Dear Fellow Washingtonians,
Happy 2024! It’s hard to believe that January is already drawing to a close. Here at the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), we hit the ground running, kicking off the year with a new public safety grant program and a series of successful wage theft and consumer protection cases that put hundreds of thousands of dollars back into the pockets of District residents. As always, I continued this month spending time at community events and forums throughout the city, hearing directly from District residents. Thank you for making your voices heard – your concerns and ideas for the District directly inform our work here at OAG.
The number one issue on the hearts and minds of District residents – in every Ward and every neighborhood – is public safety. The Office of the Attorney General is responsible for prosecuting crimes committed by juveniles and some adult misdemeanors while the federally-appointed U.S. Attorney handles adult felonies. We are laser focused on using the law to make District residents safer – this includes prosecuting every serious, violent offense when we have the evidence to do so. As crime and arrests have increased, so too have the number of prosecutions our line attorneys are advancing.
Prosecution, by definition, is reactive and takes place after a crime has already occurred. To truly make our city safer we must also focus on preventive efforts to stop crime from happening in the first place. This means ensuring that city-wide systems focused on housing, education, healthcare (including mental healthcare), supervision and rehabilitation, economic development, and job training are operating effectively in order to mitigate the root causes that lead to crime. Preventive efforts and investments are necessary complements to policing and prosecution, and they are critical to improving public safety now and keeping us safer in the long run.
Prevention also includes working with at-risk youth and their families before they get involved with the criminal justice system to ensure they have the resources and stability they need to succeed – this includes helping kids develop conflict-resolution skills, providing youth with mentors, positive adult role models, and employment opportunities, amongst other interventions. To that end, my office recently announced the “Leaders of Tomorrow” public safety grant program, which will provide up to $250,000 to community-based organizations who are already on the ground working with District youth and helping to ensure they lead hopeful, successful lives. We know that hopeful kids are safer – to themselves, their communities and everyone around them.
At the Office of the Attorney General, we work to improve public safety through smart, evidence-based prosecution and targeted interventions. Through these grants, I look forward to building on our efforts and partnering with organizations dedicated to bringing innovative ideas, methods, and tools to mitigating risk factors impacting youth and aiding the long-term success of young people in the District.
In 2024, we look forward to working to make DC the safer, healthier, fairer, kinder community we all want and deserve.
Brian L. Schwalb
Attorney General for the District of Columbia
Holding Predatory Businesses Accountable
The nation’s third-largest tax preparation company, Liberty Tax, will pay over half a million dollars to the more than 7,300 District residents who were misled and overcharged for tax preparation services.
Liberty Tax’s “Cash in a Flash” tax-prep scam promoted immediate handouts of $50 “just for filing with Liberty Tax.” The company portrayed this as a perk with no downside when, in fact, it increased the price of services to residents who accepted the offer of cash. On average, those who accepted the cash were charged up to $200 more for the same tax prep than those who did not accept the cash.
As a result of our investigation, Liberty Tax will pay a total of $550,000 in restitution to impacted customers, $200,000 to the District in penalties, and terminate the “Cash in a Flash” scheme nationwide.
Supporting District Youth
Fostering hopeful, healthy kids is key to making our communities safer and stronger. One way to make that a reality is to support the organizations that already do this work in the District.
That’s why we announced our “Leaders of Tomorrow” Violence Prevention grants. These grants will provide up to $250,000 to local non-profits dedicated to an evidence-based, preventive approach to crime reduction.
While we must continue holding juvenile offenders accountable, it’s crucial to invest in proactive strategies to prevent crimes from happening in the first place. Prevention cannot replace accountability, but it is critical in making our community safer now and in the long run.
There’s still time to apply for a grant. For the full list of requirements, click here. All applications must be in by February 2, 2024 at 11:59 pm.
Protecting District Renters from Illegal Fees
The District has some of the strongest legal protections for tenants in the country, and this month, we issued a Consumer Alert informing renters of their rights regarding fees throughout the rental process.
- Under DC law, landlords cannot charge an application fee greater than $52. Do not pay more than $52 for an application fee.
- Before paying an application fee, you are entitled to information about how the screening process works. This includes any information about fees you will be charged and information about how the landlord will make its rental decision.
- After signing a lease, tenants are also protected from excessive fees and “junk fees.” These are fees that are unclear, not used for their stated purpose, or used to cover a service a landlord is required by law to provide.
If your rights are violated or if you are charged excessive or “junk fees,” please contact our Office of Consumer Protection. You can reach us by phone at (202) 442-9828, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can submit a complaint online here.
Fighting Back Against Wage Theft
Clean Team Janitorial Service, Inc. will pay more than $260,000 to janitorial workers and the District to resolve allegations that the company underpaid workers from 2020 to 2023.
Thirty-three workers were paid less than they were legally owed. As a result of our investigation, Clean Team will pay $220,561 in restitution for unpaid wages and damages and $40,000 to the District in penalties. Clean Team will also submit to OAG monitoring for the next two years.
OAG’s Workers’ Rights and Antifraud Section is dedicated to fighting wage theft and protecting District workers. If you believe your rights have been violated, or you have experienced wage theft or other wage and hour violations, please contact us by phone at (202) 442-9828 or via email at email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org.
Protecting Tenants from Hostile, Abusive Housing Environments
We sued UDR, a residential property manager in the District, for facilitating a hostile housing environment in which Black, female tenants were subjected to persistent, pervasive race- and sex-based harassment.
It is against the law for property managers to facilitate a hostile housing environment, including by failing to reasonably and promptly respond to repeated complaints from tenants experiencing pervasive harassment. If you have experienced housing discrimination, or any other form of discrimination or harassment, please report it. You can reach us by phone at (202) 727-3400 or via email at OAGCivilRights@dc.gov.
Hearing From District Residents
The best part of my job is the opportunity to talk with District residents about their concerns and aspirations for themselves, their families, their neighborhoods and for our great city. These conversations inform OAG’s work every day.
One of the biggest weekends of January is always celebrating the life and service of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year, we joined Anacostia Coordinating Council and Pastor Turner and Matthews Memorial Baptist Church at their annual prayer breakfast, where we met with members of the Ward 7 and Ward 8 communities. At the 19th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk and Parade later in the weekend, we saw high energy and countless District residents, even in the snow.
I also joined Councilmembers Frumin and Lewis George at their respective Ward 3 and Ward 4 Public Safety Forums. Public safety is the number one issue on the minds of District residents, and it is the number one priority for OAG. Thank you to everyone who came out, asked questions, and shared their concerns and thoughts on how to make our city safer.
This month, we met with students at Johnson Middle School to discuss the warning signs of human trafficking during Human Trafficking Awareness Month. We also spent time with children at Horton’s Kids, a non-profit that enables District kids to dream bigger, achieve more, and prepares them for success after high school and into adulthood.
If you’d like to invite OAG to your event, please click here.