William O'Boyle: Wolf Administration releases first-ever statewide Litter Action Plan

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Nov. 29—WILKES-BARRE — Gov. Tom Wolf, the state secretaries for the departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection, and members of the state legislature this week joined other administration and community stakeholders to highlight innovative local anti-littering measures and called for action to combat Pennsylvania's litter-problem at all levels statewide.

The Wolf Administration released the state's first-ever Litter Action Plan — which reflects the work of more than 100 stakeholders from state and local government, businesses, the legislature, and more — and includes both current initiatives and recommendations to clean up the more than 500 million pieces of litter scattered throughout the commonwealth.

"Pennsylvania is a great place to live, work, and raise a family," Wolf said. "It's a beautiful state with stunning landscapes and bountiful natural resources. But, we've got a litter problem. Litter is bad for the environment and our communities, it's a drain on taxpayer dollars. Today I'm excited to unveil a solution that all 13 million Pennsylvanians can be a part of, it's a blueprint for a cleaner commonwealth."

Demonstrating the cost of litter to communities and the commonwealth, PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian noted that the agency's annual $14 million cost to clean up litter makes litter prevention especially important.

"We recognize we need to change behavior, not just clean up the mess," Gramian said. "With this commonwealth Litter Action Plan, we've provided examples, resources, and calls to action so we can make some transformative change here in Pennsylvania."

DEP has funded "Pick Up Pennsylvania" community litter cleanups and illegal dump site cleanups for over two decades, supporting volunteers in removing many tons of trash from the land and waters. As littering has persisted, DEP sponsored with PennDOT the first comprehensive state study to inform development of the Litter Action Plan, with a focus on changing littering behavior.

"DEP is committed to helping drive a statewide shift to litter prevention," said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. "If we bring the same energy to litter prevention initiatives that thousands of volunteers have brought to cleaning up litter in their communities, we'll turn a corner on Pennsylvania's trash problem. And we'll gain the community and economic benefits of a healthier environment."

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is complementing their "Leave No Trace" program with working to update their concessionaire agreements to include language aimed at combating litter, such as requiring food providers to minimize paper straw and disposable utensil use. And when onsite composting is available at a state park, concessionaires will be required to work with DCNR to convert as many of their food service products to compostable, paper-based forest product alternatives and then compost them with the food waste.

State Police is continuing Operation Clean Sweep, which launched this summer and reinforces a zero-tolerance mindset with litter enforcement, while sharing anti-litter messages year-round. This complements their assistance with enforcing Litter Enforcement Corridors that — under a 2018 law — can be designated by the department and local governments to combat litter.

The Fish and Boat Commission has pilot projects, in coordination with DCNR, to properly dispose of fishing line.

Auditor General DeFoor: Lottery

needs to monitor frequent winners

Auditor General Timothy L. DeFoor this week released a performance audit of the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue's security measures for the Lottery, making 32 recommendations on ways it can make improvements.

"The most significant finding from our report show Lottery has security measures in place designed to prevent or detect illegal or fraudulent activity from retailers selling lottery products, but not by anyone else who plays the lottery," DeFoor said. "When you take a closer look at Lottery's data, as we did, it is easy to identify these players. The fact of the matter is that Lottery has the data and doesn't use it."

The audit specifically found 17 non-retailer players with 50 or more wins of more than $600 each from July 1, 2017, through March 2, 2020. In almost three years, these players had 1,344 claims totaling nearly $2.7 million dollars which frequency warrant further analysis even if found reasonably explainable.

Lottery collects information on players filing claims more than $600 for tax purposes, but does not use that data to analyze winning patterns. This analysis would help determine if someone is claiming prizes for a prohibited player or engaged in illegal activity such as avoiding paying taxes or child support. Lottery would then be able to forward the case to a proper law enforcement agency.

"The Lottery stated it doesn't have the legal authority to investigate these frequent winning claims from people who aren't retailers," DeFoor said. "Lottery officials can either partner with the Pennsylvania Inspector General or the Attorney General to investigate these claims. If they aren't able to do that then we recommend the General Assembly step in and give Lottery officials the power to do so through legislation."

Retail winners

The audit found while Lottery employees, members of their household and certain executives in state government are prohibited from playing the Lottery, retailers and their spouses are free to play.

One of the 17 winners examined is a retailer's spouse who filed 88 winning claims, and the retailer filed 42 winning claims during the same period. Under the current system, the retailer's claims would be flagged for review, but not their spouses.

Other issues found in the audit:

—Lottery does conduct site visits of retailers identified as having frequent winning claims, but documentation of the visits needs improved and the process needs formalized in writing. Information collected during site visits is used to determine if the retailer or possibly any of its employees are engaging in activity that is potentially illegal, unethical, or in violation of Lottery rules;

—Lottery failed to ensure its information system contains every winning claim more than $600 and failed to ensure reports used to monitor retailer activity were prepared and functioning as intended;

—Found weaknesses regarding retailer winning reports used by Lottery's security division to monitor retailers for frequent wins and prohibited activities; and

—As a result of poor internal controls, the monitoring of retailers performed by staff may not be valid and management decisions made based on reports may not be proper.

AG Shapiro warns of

holiday shopping scams

Attorney General Josh Shapiro this week announced that the Office of Attorney General has filed a complaint against Internet Hobbies, LLC and Hobby Models, LLC, two online shops operated by co-defendants Dale and Diane Bruner.

The complaint alleges that the defendants consistently failed to deliver products and failed to refund consumers' money, violating the Commonwealth's Consumer Protection Law.

"Pennsylvanians need to be on alert for scammers this holiday season," Shapiro said. "We're suing Internet Hobbies for making a hobby out of scamming Pennsylvanians. We're determined to get people their money back, and to stop this company from operating in our Commonwealth."

The lawsuit was filed by Senior Deputy Attorney General James Wise in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas.

The lawsuit alleges that despite being more than two years behind on fulfilling some consumers' orders, the defendants have continued to accept orders and collect money. When consumers reached out to inquire about the status of their orders, the defendants allegedly either ignored the consumers or provided excuses after excuses. When other consumers would request refunds from the defendants for undelivered items, the defendants allegedly often refused to issue refunds, or informed consumers that they had been provided refunds, but never sent them.

The lawsuit seeks a court order for the defendants to pay restitution to customers who have suffered losses as a result of the defendants' conduct, to stop doing business in Pennsylvania, and pay civil penalties for each violation of the Consumer Protection Law.

As Black Friday nears, Attorney General Shapiro is also warning Pennsylvania consumers to be on the lookout for similar scams and fraudulent businesses.

Pennsylvanians should stay on alert for other business aliases used by the defendants, including: Hobby Wheels, Hobby Rails, Hobby Book Depot, Red Star Hobbies, Military Model Depot, Model Airplane Depot, Model Railroad Depot, Model Ship Depot, Gundam World Online, www.takom-military.com, Model Kit Closeouts, and Model Train Closeouts.

Any Pennsylvanians who believe that they have been affected by these companies should contact the Office of Attorney General at www.attorneygeneral.gov/submit-a-complaint or contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection by sending an email to [email protected], or calling 1-800-441-2555.

Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.