YORK – Doug Peterson has been the Nebraska Attorney General for just over a year now.
And the wide variety of issues his department handles has kept him and his staff extremely busy . . . not just in court but also traveling throughout the state to educate young, elderly and everyone in between about the dangers of fraud, drugs, the internet and other ever-changing issues.
That was the case Thursday, as the AG traveled to York for an interview at the YNT, a presentation before the Rotary Club, a program at York High School, and private meetings with the county attorney and local law enforcement.
“Ever since the legislature’s session ended last year, I’ve been trying to get out to all the different communities in the state,” Peterson said. “It’s extremely helpful to talk directly with law enforcement and the county attorneys, to discuss what their greatest challenges are. While some areas face particular problems, there are trends we are seeing across the state.”
Peterson remembers back to the late 1980s, when he was working in the arena of county attorney. “And one thing that unfortunately hasn’t changed since then is the issue of how destructive the abuse of alcohol and drugs is on families. One change I’ve seen over time is the usage of the internet with all types of crimes, from child pornography to other issues are pretty disturbing. Those issues, we are seeing across the state.”
People, particularly teenagers, falling prey to internet crime is increasing alarming, he said . . . and a very important reason for pushing as much information as possible into the public about to protect yourself.
“For example, I was in one particular community where they had six incidents reported in one month where high school students – on their cell phones – had exchanged (provocative) photographs of themselves with a stranger . . . and then that person threatened to make those photographs public if the kids didn’t send them $1,000 or another large sum of money. It is difficult for us to do much about these types of threatening schemes – as in this case, the person was in the Ukraine. The international usage of the internet has made this issue grow faster and faster, and become obviously more prevalent. So we need to reach out to young people, to try to educate the best we can.”
That’s also the case when it comes to the elderly. The attorney general’s office has one full-time person whose principle job is to address folks at senior centers, assisted living facilities, etc.
“This is a problem that has not and unfortunately will probably not go away,” Peterson said. “Recently, I met with a couple who lost $230,000. It is heart breaking and tragic. We just have to keep reminding people that the best way to avoid getting caught by these scams is if they don’t recognize the number from which the call is coming, they just shouldn’t answer the call. The people who do these types of scams are persistent, they are masters, they are very good at what they do. So, to avoid their manipulation, just do not answer the phone.”
Another area of fraud Peterson and his staff has been working on is charitable fraud.
“It is amazing what some people will do in the name of a cause,” Peterson said, noting a four-year investigation recently ended with the prosecution and conviction of a man who had been fraudulently operating what looked like a cancer research charity . . . but the money had been going in his pocket instead.
Peterson urges people to thoroughly research organizations before they make donations – and utilize the findings of reputable watchdog operations, the Better Business Bureau and others.
Peterson has been appointed to serve as co-chair of a new special charities committee of the National Association of Attorneys General. The committee was formed because of the importance of a transparent and accountable charitable sector and the responsibility of state attorneys general in ensuring that the public interest in charitable funds and purposes is upheld and protected.
“The recent investigation into Cancer Fund of American and its related charities, and the resolution of that matter, is an excellent example of how fraudulent actors can deceive thousands of well-meaning donors to give to sham charities,” Peterson said. “It is imperative that we are attorneys general protect the public from these reprehensible actors.”
Regarding the drug issues in Nebraska, Peterson reiterated that meth continues to be the most destructive substance.
And then there’s the issue of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.
“My greatest concern is that when they made it a free market in Colorado, the retailers/growers tried to make the best product possible to charge the highest dollar amount possible,” Peterson explained. “The cost is driven by potency. In the 1970s, the marijuana was 5 percent THC.
“Three weeks ago, I joined the Colorado attorney general to tour a retail and growing facility. The plant that was shown to me had a 28.8 percent THC value. And that grower will be able to charge premium for that. That potency does have a long-term impact, especially on adolescent brains, which concerns me. There is a medical consensus that it creates real risk at that potency level. This state is in a lousy position – from a law enforcement and mental health standpoint – to take on that extra burden. I am concerned that people of my generation will take a relaxed attitude on this while the younger generations will be exposed to much higher potency. We need statewide awareness about this.
“And that industry is not stupid – they stand to make a tremendous amount of money if they get states like Nebraska to lower their concerns,” Peterson said. “So they come in, to work toward that end, to do it incrementally. They start with the medicinal issue . . . that gives them a crack in the door.”
Peterson said he encourages further scientific study regarding medicinal marijuana – which incidentally failed to pass the legislature during this year’s session.