Tag Archives: Bill McCollum

Money Jungle: Demolition Men

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Election 2010: Is this Where Florida Ends?

Folio is published every Tuesday, but it’s unclear how many of you actually read it that day. If the office has ever done any research into the subject, I have no idea; it’s possible, since they’re pretty good at understanding their audience (other than the whole “Steven Humphrey is worth more than Money Jungle” calculation, which really does nothing to dispel the stereotype of Floridians as being terrible at math). Certainly, many readers are not able to pick one up on Tuesday; some hold off until the weekend.

I only mention this because this Tuesday, August 24, is the day for primaries in the statewide elections that will ultimately be settled on November 2. No need to preview the race, since most of you will have already voted by now. Obviously, this is the most important cycle for local elections in many, many years, and the results are all but guaranteed to be catastrophic for Northeast Florida, and the state in general. We are about to take major steps backwards in terms of the competence of our elected officials, and in the overall desirability of life in Florida.

While the election of Barack Obama was awesome for the country, it seems now clear that his administration kinda sucks, and that our hopes of dramatic positive changes were naïve pipe-dreams, invested in someone who basically represents the interests of the most corrupt and dangerous elements of Wall Street and Washington. Chicago Flash and his loyal team of Clinton-betrayers have been such a disaster that an unspeakable outside possibility has now been raised: that the likely loss of his congressional majority may be followed by the loss of his job in two years.

The problem, in my opinion, is that many Americans, who sometimes coalesce under the Tea Party banner, still believe that it’s possible to kill our way out of this. If we can just start another war, the theory goes, or cut even deeper into services for children, old people and the poor, the old America will come right back, like the shining silver that emerges after a good polishing. By this analogy, the polish is spewing from the mouth of Glenn Beck, and being rubbed in by Sarah Palin on the campaign trail.

The right loves their “free market”—the idea that, if corporations are given godlike authority its workers and consumers, altruism and civic responsibility will trump the profit motive. Well, ask a Gulf fisherman about that, if you can find one. Having had the central theme of their ideology repudiated by those very markets, the right has found itself a new baby: Austerity. The Republicans of 2010 are running on one promise: to lower taxes for the rich, which is fair enough, but also to put the screws to the underclass like nothing this country has ever seen. Deregulated banks have pissed away the life’s savings of millions, and the only thing that appears to have been manifested by health care “reform” is the Manchurian Candidacy of Rick Scott.

It’s really depressing to think about—a truly hopeless situation. If Jeff Greene beats Kendrick Meek, thereby making Charlie Crist the hold-your-nose choice for US Senate, and Rick Scott beats Bill McCollum for the right to stomp Alex Sink for Governor, you can basically close the door on Florida for the next decade. Being a political junkie myself, I’ve been looking at the 2010 elections across the board, and unfortunately I can report that Florida is leading the nation in collective myopia, willful self-destruction and craven capitulation to the wave of Trojan Horse candidates that is flooding this country like a busted sewer line. But at least you can grow plants with sewage; the only things these guys can grow are gravestones.

Here in Jacksonville, which has already paid a terrible price for not taking this state over when we had the chance, the elections that follow in 2011 will basically mark the end of 30 years of our leaders making good faith efforts (however blatantly shady) to build up this city. It saddens me to think of all those dead (and dying) political giants that once walked among us, putting personal interest aside to do what’s right—or, at least, what they thought was right—for the people, and to know that in 20 years all of their names will have been effectively erased from history, as history itself is eclipsed by the exigencies of present-time or, as Obama puts it, “the fierce urgency of now”.

Today’s Florida kids will have to endure the kind of hardships that most of us have only read about on the “Internets” (Ted Stevens, RIP), and they will probably never know that none of it had to happen. But, like any generation facing existential crises, they will need scapegoats, and that dishonor belongs to those of us casting ballots in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Our terrible decision-making will have “forced” them into whatever fake choices they decide are necessary. I’d hate to be their parents!

sdh666@hotmail.com; August 16, 2010

Gusher In the Gulf, Pt. 1

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[Been a bit behind on the blogging. Catching up this weekend, starting with the first three installments of the “Gusher In the Gulf” series of Money Jungle columns written in recent weeks.]

Like all of you, this writer has watched events unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico for the past eight weeks with trepidation, to put it lightly. It is no accident that I have avoided public comment on the situation, across multiple media platforms, but serious talk has been going on across Internets—all of the Internets. It is yet another case where people would be generally alienated from the relevant facts, if they were entirely dependent on “traditional” media. I use quotes there because journalistic “tradition” once entailed doing your damn job and not deferring to personal interest.

But that was a long time ago, in glory days unlikely to return. It’s a new world, and despite our nation’s desperate clinging to the rudiments of 20th century political concepts, the world bypassed America years ago. Are we still Indispensable? Depends who you ask, and there are a lot of fishermen, and their families, who feel anything but indispensable lately. In fact, more and more people are starting to feel like they’ve been singled out for a special kind of suffering that the population at large has only lightly tasted. But more is coming, and we all need to know that.

This debacle functions on multiple levels, listed in no particular order: 1) As an ongoing environmental catastrophe, the full scope of which remains unknown; 2) It will destroy many careers associated with business in the region, cascading into realms not even considered relevant to the subject; 3) As the straw that breaks the backs of many Americans, busting up families and sending unknown numbers of our fellow citizens into early graves, while adding to the present climate of political instability; 4) As an overall humiliation for our entire US political system—neither a first, not a last.

Last, in this case, is certainly not least. Amidst all the other crises and crackups the current situation gets compared to—Katrina, 9/11, Three Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez—the most immediate is really the collapse of the US economy, formalized on Sept. 29, 2008. The antecedents of both went back many years, building to cataclysm in election years, and neither had to happen. The only reason that either of those tragedies happened is because the American people are gullible and corrupt. Blame the politicians all we want, blame the policies—we voted for them, and we endorse these policies every day with our own consumer dollars. We paid BP to destroy the Gulf.

I should point out that, despite the strong suggestions from President Obama and various officials of the affected states (led by Bobby Jindal and Bill McCollum), there is nothing compelling BP so far to take on more liability than they have, and no means to make them short of dropping the proverbial hammer. Our “leaders” appear almost scared of these guys, and maybe they should be. After all, they are complicit in all this. The true costs of our oil dependence, and its alternatives, have been concealed as blatantly as BP has lied about everything related to the Deepwater Horizon.

At its core, this Gusher In the Gulf is the most explicit representation yet of the lethal bargain humanity has made with itself. Our dependence on fossil fuels to power most of our civilization means death for this world, on a level beyond anything most of us have ever imagined. The blood of 20 people could fit in just one of those barrels now spilling out of a severed artery on the ocean floor. The ancients of South America called it “the blood of the Earth”, and for such insights their ancestors were exterminated. Their calendars, primitive yet futuristic at once, predicted catastrophe, and so it’s been. “Blood For Oil” means more now than ever before.

2012 isn’t far off now, and this year we finish electing the leaders who will be in office whenever whatever happens. Such as? Well, there’s the possibility that the leak is never plugged, and the oil destroys the Gulf and leeches out into the Atlantic, eventually doing the same to the east coast. Eventually it will contaminate freshwater supplies and exterminate the region’s multibillion-dollar seafood business. Subsequent failed attempts to plug the leak could make it worse, acclerating the process. And hurricane season brings a whole new set of challenges, but that’s another story.

The spill poses an imminent or potential threat to Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and, oh yeah, Haiti. Three of those countries were already in full-on crisis beforehand, and at least four were already hostile toward the US, and for good reason. Many of them offered help and were refused. And now, our corrupt, incompetent government may ruin their primary protein source, paralyzing core industries over a wide swath potentially reaching as far down as Brazil. This will centralize their hatred of America, and poison hemispheric relations for years to come—literally.

sdh666@hotmail.com; June 1, 2010

“Gusher In the Gulf”: BMac vs. BP, Pt. 3

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As noted elsewhere on this blog, Florida’s erstwhile Attorney General, former congressman Bill McCollum (R), has put himself firmly up front in taking the fight to British Petroleum on behalf of constituents slated to possibly lose everything as a result of the 4/20 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. He’d just recently sent BP officials a letter asking them to lift any and all caps on liability on their part for the damage caused by the oil spill, then followed that up (May 20) asking BP to assume liability for any damages that may occur if the oily Gulf waters are stirred up and thrown into the mainland by hurricane-force winds. (The Atlantic season begins in less than a week.)

After waiting four days to respond, BP’s Managing Attorney, Mark Holstein, dismissed the substance of McCollum’s concerns using the now-familiar tones of conceit and contempt that has defined his company’s public face during this crisis. “Your letter focuses on a concern that a hurrican event may result in oil washing further inland than otherwise would happen … Of course, we are not able to resolve today how BP would react to every hypothetical situation that might be considered in this regard,” he writes, before claiming theoretical obeisance to the outdated (and hopefully soon revised) Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

Whereas McCollum was once willing to express trust and confidence in BP, his response to Holstein, dated May 25, suggests that he now realizes what he’s dealing with–a concerted, top-down effort to cover-up the true extent of the damage, not to mention the increasing specter of real legal trouble for all companies involved. “I am … disturbed in both its tone and content,” McCollum writes. “The threat of oil being deposited inland by a tropical storm or hurricane is not a ‘hypothetical situation’ but an almost certainty. It is incredible that BP is not prepared to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the consequences of this devastating oil spill even at this late date.” He goes on to note “There is no statutory limit on BP’s liability for natural resource and other liability” under Florida Statutes.

As previously reported, that May 20 letter to BP referencing oil and hurricanes was the first formal acknowledgment of that awful possibility–an idea that has now attracted bipartisan concern. McCollum’s third letter to BP, dated May 25, raises a new and potentially explosive (literally) question: What is/was the extent of illegal labor activity in BP’s offshore business before and after the explosion? McCollum begins by referencing the case of 11 illegal aliens caught loading oil booms in Panama City May 19. They were apparently subcontracted through Eagle-SWS, a BP contractor based in Jacksonville. He notes that they were arrested for using stolen Social Security numbers on their applications–a crucial fact. Where did the stolen numbers come from? McCollum is probably looking into that right now.

“It is … essential that BP, to the maximum extent possible, retain local workers for response and recovery efforts, especially those whose livelihoods were disrupted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. For these individuals, the hiring of illegally present foreign nationals only serves to compound the economic catastrophe they are now experiencing.” Obviously, this is a big job, and the Gulf Coast needs all the able bodies it can muster for this hurculean clean-up effort; while one hopes the preference is given to the hundreds of thousands (at least) unemployed American laborers in the immediate vicinity, some of those job will inevitably go to illegals.

It’s unclear if Eagle-SWS was involved in any way in any of the work done on the rig. But if the job involved building materials (like concrete) in this region, odds are that illegals touched it at some point. If BP, Transocean, Halliburton or its contractors used a single illegal worker on the Deepwater Horizon, that is a huge  issue. If any illegals were involved in the actual work that led directly to the explosion (a matter still under investigation, assiduously blocked by BP), the legal issues for these companies increase exponentially. Other sources have noted that the foreign registrations of BP/Transocean, as well as the location of rig, left them with less regulatory oversight than American-based rigs; and, as is now clear, these companies violated what little regulations were in place.

This blog notes, at this point, that there were 126 workers officially on board the Deepwater Horizon when it blew up. 79 were employed by Transocean, 6 by BP, and 41 were contracted from elsewhere; all of them, particularly the 41 contract employees, maybe deserve another look by the relevant authorities. While the names of those killed were released, survivors have kept relatively quiet. One might assume the media would be quite eager to have any first-hand testimony or expertise at play. Instead, it’s as if anyone who ever worked an offshore rig started their summer vacations early. Also note that several BP executives were also on board the rig  at the time–celebrating its safety record, if such ironies are believable.

While McCollum’s own ambitions would have him elsewhere by the time legal maneuvers really get started, whomever holds the AG spot in 2011 will be poised to pursue massive civil and criminal charges against relevant personnel in the slimy stew of multinational corporations contributing to this debacle, which many have now declared to be the worst environmental catastrophe in American history. All things considered, we may all be lucky that the catastrophe wasn’t much worse than it turned out to be. And the fact that it could have been much worse should be reason enough for Americans to demand more oversight of these operations, literally from top to bottom.

sdh666@hotmail.com; May 26, 2010

“Gusher In the Gulf”: BMac vs BP, Part 2

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Americans’ understanding of the Deepwater Horizon debacle has evolved quite a bit over the last month since the rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. What was originally written off as an insignificant trickle of negligible volume (and not even publicly announced until two days after it began) is now widely recognized as a catastrophe of near-boundless scope. Even the best efforts of BP to cover-up the reality of what has occurred, among the other corporations with a piece of this action–like Transocean, Hyundai, Halliburton, Nalco, Goldman Sachs and others–have failed to obscure what should now be obvious: Massive environmental destruction is upon us, and this is happening because of the corruption of these companies and the elected officials they’ve bribed into submission.

Even President Obama, who is legally empowered to immediately sweep in and take control of a disaster of this scale, has been looking extremely weak on the issue, as Congress scrambles to obscure their own complicity in allowing BP officials to believe they could flout  the conditions of their lease with impunity. It appears, so far, that they were right, but that has been widely documented elsewhere.

Florida’s Attorney General, Bill McCollum, was just one of the public officials to be embarrassed by BP in the early days of the debacle. When McCollum endorsed BP’s efforts at a) cleaning up the spill, and b) fairly compensating Floridians who stand to lose billions, he did so based on a conference call with AGs from Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi and cursory tour of the site. He was probably unaware, at the time, that BP was actively covering their own asses as he spoke; they made him look like he’d been paid off, which surely rankled.

McCollum has long been known as one of those pols who is always looking to move up. Barely an electoral cycle goes by without McCollum standing for some spot or other; he forfeited a very successful 20-year career in the House of Representatives to run, unsuccessfully, for the Senate seat won by Bill Nelson in 2000; four years later, he failed to win the seat won by Mel Martinez. As AG, he succeeded the much-maligned yet remarkably resilient Charlie Crist, who’s spent all year running for the Senate and has shown almost no tangible leadership during what should be a career-defining moment. Crist is certainly no Bobby Jindal–but Jindal, being an eyewitness to the post-Katrina fallout that tanked a number of political careers in his state, knows better than be project weakness (or, worse, distraction) in a crisis.

Of course, like his boss McCollum is also trying to do one job while running for another–Governor, again, this time against Florida CFO Alex Sink. His early, stupid endorsement of BP could have ended those aspirations, if our whole political system weren’t already greasy from BP’s largess. He has since reversed himself, in the grand Florida tradition, taking a position more like his original one: Don’t Trust BP!

To that end, he sent a letter to CEO Jack Lynch, dated May 20. He’s basically putting it out there now that the Gulf will still be full of oil as the summer hurrican season begins on June 1. Such a combination of potential factors has no known precedent, and it’s highly proactive of McCollum to put BP on the spot in advance about their massive potential liability. It’s worth noting, though, that at this writing BP has still not formally signed anything eliminating the existing cap on liability; that no one has yet forced them is, at best, suspicious.

BP Plays “Hide the Liability”, re: Gulf Coast

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The explosion that destroyed Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig and sent millions of gallons of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, where it currently threatens the livelihoods of thousands who make their living off the region’s fabled seafood life, has barely been investigated by authorities who are still powerless to stop the oil spill, nevermind discern its actual cause. As such, most of what the American People need to know remains unknown–the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns, to paraphrase former SecDef “Rummy” Rumseld.

These two seemingly contradictory press releases issued through the office of Bill McCollum, the Attorney General of Florida, point to the fundamental shadiness of the whole situation. On the 4th, McCollum clearly states that Floridians should “not … sign any settlement documents from any companies or corporations” until they know the full extent of what remains inestimable damage from a spill that hasn’t fully impacted land yet. By the 6th, McCollum has spoken with British Petroleum and basically endorsed the company’s settlement efforts, even though the company had not yet legally codified the non-cap on claims.

In other words, BP may be encouraging people to make settlement claims based on early, unvetted estimates, allowing them to pay citizens off for far less than their real damages may amount to. By the time the full scope of the damage is understood, BP, Transocean, Halliburton and other culpable parties may be able to offset their expenses based on claims already paid out. And you can be sure that the relevant paperwork–which McCollum wisely advised people not to sign, at first–will contain legally-binding language a) prohibiting revealing of key details about the claim, and b) indemnifying BP against any future lawsuits by the signee, which amounts to a cap on claims.

All this will enable a coverup that began while the initial fire was still burning, a process of concealing not only the cause of an explosion that killed 11 people, but also an environmental catastrophe that may severely undermine the currently fruitless efforts to reverse the declining US economy. Note that McCollum’s flip-flop developed after a conference call that also included the Attorney Generals of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, which means BP may have already gone a long way toward protecting their interests–and that’s more than can be said for the citizens of those states.

May 4, 2010
ATTORNEY GENERAL: FLORIDIANS AFFECTED BY DEEPWATER HORIZON OIL SPILL SHOULD BE BEWARE OF FRAUD

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Attorney General Bill McCollum today issued a consumer advisory regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident, encouraging Floridians to call the Attorney General’s fraud hotline at 1-866-966-7226 to report any incidents of fraud. Earlier today, Attorney General McCollum visited the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center in Pensacola and the Deepwater Horizon Unified Area Command Center in Mobile for briefings on emergency preparedness efforts in response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Today, I witnessed first-hand the catastrophic oil spill sitting just off Florida’s coastline,” said Attorney General McCollum. “As state officials and residents prepare for the impacts the Deepwater Horizon spill is expected to bring to Florida’s sensitive coastal areas and the state’s economy, my office will continue providing as much information as possible to Floridians so they can protect themselves and their rights from various types of fraud related to this disastrous spill.”

The Attorney General McCollum also cautioned all Florida residents to not waive any rights or sign any settlement documents from any companies or corporations until they know the full extent of their loss, which may be significantly higher than the money being offered initially. The Attorney General noted that these offers could be premature or even fraudulent.

Additionally, in what could be one of the most significant environmental clean-ups in Florida’s history, Attorney General McCollum clarified that Florida statutes provide no cap on recoveries related to natural resources. During the past weekend, Attorney General McCollum met with the Attorneys General of Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi to discuss a number of legal options to ensure costs and damages to Gulf coast states, businesses and residents are recouped.

Consumers can contact the Attorney General’s Fraud Hotline by calling the Attorney at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226) or by visiting the Attorney General’s website at http://www.myfloridalegal.com. Additional information on the State Emergency Response Team’s response efforts can be found at http://www.floridadisaster.org.

May 6, 2010
ATTORNEY GENERAL: BP AMERICA PROMISES QUICK, EFFICIENT CLAIMS PROCESS WITH NO CAPS ON PAYOUT

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced that the Attorneys General of the Gulf Coast states have been assured by the General Counsel of BP America that the company will memorialize its commitment to pay whatever is necessary to clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as well as to compensate the states and their citizens and businesses for any losses due to the spill. The Attorneys General were also provided with detailed information about the claims process for the individuals and small businesses impacted by the approaching oil spill.

“What happened at the Deepwater Horizon oil well was a tragedy, not only in that human life was lost, but also because of the devastating impacts this event will likely have on our environment and economy for years to come,” said Attorney General McCollum. “BP has assured us it will do whatever it takes to make our states and their citizens whole, and I encourage them to continue working diligently to make the claims process expedient and efficient so our citizens and businesses can see immediate relief.”

On a lengthy conference call with the Attorneys General of Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, the General Counsel for BP America outlined the action items the company would take at the request of the Attorneys General. The company will respond immediately to yesterday’s letter from the Attorneys General, memorializing the commitment to cover all costs of the incident, without regard to any potentially applicable statutory caps on recoveries. The company will also provide a written summary of the claims process to allow states to educate their citizens and businesses about how to make quick and efficient claims.

BP America has stated that checks for claims will be sent out within 48 hours of the initial claim report. Daily reports on the claims received and processed will also be provided to the states for review. The toll-free number for the Claims Line is 1-800-440-0858, and more information is available online at http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com

Sunshine State vs. Silver State

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[Attorney General Bill McCollum has continued apace with the pretty good work done by his predecessor, Charlie Crist (whose mostly absentee performance as Governor/perpetual candidate) in combating social predators, human traffickers and profiteering insurance. He has settled nicely into his best niche since Congress. This press release is reprinted in full, because it’s such a wild story.

On the larger scale, I’m disappointed that Obama hasn’t canceled student loan debt as part of the stimulus plan, since that money represents just a drop in the bucket of larger debt issues, yet still such a big part of the debt-load accrued by an increasing number of young workers. Recent studies indicate that the average college graduate earns his or her B.A. at a cost of $20,000 in student loan debt. With tuitions increasing throughout the decade for colleges, universities and even community colleges and trade schools, those numbers are likely to increase, especially as financial institutions and the federal government curbs its largesse in response to the economic collapse.

The Florida AG’s office, BTW, can be followed, on Twitter.]

For Immediate Release
October 27, 2009

Contact: Sandi Copes
Phone: 850.245.0150
Sandi.Copes@myfloridalegal.com

FLORIDA LEADS MULTISTATE SETTLEMENT WITH STUDENT LOAN PROVIDER
~ Settlement resolves issues related to now-defunct helicopter training school ~

TALLAHASSEE, FL –Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced that Florida and 11 other states have obtained a settlement with a private student loan provider, resolving an 18-month multistate investigation. Student Loan Xpress, a subsidiary of CIT Group, will forgive a total of $112.8 million in debt for students who obtained private educational loans to attend a now-defunct helicopter training school, Silver State Helicopters, LLC. Florida was the lead state in the investigation and the settlement negotiations; Florida victims will have over $17 million in student loans forgiven.

“This is an excellent resolution for those students whose dreams of flying were grounded, but who were still stuck with student loans to pay back,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Silver State Helicopters began operating in 2002 as a small helicopter pilot training school and ultimately operated 34 flight schools throughout the country with a total of 2,700 enrolled students. For at least two years, Student Loan Xpress served as the preferred student lender for Silver State Helicopters, providing approximately $174 million to over 2,300 students nationwide. Records showed that only a small percentage of students graduated and drop-out rates were exceptionally high.

By 2008, Silver State Helicopters had discontinued operations entirely and had filed for bankruptcy. Most students were left owing Student Loan Xpress a substantial amount of debt for training and certifications they never received. The Florida Attorney General’s Office received over 300 complaints about the company’s bankruptcy and the student loans still owed. Silver State had school locations in Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale, Lakeland, and Melbourne with at least 375 Florida students.

The settlement requires Student Loan Xpress forgive 75 percent of the total amount borrowed to the majority of Silver State Helicopters students. The percentage of loan forgiveness for the remaining students will vary by the amount of training each successfully completed.

In addition to the loan forgiveness, the agreement includes several terms of injunctive relief which will preclude Student Loan Xpress from providing negative information about students who failed to make payments on their loans prior to the settlement to any credit reporting agencies with. Further, in situations where Student Loan Xpress acts as the exclusive private loan provider for students of a private post-secondary, trade or vocational institution not certified or accredited by state of federal authorities, the company must provide written disclosures to each
prospective student-borrower stating the loans do not constitute an endorsement of the school, its principals, or the quality of education or training offered.

A related national private class action settlement was also today filed in Federal court in Florida.