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Nevada AG wants nontaxpayer funds for fraud unit, help in guardianship program

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt wants the blessing of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee to jump-start his new project to fight financial fraud.

With $1.3 million from the state’s National Mortgage Settlement fund, Laxalt wants to create an unit within the attorney general’s office and to boost the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to take on more guardianship cases.

About $900,000 would go toward positions in Laxalt’s new unit: four criminal investigators, including one assigned to the joint terrorism task force, two supervisors, an analyst, a legal secretary and two prosecutors.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot more predators out there taking advantage of everyday Nevadans,” Laxalt said. “The reality is we need more support.”

Laxalt told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the complaints his office has received about financial fraud have risen significantly in recent years, and it’s part of a national trend.

The state attorney general’s office received approximately 600 fraud-related complaints in fiscal year 2014, 952 in 2015, and 870 in the first three quarters of fiscal year 2016. The Federal Trade Commission received 18,539 Nevada complaints in 2013, 19,334 in 2014 and 20,016 in 2015.

Nationally, the FTC received 3.1 million consumer fraud complaints in 2015, a 19.4 percent increase from 2014.

Laxalt said he doesn’t anticipate serious obstacles to implementing the plan because the fact the unit won’t use general fund money — i.e., taxes — makes it a win-win.

And the plan also provides for a mechanism to help with cases of exploitation in adult guardianship, which Laxalt called a serious problem in Southern Nevada.

About $400,000 would go to the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to pay for two lawyers, a paralegal and a legal assistant, all devoted to the issue.

The nonprofit center’s executive director, Barbara Buckley, said the problem is widespread. The center devoted an attorney to the issue in January, and that lawyer already has 45 cases.

There are about 60 new guardianship cases filed each month, and about 3,500 on file with the court.

Many of the high-priority cases the legal aid center takes on were referred by law enforcement because a senior citizen or other vulnerable person was being exploited by a guardian.

“We just don’t have the funding or attorneys to take them,” Buckley said. “If you don’t have criminal prosecution and civil representation, exploiters will continue to harm the most vulnerable among us.”

Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com and 702-383-0391. Find @WesJuhl on Twitter.

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