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AG Cooper names new head of consumer protection division

Attorney General Roy Cooper has named a new director for the state's Consumer Protection Division.

Adam Hartzell, 40, will begin serving as senior deputy attorney general of the Consumer Protection Division in May.

Hartzell is currently the executive director of Interact, a non-profit agency that serves victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.  He previously practiced law in Wake County and worked as a journalist covering Wall Street.  

“This tough economy makes avoiding scams and spending wisely even more important for North Carolina consumers,” Cooper said in a news release. “Adam will help us continue our fight against unfair business practices on behalf of North Carolinians.”

Hartzell will oversee a staff of more than 50 that includes attorneys, consumer specialists and investigators, and support personnel. The division handled more than 22,000 complaints from North Carolina consumers last year.

Two more defendants in Village of Penland scheme sign consent agreements

Two defendants in the Village of Penland real estate scheme in Mitchell County have signed consent agreements that will require them to turn over assets and money from the project.

Attorney General Roy Cooper's office announced that Richard Amelung and J. Kevin Foster have entered into consent judgments with his office.

Amelung must provide the proceeds of an insurance policy to the court-appointed receiver in the case, and the state and the receiver have the right to claim any assets he failed to disclose when he declared bankruptcy.

Foster will pay $100,000 to the receiver.  If Foster is found to own any funds or property that he has not disclosed, the receiver can claim those assets as well.

Two other defendants, Anthony Porter and Neil O’Rourke, previously entered into similar consent judgments with the AG's office.

Blue Cross fined for robocalls

Our Under the Dome blog is reporting that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina will pay a $95,000 fine for violating the state's robocalls law.

The 100,000 robocalls from October 2009 violated state law, according to the state Attorney General's office, because the calls were not introduced by a live operator who could give recipients a chance to reject them.

Residents complained to Cooper's office after they got calls made by Campaign Connections, a public relations and political consulting firm, on Blue Cross's behalf. Legislators asked for an investigation.

Blue Cross stopped the calls when state consumer protection lawyers contacted the company.

The recorded message told recipients to expect a postcard in the mail that Blue Cross wanted them to send to U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan opposing the health care public option.

Blue Cross said the calls were legal, and if they weren't it was because of a technical error.

"We regret this mistake, and we apologize for the error made in how these calls were placed. We continue to believe that it is important for BCBSNC to take an active role in the health reform debate," said BCBS of North Carolina Executive Vice President and General Counsel Maureen O'Connor in a statement.

Vitamin makers to pay N.C., other states $25 million

More than a dozen vitamin makers will pay North Carolina and 21 other states $25 million to settle claims they conspired to raise prices.

North Carolina will receive $1.7 million from the settlement, which alleged price fixing between 1988 and 2000 for vitamins made by Akzo Nobel and other companies. The companies fixed prices of vitamins they sold to food processors and drug manufacturers, the states charged.

"Conspiring to overcharge customers is the wrong way to do business," said N.C. attorney general Roy Cooper, in a prepared statement.

The settlement follows a $225 million agreement reached in 2000 that involved the same vitamins but different manufacturers.

Cooper calls for consumer protection agency

Attorney General Roy Cooper urged Congress today to form a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to regulate the operations of financial institutions.

Such an agency would help protect consumers, Cooper said, and would allow the state of North Carolina to better address complaints from residents that have to do with companies based outside of the state.

"Irresponsible and unfair loans have paved the way to this financial meltdown we are trying to recover from now," he said.

The U.S. House Financial Services Committee is taking up key elements of President Barack Obama's proposal for correcting the practices of banks, investment houses and other financial institutions today. The committee also wants to establish a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to police mortgages, credit cards and other consumer products offered by banks and other financial institutions.

So far this year, the state attorney general's office has received 662 complaints regarding credit card companies and financial institutions. That's 10 times the number received in 2006, Cooper said.

"The people of North Carolina need more," he said.

Pfizer to pay $2.3 billion settlement

Pfizer will pay a record $2.3 billion penalty to settle an investigation into illegal prescription drug promotions.

The settlement with the Justice Department announced this morning includes a $1.2 billion criminal fine, the largest in U.S. history.

The case involves Pfizer's promotion of the painkiller Bexra and other medicines. Authorities said Pfizer's sales representatives created phony doctor requests for medical information in order to send unsolicited information to doctors about unapproved uses and dosages.

The world's largest company wined and dined doctors and sent them on exotic trips to induce them to prescribe its drugs including the impotence treatment Viagra and cholesterol medicine Lipitor, they said.

The overall settlement is the largest ever paid by a drug company for alleged violations of federal drug rules.

Of the civil penalty, $977,444 will go to North Carolina to resolve allegations that it improperly marketed the antipsychotic drug Geodon, Attorney General Roy Cooper said.

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