Columbia Law School's State Attorneys General Program Hosts Conference on Fraud and Non-profits

Media contact: Nancy Goldfarb
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New York, February 2, 2009 — Staff from more than 40 state attorney general offices around the country convened for two days in January to discuss fraud in the charitable sector. While the State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School hosts a number of conferences, this was the first time it co-hosted with the National Attorneys General Training and Research Institute (NAGTRI). 

The conference, “Fraud in the Charitable Sector: Education, Prevention and Enforcement,” was organized by Columbia Law School’s State Attorneys General Program's "Charities Law Project." Its purpose was to facilitate communication between attorneys general, their staffs, and the charitable sector with the goal of preventing fraud and efficiently enforcing laws that protect from fraud. 

"The protection of charitable assets from fraudulent behavior is an important responsibility for every attorney general,” said James E. Tierney, director of the State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School, and a former attorney general of Maine. “The Program, in conjunction with NAGTRI, assembled a faculty of national experts to outline the most effective enforcement strategies to balance both the needs of charitable organizations and those of the public."

The conference which was held from January 22 to 24, 2009, was attended by assistant attorneys general, former attorneys general, investigators, officials and academics from the nonprofit sector from more than 40 states including Hawaii, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Montana, New Mexico, Iowa, Kansas, and California.

Topics for the panels included the scope and magnitude of fraud within charitable and nonprofit entities, types of fraud, and the practicalities and realities of an investigation, from the perspective of both state attorneys general and non-profits.

In the opening panel on January 23, an overview of fraud and the unique role of attorneys general, Scott Harshbarger, former Massachusetts attorney general, said, “We set the minimum ethic, we set the boundaries. We assure the level playing field.” In an essential distillation of an attorney general’s job, he said, “Consumers and donors have to have confidence that the money donated is being used in the way it was intended.”

The conference addressed many of the overarching issues affecting prevention and enforcement, including the state/federal relationships, multistate aspects of fraudulent activity, civil versus criminal enforcement, potential targets, and transparency concerns, for both regulators and the non-profits.

Inaugurated on March 1, 2004, the State Attorneys General Program has focused on several pointed, policy-driven projects in underdeveloped, emerging areas of jurisdiction for attorneys general, including Charities Regulation, PharmaceuticalsLabor, Disaster Planning and Home Foreclosures and Predatory Lending. Through these projects, the Program has produced original research, developed web-resources, and hosted several conferences and summits that have led to important breakthroughs in attorneys general offices across the country. The Program is active in the development and dissemination of legal information that state prosecutors are able to use in the carrying out of their civil and criminal responsibilities.

Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, criminal, and environmental law.

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