase and sale of wind rights.

Given that Texas has its own power grid, it can move more quickly in shedding fossil fuels and integrating cleaner, greener energy supply. As a result, the state is leading the country in wind power generation, doubling what California has installed.

If you haven't been there, West Texas is mighty windy, and the state is profiting mightily from it. It has been powering hundreds of thousands of homes on wind for years, and wind power has been outpacing coal and gas growth for some time.

Texas now generates twice as much wind power as any other U.S. state. Now that's leadership. Other states should catch up.

In fact, Texas reached its 2025 goal of 10,000 megawatts of installed renewable energy capacity years ago. There's that much renewable energy for the taking. That's why many of the nation's clean energy jobs are being created in Texas.

Much of that innovation is happening in the 35th congressional district and specifically in San Antonio, where a Clean Energy Incubator is fast and furiously fostering new business in the clean-tech field.

One utility in San Antonio, CPS Energy, has already wholly embraced a low-carbon strategy, in support of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, creating hundreds of local green jobs, building solar plants and investing hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.

This is the way of the future. Yet, despite this incredible, and extremely profitable, growth in green energy in Texas, the state Senate just voted to kill the Renewable Portfolio Standard that incentivizes this kind of energy transition. Without the RPS, which built Texas leadership nationally on wind energy, the state could regress back into its old fossil fuel habits, which are the very dependencies that exacerbated the very droughts and flooding that we're trying to avoid. That would be a tremendous shame, and a hard hit to the state's economy.

That's why it's time to call a Texan bluff because it's not really about subsidies that Sen. Troy Fraser, author of the legislation to eliminate the RPS, is trying to end. If it were, then the state Senate would go after the $1 billion in tax breaks given to the natural gas industry, paid for by the taxpayers of Texas. That's in comparison to the mere $12 million to $40 million needed to run the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

The fossil fuel industry has contributed heavily to Sen. Fraser, making this vote more about special interest lobbying than public interest policymaking.

The irony in all this is that Texas, the Lone Star state that prides itself on its freedom and independence, would be freer and more independent if it harnessed wind and solar locally. No imports. No dependency on trucked-in or trained-down Canadian tar sands or shipped Saudi oil. No meddlesome fallout from fracking lawsuits. Just pure clean energy, harnessed without harm and without hassle. A San Antonio oil and gas lawyer assists clients in understanding Texas oil and gas laws, including fracking laws, natural gas production and mineral rights matters.

The great state of Texas can still lead this country in an energy transition. It has done so before and can do so again. And hopefully soon, before climate change messes with it some more.


Original Story: dailyprogress.com

ORANGE, Calif. (AP) — Leigh McDonough stood in her backyard on a hot spring day and listened to the steady shush-shush-shush of two garden hoses filling her new pool and hot tub with water. Her family installed the 21,000-gallon pool despite a state mandate to cut overall water consumption by 25 percent amid a crushing, four-year drought.

McDonough, however, wasn't worried: She was told her pool would actually help save water that would otherwise go to her lawn.

It's a mantra being pushed by the California pool and spa industry in recent months, as water conservation campaigns have placed residential pools and other conspicuous water users in the crosshairs. A Fresno environmental lawyer is following this story closely.

As residents struggle to cut waste at the tap, the California Pool and Spa Association is lobbying water districts to quash proposed bans on filling pools and spas. The industry cites an in-house study that found that a standard-sized pool, plus decking, uses one-third the amount of water as an irrigated lawn after an initial fill.

"We're not saying, 'Solve the drought, put in a pool,' but the bottom line is people who put in a pool are making a decision to do something more water efficient with their backyard. They're saving water," said John Norwood, the California Pool and Spa Association's president. "Pools are landscaping."

Some water conservation experts question the pool industry's math and say, at best, residential pools and lawns use roughly the same amount of water after an initial fill. There are 1.18 million residential pools in California, according to Metrostudy, which tracks housing information. A Los Angeles environmental attorney represents clients in environmental and toxic tort claims and litigation.

And at least a dozen cities and water districts in the hardest-hit areas of the state have passed bans on new swimming pool permits, filling new swimming pools and draining and refilling existing pools.

The South Coast Water District, in one of the poshest areas of Orange County, approved a ban on filling or refilling residential pools and the city of San Jose, which is trying to cut water use by 30 percent, did the same in April. That city also prohibits topping off existing pools with more than one foot of water, although the mayor did remark that unfilled pools would make excellent skate parks. The bans generally do not include community pools.

"We're in a very significant drought. We're asking people not to water their lawns," said Kerrie Romanow, director of San Jose's environmental services department. "That does require some level of sacrifice." A Los Angeles environmental lawyer is following the details of this case.

Even as cities and agencies crack down, contractors in some parts of the state are seeing a small uptick in demand as the recession ends. Applications for new pool permits declined steeply during the recession, but pool contractors in some areas without pool-related water restrictions say business is up this spring.

The rebound is slower in California than other warm-weather states like Florida, Texas and the Carolinas that aren't experiencing intense drought, said Toby Morrison, Metrostudy's national sales manager.

"Our sales are up fairly significantly, but we have no idea how many people are influenced by reading in the newspaper and saying, 'Gee, I might not ever be able to fill it or will the neighbors throw rocks at me if I build one,'" said Cecil Fraser, owner of Swan Pools in Lake Forest, California.

McDonough's water district has not yet implemented restrictions and a pool seemed right for her two young children.

"For us, it was sort of a must-have when we bought this place," said McDonough. "So, I'm happy that it's getting done now and that we were able to fill it."

Experts caution that the pool-versus-lawn calculations depend on too many variables to be reliable, including how much water splashes out, whether there's a pool cover to prevent evaporation and how often the lawn was watered before it was ripped out.

In the end, the water used for pools and lawns is roughly the same, said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, a nonprofit research institute focused on the environment and sustainability. And letting a lawn die or replanting with desert landscaping uses dramatically less water than a pool, so the comparison misses the point, he said.

"These are luxuries and we're in a really bad drought and everybody needs to step up instead of pointing the finger at the other guy," Gleick said.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Original Story: usatoday.com

The U.S. Justice Department has issued a subpoena seeking information from Olympus on the manufacturing and sales of a specialized medical scope linked to a recent series of deadly superbug outbreaks at hospitals across the country.

Olympus is the largest manufacturer of duodenoscopes, which have been linked to infections in scores of patients, typically with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as CRE, which has mortality rates of 40% or higher. In a public report issued this month on its latest financial results, the company noted that it had received a subpoena in March from the Justice Department seeking "information relating to duodenoscopes that Olympus manufactures and sells."

Olympus noted in a statement that it was required to acknowledge the subpoena because it may have future financial implications, but the company said it could not comment further "on any active investigation." About 85% of the duodenoscopes currently in use are Olympus models, according to figures from the Food and Drug Administration. For professionally re-manufactured histology equipment, contact Rankin Biomedical.

Olympus is one of three companies manufacturing duodenoscopes, which are threaded down the throat of about 650,000 patients a year, mainly to treat blockages of the bile and pancreatic ducts, such as gallstones or tumors. Models from all three manufacturers have been linked to superbug outbreaks, which have been tracked to bacteria lodged in a small channel at the tip of the devices.

The Justice Department declined to comment on its subpoena to Olympus, the nature of the underlying investigation, or whether it is a civil or criminal matter. A department spokesman also would not say whether subpoenas also have been sent to the other two duodenoscope manufacturers, Pentax and FujiFilm. Pathology equipment is used for tissue specimen collection and disease diagnosis.

The FDA declined to comment, as well.

Pentax said in a statement that "our practice is not to confirm or deny the existence of governmental inquiries." A spokesman for FujiFilm did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

USA TODAY was first to report on the duodenoscopes' contamination problems in an investigation published in January. That story identified CRE outbreaks that had been linked to the devices at hospitals in Chicago, Seattle and Pittsburgh. Additional outbreaks were identified in follow-up stories by other news outlets, including cases in Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Hartford.

The FDA revealed earlier this month that it has received 142 reports since 2010 of infection problems tied to duodenoscopes, though each report can account for multiple cases in a single outbreak, so the true number of infected patients remains unclear. At least 30 patients with duodenoscope-related CRE infections have died, including 11 in an outbreak that began in 2012 at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle and another 15 in a 2008 outbreak at an unidentified hospital in Central Florida. (Some of those victims had other serious illnesses that also may have contributed to their deaths.)

Reporting by USA TODAY has raised questions about whether Olympus and other duodenoscope manufacturers filed required disclosures with the FDA when they first learned that their devices might have contamination problems that could spread bacterial infections from patient to patient. The story noted, for example, that Olympus waited nine months to file a Medical Device Report after learning that its duodenoscopes had been tied to the CRE outbreak in Seattle. Histopathology equipment is widely used in hospitals at all levels.

In the Seattle case and others, investigators determined that infectious bacteria had been trapped in a channel in the duodenoscopes "elevator" mechanism, which controls tiny tools that can remove blockages or insert stents in intestinal ducts. The channel must be cleaned of biological debris between uses — a multi-step process in which the elevator is set at precise angles and scrubbed out with tiny, specialized brushes.

In February, after USA TODAY reported that scopes were found to have residual contamination even after the elevator was cleaned properly, the FDA issued a safety alert to hospitals. "The complex design of (duodenoscopes) may impede effective reprocessing," the multi-page advisory said, noting that the scopes can transmit superbugs even when cleaned properly. "Meticulously cleaning duodenoscopes … should reduce the risk of transmitting infection, but may not entirely eliminate it."

Earlier this month, an FDA advisory panel reached a broad consensus that duodenoscopes, as now designed, cannot be cleaned reliably under existing guidelines. However, despite such concerns, panelists endorsed the FDA's decision to encourage continued use of duodenoscopes. There was broad agreement that infection risks are low and the device remains the safest, least invasive way to perform important, potentially lifesaving procedures.