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AG: ‘We represent all New Yorkers’

State Attorney General Letitia James (left) speaks with North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas during a virtual conversation hosted by the chamber Friday. (Screenshot)

PLATTSBURGH — Like North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas, state Attorney General Letitia James does not like needles.

But, also like Douglas, she rolled up her sleeve and got the COVID-19 vaccine because she wants a return to normalcy.

That will take 85% of the population getting vaccinated, she said during a virtual conversation with Douglas Friday.

“The sooner we are vaccinated, the sooner we can remove these masks, the sooner we can touch one another, hold one another, the sooner that we can be together with our friends and our family and the sooner that I can travel to the North Country so that Garry and I can go shopping, that’s what’s important,” she said, jokingly.

Ripe for fraud

Unfortunately, the pandemic has created conditions ripe for fraud and other types of economic abuse, James said.

Her office has taken action against businesses and individuals who have price gouged, illegally marketed their products as cures for COVID-19, forced employees to work in hazardous conditions and falsely claimed they are charities in order to scam people out of money.

James explained that, toward the start of the pandemic, price gouging of items like hand sanitizers and masks was most prevalent. That transitioned to food, primarily eggs and meat.

She highlighted how her office recently settled a suit with Hillandale Farms Corporation that had alleged the distributor illegally gouged prices at the beginning of the pandemic. Earlier this month, Hillandale, donated more than one million eggs to charity as part of the settlement.

“It’s really critically important that individuals not use COVID-19, this pandemic, as an excuse to raise prices for consumers,” James said. “The Office of the Attorney General, the people’s attorney is there to protect consumers, to protect vulnerable communities and to protect, most importantly, senior citizens.”

The AG Office’s Information and Complaint Helpline number is 1-800-771-7755.

State debt, evictions

James’ office suspended collection of state debt and told financial institutions they could not garnish stimulus checks for payment of debts.

The agency also continues to advocate for an eviction moratorium and is providing law enforcement agencies with guidance on how to protect tenants from unlawful evictions.

“What we have seen in upstate New York is individuals taking matters into their own hands and evicting people — self-help evictions — and obviously we are monitoring that with our advocates and our allies in Upstate New York and in the North Country,” James said.

Her office has directly funded legal organizations who ensure New Yorkers can remain in their homes and worked to focus on child poverty, among other issues.

“We have awesome responsibilities, but it’s really important that we be boots on the ground, that we get to know our neighbors, that we, again, instill some trust and to know that I am here to serve others and not to be served.”

“All New Yorkers”

Asked what North Country small businesses should know about her office, James said she recognizes that small businesses are the engine of the economy and employ many throughout the state.

“My goal here is to solve problems and not to litigate and/or attack and/or hurt small businesses,” she said. “We will always maintain and approach a small business with a reported problem to ensure that we can work it out, we can reach some sort of agreement, reach some sort of settlement so that we can resolve issues.”

Oftentimes, issues are rooted in a misunderstanding of the law or a miscommunication, and they present opportunities to bring smart people together to come up with a resolution, James continued.

She added that taking legal action should be a last resort, and that her office will always have an open-door policy.

“It’s important to know that we represent all New Yorkers, including small businesses, and we are here to protect them.”

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