For a number of reasons. As we reviewed the list, we have concerns that a significant number of homeowners should not have been on the list as a result of negotiations that we conducted as the former public advocate of the city. For instance, one-, two- and three-family homes are not supposed to be on the list, senior citizens were not supposed to be on the list. Houses of faith, they’re not supposed to be on the list, and unfortunately, we uncovered a number of errors. And then last but not least, it’s really critically important that we support and promote homeownership in the city. And during this pandemic, during this time, we do not think it benefits New Yorkers, particularly homeowners, to go forward with this lien sale. And that’s why we’ve asked for a postponement and we reached out to the governor, and I want to thank the governor for stepping in.
Your office was particularly active during the height of the pandemic to root out price gouging in the city. To what extent do you think that’s still a problem? What products were most frequently gouged?
So in the beginning of the pandemic, we saw individuals who were taking advantage of the situation. We received around 8,000 calls to our hotline, and primarily the price gouging focused on essential goods, hand sanitizers, gloves, masks, things like that. We had to issue over 1,500 cease-and-desist letters. We did not have to go to court, thank God, to seek that enforcement of the law and of the executive order. We were able to work with businesses all over the city and throughout the state of New York.
Then we saw a transition of the price gouging from essential items to food. We received a number of complaints, primarily in Brooklyn and the Bronx, about price gouging related to eggs and meat. We met with supermarkets all throughout the city.
We took a look at the supply chain and found that they were merely passing on the cost to their customers, and that they were not engaging in any illegality.
We did uncover one manufacturer of eggs who, in fact, was engaging in price gouging, and we had to initiate some litigation against that manufacturer. We are continuing to receive calls to our hotlines from consumers again related to price gouging of food products, and we will continue to investigate those complaints that come to our hotline. It’s really critically important that individuals obey the law, and that businesses not take advantage of this pandemic.
State Sen. Mike Gianaris recently proposed anti-trust legislation that would affect big tech companies. Nationally, the federal government has taken aim at Google and Apple for antitrust violations. Is that a problem the state should take up?
We have antitrust laws in the state of New York, but we haven’t updated them in some time, and they’re outdated. Unfortunately, they don’t reflect the realities of the 21st century.
I want to thank Sen. Gianaris for putting forth a bill which would focus on the monopolistic powers of companies that engage in anti-competitive conduct.
At this point in time we cannot go after companies who engage in antitrust violations and individuals who take advantage of the market. Now, our law is limited in the state of New York. Companies can take advantage of their monopoly power. It’s important that we protect the marketplace. And we protect it from companies who engage in monopolistic abuse, and who engage in antitrust violations. Currently our office is investigating a number of businesses for antitrust violations. And so we will continue again to ensure that the law reflects the current technology and reflects conduct which currently exists in our marketplace.
You are now the highest law enforcement officer in the state. At other times you have been an advocate for law enforcement reform. How do you balance the two now that you are leading a system that you have at times sought to change?
The Office of Attorney General has an Organized Crime Task Force, and we engage in a lot of arrests and investigations, and we work with a number of jurisdictions all throughout the state of New York, particularly focusing on gun trafficking and drug trafficking. But at the same time, we want to make sure that we respect the rights of individuals and rebuild the trust, which unfortunately has been broken in some communities. It’s critically important that we focus on going after bad actors, that we focus on addressing crime in the state of New York. But at the same time, respecting the Constitution and the rights of individuals.
It’s a balancing act.
The bottom line is basically this: We need to trust, and at the same time ensure, that law enforcement is in a position to do its job effectively.
Finally we get to the toughest question. You know we’ve all been locked down in the pandemic; we all have to cope with the lockdown and limited movement. To help you get through it, who are your top artists on your pandemic playlist?
I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t have a playlist. I’m very busy. I’m involved in a lot of cases. From sunup to sundown it’s basically just reviewing a number of briefs, talking to a number of attorneys.
And then, usually in the evening I watch the news and then I wake up and do it all over again. But if I were to have a playlist, I’m pretty old school, so I listen to a lot of R&B. And what I like to listen to most these days is gospel music.
What do you do to unwind?
I read a lot of books, and I walk in my community, quite a bit. And I have a circle of friends who allow me to laugh and to be myself. I focus on family. And just playing with the children in the neighborhood. Because they’re honest, because they’re pure and because they’re innocent.