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Utah Sues Private Equity-Run Lending Company for Deceiving Consumers out of Millions

August 18, 2022

Utah Attorney General Reyes announced a multistate lawsuit against Mariner Finance for widespread violation of consumer protection laws. The AG’s suit alleges Mariner Finance charged consumers for hidden add-on products that consumers either didn’t know about or didn’t agree to buy. Consumers left Mariner Finance assuming they had entered into an agreement to borrow and repay, over time, a certain amount of money. In reality, because of these hidden add-on products, Mariner added hundreds to thousands of dollars to the total amount consumers owed. The hidden charges alone amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars nationwide.  

The lawsuit alleges that Mariner Finance employees either don’t mention the add-on products to consumers or blatantly misrepresent them. Mariner Finance employees also claim the products are required in order to obtain a loan when they are apparently not required. Some consumers were told by Mariner Finance that add-ons were free or much cheaper than they actually are, while other consumers who explicitly rejected the add-on products were charged for them anyway.  

The lawsuit also alleges that Mariner Finance engages in aggressive sales tactics to extend credit to new borrowers. Mariner’s marketing heavily features the fact that consumers can visit a Mariner Financial branch and leave with a check on the same day. Mariner mails hundreds of thousands of unsolicited “live checks” to consumers. Once consumers cash these checks, Mariner aggressively pushes them to visit a branch to refinance and take out additional debt, which typically comes with hidden add-on products, even if it’s not in the best interest of the consumer. These kinds of predatory sales practices can trap consumers in a cycle of debt.  

Mariner Finance is owned by a Wall Street private equity fund managed by Warburg Pincus LLC. When Warburg Pincus bought Mariner Finance, it had 57 branches in seven states. Today, nine years later, Mariner Finance has over 480 branches in 27 states and manages over $2 billion in loans.  

The multistate lawsuit asks the court to order: 

  • Full restitution to all borrowers affected by Mariner’s unlawful practices 
  • Repayment by Mariner of any unlawfully gained profits 
  • Civil penalties 
  • Rescission or reformation of all contracts or loan agreements between Mariner and consumers affected by the company’s unlawful practices 
  • Mariner to stop charging consumers for add-on products and cease other harmful practices 

Mariner Financial has at least one branch in Utah.  Borrowers who believe they have been deceived by Mariner’s harmful practices should contact the Division of Consumer protection at 801-530-6601.

This lawsuit was joined by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Washington.  Read it here.


AG Reyes Writes The SEC Opposing ESG Disclosures on Investments

August 17, 2022

Today, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes signed a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission opposing the Commission’s proposed rule, “Enhanced Disclosures by Certain Investment Advisers and Investment Companies about Environmental, Social and Governance Investment Practices.”  A total of 21 attorneys general also signed the letter.

The letter calls the scope of the proposed disclosures “illegal, misguided, extensive,” and “onerous.”  The letter states that the Commission does not have the statutory authority to issue it, that it violates the First Amendment’s free-speech guarantees and does not reflect reasoned decision-making, and would fail arbitrary and capricious review.

The attorneys general write that the SEC should “instead table to Proposed Rule (and similar recent proposed rules) and return to the important but focused work of regulating with an eye towards financial concerns.”

Read the letter here.


AG Reyes Addresses Immigration Crisis; Visits Border

August 12, 2022

“People’s lives are being exploited,” Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes said this week from the United States/Mexico border. It’s happening in Utah and across the nation.

General Reyes knows from his own experience in Utah, as the Utah Attorney General’s Office has become a leader in the fight against human trafficking and opioid addiction.  The level of human suffering is growing, not slowing down.  There is an urgency to find ways to solve the problem.

On a trip to the border near San Diego, Reyes joined California Congressional Representatives Darrell Issa and Michelle Steele to participate in this “eye opening” border tour.  All agree border and immigration policy need immediate attention.

“What happens here, ends up affecting Utah and all the other states,” Congressman Darrell Issa said this week.  “When we say every other state is a border state, from the standpoint of people dying from fentanyl, people dying from crime that is rising, some of it from gangs coming across the border, every state is a border state.”

The Utah Attorney General’s Office is fighting opioids both on the street and in court.  The Utah Trafficking in Persons Task Force arrests human traffickers and gives assistance to victims. The office works with federal and local agencies to tackle immigration-related issues, including those immigrants who are victimized by traffickers.  This trip will provide valuable information to the AGO, as the problem evolves and grows.

Watch news coverage of the border visit here.

More information on the UTIP Task Force

More information on the SECURE Strike Force

More information on the Utah Opioid Task Force


Transgender Participation in Sports Ban Stays in Effect

August 12, 2022

After two days of in-person court hearings, Third District Judge Keith Kelly indicated he will decide, no later than Tuesday, August 16, whether to enjoin Part 9 of H.B. 11. Until then, the law preventing transgender girls from competing on female sport teams remains in effect.

Back in 2021, Representative Kera Birkeland presented a bill to ban transgender females from participating in female sports that failed to become law. In 2022, a similar bill was brought by Representative Birkeland—H.B. 11—which passed in the final hours of the session. House Bill 11 contains two critical sections. Part 9 of the bill bans transgender girls from competing in female sports; Part 10 of the bill creates a commission that would come into effect if a court were to strike down or enjoin the ban.

H.B. 11 was passed by the legislature in March. In May, the ACLU of Utah and advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against the Utah High School Activities Association on behalf of three transgender girls who claim to have suffered harm since the ban came into effect. The Defendants asked the courts to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction over the Plaintiffs’ claims and that the Plaintiffs’ claims were legally deficient.

After hearing arguments on the Defendants’ motions to dismiss, Judge Kelly declined to dismiss the State’s case.

At the close of yesterday’s hearings, Judge Kelly did not decide whether to grant or deny the preliminary injunction that would prevent the law from being enforced until a final judgment after trial, saying he needed more time to look over the evidence and cited case law. Judge Kelly also said that given the backlog of trials since COVID-19, a trial date will likely be delayed until next year.

Judge Kelly set a hearing for next Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., where he will verbally issue his ruling on the Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction (unless he has previously issued a written decision) and hold a Case Management Conference to define the scope of discovery and set a trial date.


Utah Files Petition for Permission to Appeal an Interlocutory Order on ‘Trigger Law’

The Utah Attorney General’s Office is asking the Utah Supreme Court for permission to appeal the preliminary injunction of the ‘Trigger Law’ (SB 174, Abortion Prohibition Amendments).  The preliminary injunction, issued by the district court, bars enforcement of the new law pending resolution of the suit in district court. Because the preliminary injunction does not resolve the case, the State must seek permission to challenge the injunction on appeal.

Today’s petition is a step in the process of challenging the preliminary injunction and will not resolve the merits of the Trigger Law case.

Click here to read the Petition for Permission to Appeal an Interlocutory Order.


AG Reyes Joins 22 States in Filing Amicus Brief in Support of Ending Unlawful CDC Mandate

August 8, 2022

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorney General Sean D. Reyes is joining 22 states in filing an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff in Health Freedom Defense Fund Inc. vs. Joseph R. Biden, Jr., President of the United States. The attorneys general argue that the district court correctly vacated the federal mask mandate. President Biden’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interstate travel mask mandate exceeds its authority and infringes on each state’s ability to enact its own public health rules.

In a brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, the attorneys general argue that the CDC’s unlawful mandate exceeds the agency’s authority in several ways. First, the CDC grounds its authority to issue a mask mandate in its power to require “sanitation” measures under 42 U.S.C. § 264(a). That authority cannot support the mandate. Additionally, according to the statute, CDC cannot demand that domestic travelers be examined without evidence that they are carrying disease—but that is what the mandate requires, a visual inspection of every traveler without any individualized suspicion.

The brief also argues that the mandate is invalid because it failed to go through notice and comment procedures. The CDC rule is arbitrary and capricious, with numerous exceptions that the agency did not explain or justify. Beyond that, the rule violates the agency’s own regulations. The brief states: “CDC regulations say that it cannot act unless it finds local measures inadequate. But here, CDC never even studied local measures, much less developed a method to determine whether those measures are adequate.”

Attorney General Reyes joins the attorneys general of the following states in filing the brief: Florida, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

To read the full brief, click here.


AG Reyes Calls Out Potentially Unlawful Market Manipulation by Investment Firm

SALT LAKE CITY – Attorney General Sean D. Reyes joined a coalition of 19 states that sent a letter to BlackRock Inc., calling out its practices of putting investors’ interests and returns behind the asset manager’s leftist politics.  Some states work with BlackRock for retirement plans, pension funds, and investments, but the company seems to be more interested in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors. 

BlackRock recently sent a letter to several states, claiming it focuses solely on its fiduciary duty and has joined climate organizations merely for “dialogue.”  The attorneys general responded by pointing out inconsistencies and conflicts between BlackRock’s letter and its public statements and commitments.  BlackRock’s focus isn’t “dialogue,” as the descriptions on its website include ensuring the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters take necessary action on climate change and support the Paris Agreement.

It appears that anyone purchasing a BlackRock fund is forced to support ESG whether they like it or not.  General Reyes’s letter demands that BlackRock clarify its mixed messages and come clean on whether it values our state’s most valuable stakeholders, our current and future retirees.

Joining General Reyes are the attorneys general of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.

Copy of the letter here.


AG Reyes Joins Nationwide Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force

August 2, 2022

Today, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes announced that Utah is joining a nationwide Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force of 50 attorneys general to investigate and take legal action against the telecommunications companies responsible for bringing a majority of foreign robocalls into the United States. This bipartisan nationwide Task Force has one goal: to cut down on illegal robocalls.
 
“Robocalls aren’t just a Utah problem. They are a nationwide threat,” AG Reyes said. “That is why I am proud to partner with both the Utah Division of Consumer Protection and my fellow Attorneys General across America.”

AG Reyes continued: “We will take this fight to anyone who helps these scammers and robocallers. We’ve appreciated working with the telecom industry to try and address this issue. We know they have attempted to curtail illegal robocalls. But it’s still not enough.” 
 
The Task Force has issued 20 civil investigative demands to 20 gateway providers and other entities allegedly responsible for most foreign robocall traffic. Gateway providers that bring foreign traffic into the U.S. telephone network have a responsibility to ensure the traffic is legal, but these providers are not taking sufficient action to stop robocall traffic. In many cases, they appear to be intentionally turning a blind eye in return for steady revenue.

“Robocalls are particularly damaging to consumer trust, ” said Utah Department of Commerce Executive Director Margaret Busse. “Virtually everyone has received these types of calls. When consumers get an unsolicited call, it can sow distrust in all marketing calls. We support all efforts to stop companies from unethical marketing practices.”

The Task Force will focus on the bad actors throughout the telecommunications industry to help reduce the number of robocalls that Utah’s residents receive and benefit the companies that are following the rules.
 
Attorney General Reyes is committed to stopping illegal and unwanted calls. According to the National Consumer Law Center and Electronic Privacy Information Center, over 33 million scam robocalls are made to Americans every day. These scam calls include Social Security Administration fraud against seniors, Amazon scams against consumers, and many other scams targeting all consumers, including some of our most vulnerable citizens. An estimated $29.8 billion dollars was stolen through scam calls in 2021. Most of this scam robocall traffic originates overseas. The Task Force is focused on shutting down the providers that profit from this illegal scam traffic and refuse to take steps to mitigate these scam calls otherwise. 
  
Attorney General Reyes offers the following tips to avoid scams and unwanted calls:

  • Be wary of callers who specifically ask you to pay by gift card, wire transfer, or cryptocurrency. For example, the Internal Revenue Service does not accept iTunes gift cards.
  • Look out for prerecorded calls from imposters posing as government agencies. Typically, the Social Security Administration does not make phone calls to individuals.
  • If you suspect fraudulent activity, immediately hang up and do not provide any personal information.
  • Contact the Department of Commerce’s Division of Consumer Protection at consumerprotection.utah.gov.

The Latest Opioid Settlements with Teva and Allergan and How it Impacts Utah

August 1, 2022

After months of negotiation, two opioid manufacturers, Teva and Allergan, have announced that they have reached an agreement with several states, including Utah, to resolve their opioid liability. Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes and the Department of Commerce’s Division of Consumer Protection have been critical in negotiating these opioid lawsuits for the State of Utah.

“The opioid epidemic continues to ruin lives and families across Utah. This settlement is another step in the right direction with Teva and Allergan acknowledging their role in this crisis,” said Attorney General Reyes. “I’m encouraged by this settlement and grateful for the many long hours worked by our attorneys, paralegals and legal staff to hold these companies responsible.”

The announced tentative settlement totals approximately $6.6 billion dollars to be paid over six years. Utah’s share could be as much as $72 million. These funds would be used for the abatement of harms Utah has suffered from the opioid crisis. As it stands, the involved parties are still negotiating details of the settlement agreements which have not yet been executed.

“Opioid manufacturers that failed to protect consumers must be held accountable,” said Department of Commerce Executive Director Margaret Busse. “While the harm to individuals and families in Utah and across the country cannot be quantified, these settlements send a clear message that companies will be held responsible for the harm they caused. We will work with Governor Cox to ensure that settlement funds will be used to augment efforts already in place to fight this awful epidemic.”