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Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover Remembered at Arlington National Cemetary

The following is a statement from Attorney General Sean D. Reyes on the Arlington National Cemetary Service for Marine Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, killed in Afghanistan on August 26, 2021:

“Solemn and Sacred experience at Arlington National Cemetery laying to rest U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, son of my friends Darin and Kelly. 

Honored to be invited to join the family at graveside. May the peace Taylor fought so hard to protect now rest upon his soul eternally.”


Ute Tribe Claims against Dept. of Interior & State of Utah Dismissed

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal judge dismissed claims in a lawsuit filed by the Ute Indian Tribe against the U.S. Department of Interior, the State of Utah, and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. The Tribe alleged mismanagement of water-development projects in northeastern Utah.

In 2018, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation filed two lawsuits against the Department of Interior regarding water issues. The State of Utah intervened in one action and was later named as a defendant. The suits claimed that the federal government was perpetuating historical discrimination regarding water rights on Tribal lands, violating the Tribe’s sovereignty, and questioning whether the government had fulfilled necessary trust responsibilities. 

“All along, the State of Utah has maintained there was no discrimination regarding the Tribe’s water rights, and we’re grateful the judge affirmed that,” said Teresa Wilhelmsen, Director of the Utah Division of Water Rights and State Engineer. “Difficult emotions can arise from cases like this, and the State is ready to move forward. It intends to continue working with the Tribe in the administration of the Tribe’s significant water rights in a cooperative and mutually productive way.”

The court dismissed 12 of the 16 claims against the United States and the State of Utah and transferred the remaining four claims to the District of Utah Federal Court.

Read the judge’s ruling here

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More on Ute Tribe water litigation:

Background and Joint Statement by State of Utah

In 2018, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation filed lawsuits against the United States Department of Interior in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC) in Washington, D.C. 

Among other things, the lawsuits alleged that: 

(1) the United States breached several trust, contractual, and constitutional obligations to the Tribe; 

(2) a 1965 agreement quantified the Tribe’s reserved water rights; 

(3) the 1992 Central Utah Project Completion Act (CUPCA), enacted in part to settle the Tribe’s water rights and water right claims, actually took Tribal property; and 

(4) only the Tribe has jurisdiction over Tribal water rights.

CFC case brought similar assertions but sought only money damages while the District Court case sought declaratory relief relating to the water issues.

The State of Utah intervened in the initial U.S District Court case as a sovereign, having a direct interest in the administration of water across the state on behalf of all Utah water users, including the Tribe. The Ute Tribe then amended the complaint to name the State of Utah, Governor Herbert, the Utah State Engineer, and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District as defendant parties and included the state in some of the claims brought against the United States. The Tribe also asserted an additional claim, alleging that the State defendants had historically deprived the Tribe of due process and equal protection rights.

In July 2021, D.C. District Court Judge Carl J. Nichols heard argument on the defendants’ separate motions to dismiss the lawsuit and, by Order dated September 15, 2021, granted those motions, dismissing the Tribe’s trust, contract, jurisdictional, and civil rights claims. The Court held that the Tribe had not demonstrated specific, enforceable trust duties that compelled the United States to build or rehabilitate the facilities the Tribe demanded. In addition, the Court noted that the Tribe had waived the claims, or otherwise settled them under CUPCA and by a separate settlement negotiated between the United States and the Tribe in 2012. The Court also held that several of the Tribe’s claims were untimely. In dismissing the Tribe’s separate but related lawsuit earlier in February 2021, the CFC had also cited the Tribe’s waiver of claims in the 2012 settlement and CUPCA. The CFC decision also noted that CUPCA payments “put the Tribe in the same position it would have enjoyed” had the water facilities contemplated in the 1960s been constructed and that the CUPCA settled “once and for all” the Tribe’s water claims. The CFC noted that the Tribe has received over $354 million in compensation pursuant to that Act.


Letter to Congress: Modernize Antitrust Laws and Protect Consumers

SALT LAKE CITY—Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes is one of a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general urging Congress to modernize federal antitrust laws in order to increase enforcement and provide consistency in antitrust laws, and encourage smaller tech companies who want to expand.  30 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam today applauded legislative proposals to update federal antitrust laws.

In a letter sent to House and Senate leaders, the attorneys general urged them to continue making improvements to the antitrust laws via a range of bills moving through Congress, including the continued consideration of the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, the American Choice, and Innovation Online Act, the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act, the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (“ACCESS”) Act, the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, and the State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act.  The attorneys general recommend the addition of provisions that would further protect consumers from unlawful and irresponsible mergers and business practices, and to facilitate competition and innovation.

The letter notes that updated legislation is required to respond to changes in technology, decreased competition in important sectors, and undue judicial skepticism towards robust antitrust enforcement, commending the antitrust bills as steps in the right direction.

Along with these updates to Federal law, the coalition also urges Congress to include in the proposed legislation provisions confirming that the states are sovereigns that stand on equal footing with federal enforcers under federal antitrust law, including with regard to the timing of challenging anticompetitive mergers and other practices.

Read the letter here.

The letter was led by Attorneys General Phil Weiser of Colorado, Douglas Peterson of Nebraska, Letitia James of New York, and Herbert H. Slatery III of Tennessee. They were joined by California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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AG Investigators Bust Large Retail Theft Case

WEST VALLEY CITY – The Utah Attorney General Office’s Economic crimes unit C.A.S.E (Crimes Against Statewide Economy) has arrested a West Valley City man who was profiting from reselling large amounts of stolen merchandise from local big-box retailers.  Officers recovered more than $80,000 worth of new, brand-name power tools, home goods, and sporting equipment, set to be sold illegally.

Pictures of the merchandise seized: Here

 And here. 

And here.

45-year-old Oscar Martinez, has been charged with possession of stolen property; 3 counts of unlawfully acquiring stolen property, and money laundering.

Organized retail theft is one of the most serious challenges retailers are facing this year.  Nationwide, people are loading shopping carts with expensive merchandise and simply stealing it.  Estimates are that millions of dollars of merchandise are lost every month across the country.  The proceeds are usually sold online marketplaces, with the money typically funding drug addictions. 

Martinez is alleged to have arranged for people who are addicted to drugs to steal the merchandise for him.   Officers say he would provide shopping lists for items at retailers including Home Depot and then pay a fraction of the value, then resell it online for a profit. They say this illegal operation has been going on for more than a year.

“Organized retail crime is a very serious problem in Utah, and is also a national trend,” said C.A.S.E Commander Christopher Walden.  “It’s become an epidemic and is driving up the costs of these items so that the stores can cover their losses.  We are committed to continuing to fight these crimes throughout the state.”

C.A.S.E is a joint task force between the Utah Attorney General’s office and the Utah Department of Public Safety, state bureau of investigations.
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ICAC Arrest in Salt Lake County

SALT LAKE COUNTY–Also this week: ICAC agents continued to investigate the dozens of tips received regarding citizens distributing child pornography.  On Wednesday, ICAC officers arrested a man after discovering tens of thousands of child sexual abuse files in a residence.  Agents also recovered drugs and a gun at the home.  

Agents charged 60-year-old Garret Brian Ferrari with 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.  Gun and drug offenses will be charged separately. On the scene, Ferrari admitted that he had been collecting these files for years, which corroborates the volume of files recovered.###  


AG Reyes Takes Leadership Role In 24-State Coalition Demanding Pres. Biden Drop Vaccine Mandate or Risk Legal Action

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes and 23 other attorneys general (AGs) sent a letter to President Biden today, warning that litigation will follow the implementation of the proposed mandate on private-sector employees to either get a COVID-19 shot, submit to weekly testing, or be fired. 

Reyes is on the leadership team among the coalition of attorneys general. The group outlined their legal and policy concerns with the mandate, which will be carried out through an Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) emergency temporary standard.

“I am committed to continuing leading my colleagues to push back and fight this mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary,” stated Attorney General Reyes. 

“Both employers and employees in Utah, with unprecedented fervor, have flooded my office with messages of dire concern and extreme opposition to the proposed mandate. I firmly agree.”

The proposed mandates are offensive on a number of levels: they violate constitutional separation of powers, reasonable notions of federalism and vastly expand the invasive reach of federal agencies under the guise of “emergency powers.”

As announced, the mandates are not tailored to real world business realities such as telecommuting and threaten jobs when the workforce is most vulnerable financially. 

We call on President Biden to withdraw his proposed standards. Forcing them on the business community will be disastrous from a legal, policy and financial standpoint and it will further divide America,” said Attorney General Reyes. 

History has shown that the judicial branch is highly skeptical of the use of OSHA emergency temporary standards because of concerns about federalism and the separation of powers. Further, the AGs raise concerns about the expansion of a federal regulatory agency and public perception of the order’s constitutionality.

The coalition of AGs goes beyond legal arguments to address practical policy considerations of such a sweeping order. Most concerning is the potential to drive individuals out of the workforce, particularly healthcare workers, who are most needed right now to fight the pandemic. Additionally, this mandate ignores the tens of millions of Americans with natural immunity and will drive further skepticism of vaccines.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, the AGs note there are alternatives to a broad, nationwide order. The letter states, “The risks of COVID-19 spread also vary widely depending on the nature of the business in question, many of which can have their employees, for example, work remotely. 

The one-size-fits-almost-all approach you have decreed makes clear that you intend to use the OSHA statute as a pretext to impose an unprecedented, controversial public health measure on a nationwide basis that only incidentally concerns the workplace.”

Utah was joined on the letter by the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

You can read the letter here.

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9/11: A Message from AG Reyes

A personal message from AG Reyes:

“Twenty years ago today, I was a young lawyer preparing to head into work when time stopped, and the world changed forever. As we honor victims who perished in the Twin Towers, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania, I remain optimistic that America can and will unify to defeat global terrorism and the underlying evil working to destroy our freedom. Today, I hope we all take a moment to recall 3,000 innocent American lives lost, including valiant first responders, who ran into the flames, chaos, and horror to assist and save others without regard for their own safety. They must always be remembered. All of them. And our prayers remain with their families and loved ones. Out of respect to those we lost on September 11 and those we’ve lost just weeks ago to terrorists intent on our destruction, let’s put down our political swords, at least for the day, and bask in the privilege and blessings of being Americans and being able to mourn as one nation under God.”


Statement by AG Reyes in Response to Vaccine Regulation Proposals by President Biden:

“My office will fight any unconstitutional limitation of individual liberties and privacy while continuing to promote safe health practices in our state. My team is
already reviewing the proposed
regulations.

Regardless of where you stand on vaccinations overall, the federal government should not be able to mandate such a personal medical decision to employers & individuals.

Utah has employed a reasonable approach to the pandemic. We will continue to do so without need of an autocratic mandate from the White House.”


AG Reyes Honored with 1st Annual “Autism Champion” Award

Recognized for Providing Autism-Related Training for Law Enforcement

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is being recognized this week for leadership in increasing awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder among law enforcement across the state. AG Reyes is the first person to receive the newly created “Autism Champion” award. The honor was created by the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism at Utah Valley University to recognize individuals in the community who provide support for individuals with Autism and their families.

AG Reyes provided leadership in providing law enforcement training to recognize the behavior of people with Autism under duress. Using the VirTra virtual reality system, law enforcement officers can experience real-life situations to educate them about the actions of those with autism, which can often be mistaken for threatening behavior. In 2020, a near-fatal officer-involved shooting involving an autistic youth resulted in a Utah law requiring enhanced special-needs training and education for law enforcement, focusing on autism-involved situations.

“We are proud participants of the planning managed through the AG’s Office, and meet monthly with designated staff on this important issue,” said Laurie Bowen, Associate Director of the UVU Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism. She continued: “Trainings now being offered through the AG’s Office are going to save lives and establish a much safer community for everyone.”

Of the work that has gone into creating and giving these trainings, Bowen said: “It is truly providing assistance to some who have no voice otherwise, and that is a significant gift.”

Utah Solicitor General Melissa Holyoak accepted the award for the Attorney General. The “Autism Champion” award was presented this year by Dr. Kyle Reyes, Vice President of Student Affairs at UVU, and brother to Attorney General Reyes.


Massage Parlor Criminal Enterprise Busted; Trafficking Victims Rescued

SALT LAKE COUNTY – Today, the SECURE Strike Force (which includes the Utah Attorney General’s Office, Taylorsville Police Department, and multiple law enforcement agencies) ended a large human trafficking enterprise and helped several female victims in six Northern Utah locations. Three people were arrested, and all the victims have been offered any assistance needed including being provided shelter, medical care, and other services.

Today’s bust is the result of a five-month investigation into massage parlors in Salt Lake and Utah Counties which were fronts for a sex trafficking and trade enterprise. Information was obtained that female workers were brought to Utah to work legitimate jobs but were then forced into sex work.

“The women victims, in this case, were suffering in plain sight. They were working in servitude and trapped in a criminal enterprise that was extensive and powerful,” said Chief Leo Lucey, Chief of the Criminal Investigations Division at the Utah Attorney General’s Office. “We are pleased that we are able to work with our law enforcement partners and the Asian Association of Utah as these women recover from the trauma they have endured.”

Arrested were Lianfang Feng (54), Ruixue Chen (37), and Xiuyun Huo (45). Charges included Exploitation of a Prostitute, Aiding Prostitution, Money Laundering, Pattern of Unlawful Activity, and Maintaining a Public Nuisance. They are held in the Salt Lake and Utah County Jails. All bank accounts and assets for the suspects are currently frozen as the investigation continues. More than $100,000 dollars was seized, most of which was in cash. The case is ongoing and additional charges may be added.

The Attorney General’s Office would like to thank Taylorsville PD, West Valley City PD, American Fork PD, Lindon PD, UPD, Davis County Metro, Park City PD, West Jordan PD, DPS, and our federal partners for their work on this case.

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Fair Sentencing Reforms for Low-Level Drug Offenses: AG Reyes & 25 AGs Write Congress

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes has joined a bipartisan coalition to amend the First Step Act and extend critical resentencing reforms to individuals convicted of the lowest-level crack cocaine offenses.

The coalition, led by District of Columbia AG Karl Racine and Utah AG Sean Reyes, is calling on legislators to take this needed step in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Terry v. United States, which held that certain mid-level and high-level crack cocaine offenders could seek resentencing under the law, but low-level offenders were not eligible.

“When Congress changed the law that treated crack cocaine and powder cocaine differently, we made great progress in addressing racial inequality in the criminal justice system,” said Attorney General Reyes. “Unfortunately, the sentencing reforms left the lowest-level offenders behind. “Very often, these sentences disproportionately affect persons of color, further undermining the stability of families in minority communities.  We are urging Congress to extend these reforms to these offenders so they too may seek relief.”

The First Step Act, landmark criminal justice reform legislation, passed Congress with strong bipartisan support in 2018. One key reform aimed to correct injustices caused by the earlier crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine sentencing regime. That now-discredited regime punished users and dealers of crack cocaine much more harshly than users and dealers of powder cocaine, which disproportionately harmed communities of color.

In 2010, Congress had passed the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the disparity between sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine. However, the law did not help the many people sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before 2010 who remained in prison. The First Step Act then included a provision that made previous drug sentencing reforms retroactive, allowing those serving harsh sentences imposed under the former federal law to seek relief. 

U.S. Senators Richard J. Durbin, Charles E. Grassley, Cory A. Booker, and Mike Lee—the drafters of the First Step Act—confirmed in an amicus brief that the sentencing relief was intended to apply to all crack cocaine offenders sentenced before 2010. Nevertheless, in Terry v. United States, the Supreme Court concluded that while the First Step Act clearly authorized certain mid- or high-level crack cocaine offenders to seek resentencing, it failed to extend relief to the lowest-level offenders.

In today’s letter, the attorneys general urge Congress to close that gap and clarify that the sentencing relief provided by the First Step Act extends to all individuals convicted of crack cocaine offenses under the earlier regime, including the lowest-level offenders. They argue that there is no reason that only these low-level offenders should continue to serve sentences informed by now-discredited standards and that they should have an opportunity to seek a second chance.

A copy of the coalition’s letter to Congress is available here.

AG Racine and Utah AG Reyes led this letter and were joined by the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Guam, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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