Operator of Amish-Education Nonprofit Accused of Misusing Charitable Funds

Sunbury News Staff Reports

COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a lawsuit against a man accused of misusing over $168,000 in charitable funds from a nonprofit created to provide education about Amish culture in America.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit says Kenneth Lawton used his nonprofit, the Florian K. Lawton Foundation, as a pass-through entity to hide personal income and assets. He is accused of using over $168,000 from the foundation’s bank account to pay for personal expenses between 2010 and 2014.

The Florian K. Lawton Foundation’s stated purpose was to provide “continued education through an array of programs with university and museums about the Amish culture here in America,” but investigators with the Attorney General’s Charitable Law Section found that the foundation failed to provide such programming. Instead, the lawsuit says, Lawton used the foundation to evade personal liability for his own private contracts.

“Our investigation found that the defendant was using the charity’s money as if it were his own,” Attorney General DeWine said. “We’re seeking an order to prevent this individual from operating or soliciting for a charity in Ohio.”

Lawton operated the foundation in Aurora, Ohio, at the time in question, but he now lives in Mattapoisett, Mass., according to the lawsuit.

The Attorney General accuses Lawton of violating Ohio charitable laws. In the lawsuit, filed in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, the Attorney General seeks damages, civil penalties, and a permanent injunction to prevent Lawton from holding any position as an officer, trustee, or employee of a nonprofit in Ohio and from soliciting for charitable purposes in Ohio.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Charitable Law Section investigates suspected violations of the state’s charitable laws and pursues enforcement actions to protect Ohio donors. Those who suspect a charity scam or questionable fundraising activities should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515.

A copy of the lawsuit is available on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.

Advisory Group on Unmanned Aircraft Systems Issues Report

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that his Advisory Group on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) has issued its final report, which includes a model policy for use by law enforcement.

“With advancements in technology and a decrease in cost, unmanned aircraft systems have become more common in communities and as tools of law enforcement,” said Attorney General DeWine. “The recommendations in this report are a guide to help law enforcement develop best practices and protocols that will ensure appropriate privacy, accountability, and oversight when unmanned aircraft are used.”

Unmanned aircraft systems, more commonly referred to as drones, can be used by law enforcement for a number of investigative purposes, such as crime scene and traffic accident investigations, missing persons cases, SWAT operations, and active shooter incidents.

In addition to the creation of a model policy, the report made 14 recommendations, which addressed topics such as licensure, training, protocols, and data/records management.

As a result of the recommendations, DeWine also announced that the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy within the Ohio Attorney General’s Office is crafting three new advanced courses on investigating UAS complaints, appropriate law enforcement uses for UAS, and implementation of UAS programs.

DeWine created the Ohio Attorney General’s Advisory Group on UAS in October 2016. The group was comprised of subject-matter experts and was chaired Cuyahoga Community College Police Chief Clayton Harris.

A copy of the report is available on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.

Attorney General DeWine Announces $1.67 Million Issued to Ohio Consumers from Provigil Settlement

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that checks totaling over $1.67 million are being sent to more than 2,000 Ohioans this week, as part of a previously-reached settlement by DeWine and other attorneys general over the price of Provigil, a wakefulness drug used to treat sleep disorders.

The average check amount is about $830.

“We worked hard to recover this money for consumers, and we hope it will help Ohio families,” Attorney General DeWine said.

Ohio was a lead state in the Provigil settlement, which resolved allegations that Cephalon Inc. and affiliated companies engaged in anticompetitive conduct to delay generic versions of Provigil from entering the market for several years. The settlement included $35 million for affected consumers.

Consumers who had submitted eligible claims will receive a check proportional to the amount of Provigil they bought between June 24, 2006, and March 31, 2012. The checks will be void 90 days from the date of issuance, so consumers should cash or deposit the checks promptly. Consumers also should beware of any potential scams that ask them for payment in exchange for a check.

The claims period is now closed, but questions about the status of a check or a claim should be directed to the claims administrator at 1-877-236-1413.

Attorney General DeWine Files Consumer Protection Lawsuit Against Cleveland-Area Fence Installer

CLEVELAND — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a consumer protection lawsuit against the operators of Budget 1 Fence for unfair and deceptive sales practices.

Matthew McMillen and his wife, Stephanie Reed, doing business as Budget 1 Fence, are accused of taking consumers’ money but failing to provide promised services, failing to provide refunds, failing to notify consumers about their cancellation rights, and failing to obtain needed permits.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has received 15 complaints against Budget 1 Fence. McMillen also owes more than $40,000 in judgments from other court cases in northeast Ohio, according to the lawsuit, and has operated under other names, including Fence Solutions, Fence Company, Affordable Fence, Empire Fence, Landmark Fence, Budget Fence Company, King Fence, and Lake Erie Fence.

“Our goal is to protect Ohio consumers,” Attorney General DeWine said. “In this case, we found a pattern of problems. We’re seeking reimbursement for affected consumers and an end to the violations.”

The Attorney General’s lawsuit, filed in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, accuses McMillen and Reed of violating Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act and Home Solicitation Sales Act. In the lawsuit, the Attorney General seeks an injunction to stop the violations, civil penalties, and restitution for consumers.

To help prevent home improvement problems, Attorney General DeWine offered the following recommendations:

Research contractors carefully. Ask neighbors, friends, or family members for recommendations. Check for complaints on file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office or the Better Business Bureau. Talk to other customers and ask them about their experiences with the contractor.

Get several written estimates. Before making a final decision, ask for and review estimates from several contractors. Don’t assume that the lowest estimate is your best option.

Check your cancellation rights. In Ohio, you generally have a three-day right to cancel a contract that results from a door-to-door sale. Sellers must give you written notice about this right.

Be wary of requests for large down payments. It’s reasonable for a contractor to require a down payment, but be skeptical if you’re asked to make a large payment (such as half or more of the total cost) before any work begins. If possible, pay in increments as the work is completed.

Consumers who suspect an unfair or deceptive sales practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.

Pennsylvania Man Sentenced to Prison for Stealing from Elderly Ohio Man in Internet Scam

CHILLICOTHE — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Ross County Prosecutor Matthew S. Schmidt announced that a Pennsylvania man has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for stealing $17,000 from an elderly Ross County man in an internet scam.

Ryan O. Smith, 49, was sentenced in the Ross County Common Pleas Court after being convicted on counts of telecommunications fraud, theft from an elderly person, and money laundering. (His sentence will run concurrently to a sentence he received in Texas for other theft charges.) He also was ordered to pay $17,000 in restitution.

“We are committed to protecting older Ohioans and cracking down on scams,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Thanks to the continued cooperation of Ross County and other agencies across the state, we are holding con artists accountable for their actions.”

“Ross County appreciates our partnership with the Attorney General’s Office, and their willingness to lend resources, personnel and expertise in prosecuting economic crimes against vulnerable members of our community,” said Ross County Prosecutor Schmidt.

In the scam, Smith posted an ad on eBay offering a Caterpillar backhoe for sale. An elderly Ross County man contacted him expressing interest in buying the backhoe, and Smith exchanged multiple calls and emails with him. Eventually, Smith offered the man a lower price if they went outside eBay to complete the sale. The man wired him $17,000, but Smith never delivered the backhoe.

The case was investigated by the Attorney General’s Economic Crimes Unit and the Ross County Sheriff’s Office. It was prosecuted by an attorney with the Economic Crimes Unit who was appointed as a special prosecutor for Ross County.

Grand Jury Indicts Man in 26-Year-Old Noble County Murder Case

CALDWELL — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that a Washington County man has been charged with killing a woman nearly 26 years ago.

A Noble County Grand Jury indicted Randy Slider, 48, on Friday, January 19, on three counts of Aggravated Murder and one count of Murder for the 1992 death of Patsy Sparks.

The charges relate to the 1992 killing of Patsy Sparks. Sparks was last seen in Parkersburg, West Virginia on April 22, 1992, when Slider offered her a ride to a bar in Marietta. She was missing until hunters discovered her remains in a wooded area in Noble County in 1994. Slider, formerly of Marietta, is currently serving a 40-year prison term on separate kidnapping, robbery, and sexual assault charges in Clermont and Hamilton counties.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office cold case squad led the investigation with assistance from the Attorney General’s Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The Parkersburg Police Department, the Noble County Sheriff’s Office, the West Virginia State Police, the Marietta Police Department, and the FBI Crime Lab also assisted with the case. At the request of the Noble County Prosecutor, attorneys from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Special Prosecution section are prosecuting the case.

An arraignment date is pending.

Attorney General DeWine, FTC Announce Orders to Shut Down Tech Support Scam

CLEVELAND — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Federal Trade Commission announced that the operators of a nationwide computer repair scam have been banned from the tech support business as part of settlements with the FTC and Ohio Attorney General.

The settlements resolve a 2017 lawsuit accusing Repair All PC and several related companies and individuals of tricking consumers into believing their computers were infected with malware, then charging them hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs.

“This scheme affected people in Ohio and across the country, and we were pleased to work with the Federal Trade Commission to shut it down,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Scams regularly cross state and national borders, so this kind of collaboration is an important part of protecting consumers.”

As part of the scheme, the defendants allegedly caused pop-up security warnings to appear on consumers’ computers, falsely claiming the computers had been infected with a virus, hacked, or otherwise compromised. The warning told consumers to call a toll-free number for help. Once consumers called, they were connected to telemarketers who asked for remote access to their computers and who claimed to find errors, viruses, spyware, malware, or other problems. The operators also gave people the impression that they were affiliated with well-known companies like Microsoft or Apple. Eventually, the telemarketers asked for payment.

The defendants were Repair All PC LLC; Pro PC Repair LLC; I Fix PC LLC; WebTech World LLC; Online Assist LLC; Datadeck LLC; I Fix PC (also doing business as Techers 247, I Fix PC, and I Fix PC 247); Jessica Marie Serrano; Dishant Khanna; Mohit Malik; Romil Bhatia; Lalit Chadha; and Roopkala Chadha.

As part of orders filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, the defendants are barred from offering tech support products and services, from engaging in deceptive telemarketing practices, from misrepresenting their affiliation with another company, and from collecting or attempting to collect payment for tech support products or services.

Computer repair schemes are one of the scams addressed by the Ohio Attorney General’s “Ohio Protects” multi-media outreach campaign. Consumers can learn more or report suspected fraud by visiting www.OhioProtects.org or by calling 800-282-0515.

Attorney General DeWine Releases Human Trafficking Report; Highlights Identifying At-Risk Youth

COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a year-long effort by his office had identified 146 youth at risk of being trafficked in 2017 and provided that information to 13 local law enforcement agencies in the state. The announcement was coordinated with the release of the Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission Annual Report and was made at today’s meeting of the Ohio Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Commission.

“I’m proud of the work we do to protect and serve the victims of this heinous crime. By using our resources and working together, we’re able to approach this issue from many perspectives,” said Attorney General DeWine. “We will continue to build on this progress in 2018 as we fight the criminals who seek to exploit our children and others for their own illicit gain.”

The initiative, introduced last year by Attorney General DeWine, uses data from the Ohio Missing Children Clearinghouse to identify vulnerable children. The Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) Missing Persons Unit identified frequent runaways using the clearinghouse, a central repository for statistics and information about missing children in Ohio. Runaways have an increased risk of being trafficked.

BCI agents also held several training sessions in 2017 to educate law enforcement about high-risk youth and frequent runaways. Officers learned how to look further into each runaway’s case to identify risk factors for trafficking.

The commission, in its 2017 Human Trafficking Commission Annual Report, reported 208 potential victims of human trafficking were identified in Ohio, with female victims comprising more than 90 percent of that number. While ages for victims ranged from younger than 13 to 85 or older, most victims were between 21 and 29 years old.

A copy of the report is available on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.

Wood County Couple Charged with Assaulting Young Children

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a Wood County Grand Jury has charged a Perrysburg couple with assaulting two young children, an infant less than a year old and a toddler.

The grand jury indicted Dennis Estevanes, 31, and Amy Estevanes, 36.

The 10 counts against Dennis Estevanes include:

Two counts of Felonious Assault, a second-degree felony

Two counts of Endangering Children, a second-degree felony

Five counts of Endangering Children, a third-degree felony

One count of Tampering with Evidence, a third-degree felony

The two counts against Amy Estevanes include:

One count of Endangering Children, a third-degree felony

One count of Tampering with Evidence, a third-degree felony

The Estevanes were arraigned Tuesday afternoon. Bond was set at $100,000 for Dennis; Amy was released on her own recognizance. Both are prohibited from contacting the victims or their caregivers.

The Wood County Sheriff’s Office and investigators from the Wood County Prosecutor’s office partnered in the investigation with assistance from the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).

Upon request by the Wood County Prosecutor’s office, the case is being prosecuted by attorneys with the Ohio Attorney General’s Special Prosecution section.


Sunbury News Staff Reports