DAVID LALLY: Welcome to “The Brian Buffini Show,” where we explore the mindsets, motivation and methodologies of success. My name is David Lally, I’m the producer of the show. I know we may be in challenging times, but that’s just why we’ve been working on shows to keep us upbeat and focused on the good stuff. Let’s listen in.
BRIAN BUFFINI: Well, the top of the morning to you. Welcome to “The Brian Buffini Show.” We have a very special guest on our program today. He is the Attorney General of the great state of Nevada. Dr. Aaron Ford is a man who has come from very humble beginnings and just really has a resume that if we took the entire 30 minutes today, I could spend the 30 minutes on his tremendous success.
He’s married with four kids. He’s coached soccer, which is probably closest to my heart, graduated from Texas A&M, and has his JD and his PhD from the Ohio State University. He’s been the majority leader and the minority leader, the Assistant Majority Whip in Nevada, and now is the Attorney General.
We just thought it would be a great idea to have General Ford on today to talk about many of the issues that many people in many states are facing, and perhaps get this very specific focus from the perspective of an attorney general, what’s actually happening behind the scenes, what’s taking place, and then ultimately, some of the things we need to be aware of, especially in the real estate side of things and also be aware of some of the scams that are out there and things like that, obviously.
When there’s a crisis, a lot of the bad guys try to take advantage of the situation too. Attorney General Ford, we’re just really honored to have you on the program today. Thanks for joining us.
AARON FORD: I’m happy to be here, Brian. Thanks so much for having me.
BUFFINI: Great. I’d like to dive in. Nevada hasn’t been the hottest spot in the entire country for the coronavirus, but like everyone else, you’ve had to have your share of challenges here, very serious challenges with this pandemic. Can you tell us what your office has been doing to protect the people in your state? Give us a little perspective on how the Attorney General’s Office works.
FORD: Absolutely. Again, Brian, thanks for having me on. It’s an important conversation to be having, among all types of industries. It’s great to be on to discuss this. You’re right. Nevada has been hit quite hard with the COVID-19 scenario and our office has been, to use a phrase most folks are familiar with now, an essential operation, if you will. Our folks have remained on call although we’ve been teleworking for the last few months.
We’ve not had a shortage of work, whether it’s dealing with price fixing or price gouging, I should say, whether it’s dealing with probably near and dear to your listening audience’s heart. Evictions and foreclosure issues both from the tenant side but also from the landlord and mortgage holder side, or whether it’s just dealing with scams and fraud attempts that are coming up through the internet and otherwise, our office has been intimately engaged in protecting a residence here in the state.
BUFFINI: I’m sure at times you feel like you’re putting your finger in the dike, because the crooks can be very creative. I’m sure they’re coming up with new scams by the day. Let me ask you this, how you are guys coordinating this with everybody working from home?
FORD: As you indicated, most of the places, they happen to find ways to accommodate the new reality we’re now in. One of the things that we did early on was to start developing a plan that would allow the approximate 400 folks in my office to be flexible with their work schedules. For the latter part of the month of March, through the beginning of April, we still had some coming into the office. As the pandemic continued to worsen, we had to develop a plan that allowed folks to either take administrative leave or to telework from home, which meant obviously working within the government confines of VPNs and our internet and everything else.
Those are not just confines, those are constraints at some level. The vast majority of our folks that are now working from home are able to utilize a VPN, virtual private networks, to log in to continue to do the work. We’re still at the beck and call of our clients. We represent every administrative agency in the state.
I personally am counsel to the governor and the other constitutional offices. We have to take the opportunity to jump on the call, to engage in emails and to correspondence back and forth, to do research, to grab those documents, directives, in particular for this particular scenario. It’s been an interesting change, if you will, in the way that we have to do work. I think we’ve been effective at it and we continue to do the job that the state requires.
BUFFINI: It’s fascinating times. I know, in helping the governor out, these governors all have to make so many tough decisions every day. A dilemma is a choice between two undesirables, and it seems like every day there’s undesirable decisions that have to be made one way or the other. It’s very difficult times.
Let me ask you this. You know, there are a lot of little scams out there. There’s also big scams. There’s scams that are coming into real estate now, especially the wire transfers, and we have issues going on with title and things like that. What can our audience do and who can people look to if they feel have been approached with somebody with a fraudulent product or service or something that smells like a scam to them?
FORD: Well, I appreciate that opportunity to pitch our 800 hotline number and our website. The 800 number for all complaints, whether it be from individuals from businesses, is 888-434-9989. Again, that’s 888-434-9989, or you can go to our website at ag.nv.gov, and you can file a complaint. Our jurisdiction is not plenary within our state, but we work with all the other agencies in our state.
If we need to direct someone or redirect someone to a different agency, whether it be the federal agency or a local police affiliate, then we can do that as well. In fact, we’re working with the US Attorney right now, Nick Trutanich and I have a great working relationship. We have developed a COVID-19 scam clearinghouse of sort passports where my office is engaged, the US Attorney’s Office is engaged, the DEA is engaged, other law enforcement agencies are engaged.
In my office itself is serving as a clearinghouse where we will receive these complaints to the 800 number that I just relayed to you. It will be the online complaint system there. Depending upon whose jurisdiction that particular complaint falls, we will direct the complaint that way or otherwise utilize our resources to assist in these types of areas. That’s the best way to get in touch with us.
Now, I have a lot of social media friends on Facebook and on Twitter and on whatever the case may be. I get a lot of DMs or personal messages. Let me say that is not the best way to get your situation addressed. I do endeavor to respond when I can, but trust me, that is not the best way. What you should do is call 888-434-9989 or visit our website at ag.nv.gov. You can click on the complaint link. We will try to take it from there.
BUFFINI: Good. No DMs, call the hotline. That’s the rule.
FORD: It does not go down in my DM.
BUFFINI: We all love to visit Vegas. I’ve probably, I don’t know, at conferences-wise, I think I’ve done over 100 conferences, spoken at or held in the city of Las Vegas. It’s a very important city to the United States and to the world. It’s right dab in the heart of Nevada there. Obviously, COVID-19 poses a very unique threat to that particular city being as that people come from all over the country and all over the world. Where do you think we are? Is it a standing eight count for the city of Las Vegas, or is it more serious than that?
FORD: Our state motto is the “Battle Born State.” We live and die by that, and more living than die, I’m happy to say. The issue here is obviously affecting everybody in our state, brothers, sisters, families, friends, and co-workers. Nevada, especially Las Vegas, has been dealt with, and especially top below because of the industries that are being affected here. Our entertainment industry has been put on hold. Casinos have been closed, restaurants have been shuttered and concerts have been canceled. Obviously, the lifeblood is something that we’re quite concerned about.
I’m proud to say that through it all, Nevadans are working together, they’re helping each other through these unprecedented times. We are working together to create and to find safety measures. Our hotels are finding ways to provide safe environments for their guests. Many have already come forward and back with plans to lower their capacity, to screen at their doors, to power down adjacent slot machines, for example, and to take extra cleaning measures to keep their guests healthy and safe.
Frankly, I anticipate they will continue to enforce these measures for as long as they’re needed. It’s going to take some time, but I think that Las Vegas will come back as strong as ever.
BUFFINI: Timetables are impossible. It seems like everything’s week-by-week. When do you think a convention might be held back in Las Vegas again?
FORD: I’m fond of, these days, having to say, “That’s not my cheese.” In other words, that’s above my paygrade. What I can say is this, I know that the governor and all of the other decision-makers in this particular arena are governed by and looking at the medical professionals for information on how best to proceed. Every decision that the governor has made that helps to advise on, is based on the best way to mitigate.
I use the word “mitigate” purposefully because clearly, it’s not eliminate. We can’t eliminate the threat of COVID-19 and the coronavirus, but we can mitigate it. Closing down casinos early on, to reduce the opportunities for social interaction is something that we did to mitigate, to the greatest extent possible, the spread of this particular disease. Looking at what the medical professionals are telling us has led us to the ability of being able to enter a phase one. I put that in quotes as the governor has called it and the road to recovery, where certain establishments are being able to, or being allowed to open it at different levels of capacity with strict social distancing guidelines being in place.
That’s going to continue being the case. I don’t know what the timeline looks like. The timeline is going to be dictated by how whale Nevadans continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines and sanitary restrictions or suggestions, and how frequently we are able to look at a trend and see it going downward. That’d be patient with it, understanding that lives are more important than profits. That’s something that, I think, most Nevadans have taken to heart.
BUFFINI: In talking about Nevada, talking about the state, during the 2008 mortgage meltdown, and there are just severe rash of foreclosures and short sales all over North America, Nevada had gone through a precipitous expansion. It was somewhat exposed and really the state got hit hard and almost harder than anybody in a lot of ways. From the past housing crisis to the lessons of where we are today with an economic crisis, that’s come from a health crisis, what lessons do you think there are from the past challenges we have with foreclosures and short sales and a housing crisis that we can learn and bring forward to today?
FORD: Absolutely. You’re right. When the previous housing crisis hit, it hit Nevada and every state around the country hard. Countless Nevadans were living paycheck to paycheck then, and they lost their homes. Many people thought that the devastation to the market could not be undone. You saw the onset of foreclosure mediation program that was developed legislatively.
They began to try to serve as a mediator, if you will, between banks and homeowners to try to rectify those situations. We had to come up with some trade ways to address that issue. This crisis or that crisis is not unlike what we’re facing now. We have parents sitting around the kitchen table, wondering how they’re going to continue to feed their families. Once again, we are having people losing their homes and faced with eviction. We anticipate that happening now. Right now, we are in the middle of a moratorium on both evictions and foreclosures, but we know post-mortal and we’re going to see more than likely an onslaught of evictions and or foreclosures.
We’re looking to fine, proactive ways to address that. The governor, my office, we’ll do everything we can to help with these individuals right now, and the families with the statewide eviction moratorium plan, as I’ve indicated, as well as utilizing my settlement funds. I say my, I mean the Attorney General’s office settlement funds, with rental assistance funding. I think that one of the lessons that we take away from the last crisis is that, although it will take time, we will recover.
Something positive that resulted from the previous housing crisis arose through the mortgage settlement program from they’ve worked 2012. That’s when a coalition of 49 different attorneys general and DC, and the federal government announced a historic joint settlement of $25 billion to address mortgage servicing, foreclosure issues and bankruptcy abuses. We settled with the conscious buyer of the largest mortgage services back then.
We were able to develop a program called Home Again. We are in the midst of revamping their program and getting it ready for being utilized in the aftermath of this particular crisis as well. Those are some of the things that happened the last four rounds that are helpful to this go around. The final thing I’ll say on this note is that, it’s an “all hands on deck” approach.
My office has already engaged in a task force or working group with organizations, such as the REALTORS® association locally, the apartment association. We’re working with the culinary union, we’re working with the State Treasurer’s Office with legal aid and several other entities to see if we can come up with, again, proactive solutions to what we anticipate happening in the aftermath of this particular pandemic.
BUFFINI: I think about this is Home Again program, you guys got 49 attorney generals to agree on something. That’s got to be a historic experience to start with.
FORD: Sometimes I have a hard time convincing myself, so you’re right.
BUFFINI: No, that’s awesome. It looks like that a version of that, or — did that program just never go away, or is that program getting revitalized?
FORD: No, It hasn’t gone away. We’ve been able to keep it moving through settlement funds that were secured through that last program that I just announced to you. If you would allow me just a couple of minutes to talk about the program a little bit more. What do we do at Home Again? Nevada Homeowner Relief Program, it’s a free public service that’s sponsored by my office and it helps educate Nevadans on housing resources they can be available to them. It also provides a variety of helpful services.
The program is a partnership between my office, the Office of Attorney General, Money Management International, Nevada legal services, Legal Aid of Southern Nevada, and other participating entities, including HUD. The program is designed for those planning to buy first home, those seeking credit restoration, which after in the aftermath of this, this is going to be that much more important, those also looking to modify their home loan, which again, is going to be something important for us to consider, the aftermath of this pandemic.
It’s also designed as a program that can assist with first time home buyer education. It can see if you are eligible for down payment assistance. There’s a different 800 number or 855 number that I’ll offer to your listening audience right now, but Home Again hotline, and that’s (855) 457-4638. Again, (855) 457-4638. I commend that number to your listening audience to share with others who may be in need of the homemaking program.
BUFFINI: Sure. Well, and obviously we’re out there trying to support the housing community. We’ll keep pumping those numbers out and keep them off your DMs. That’s the goal.
FORD: Thank you.
BUFFINI: It’s interesting. We interviewed Dr. Carson with HUD a few weeks ago. It’s been interesting to see just how aware and how connected people in government are to the housing market and its influence and importance. It’s interesting at this time that it’s the stay-at-home orders and, I think, people’s homes and where they live and where they rent has become even more crucial and more vital to people during this pandemic than maybe even before. It’s become the lifeboat, the safe haven.
I think any measures we can take to support people in their housing and support people to feel secure in their house, I think, is a very powerful thing. I appreciate all your guys’ efforts. In fact, I saw something here, explain this one to me, that you guys were able to give $2 million to the United Way to help with emergency rental assistance. How did that work?
FORD: No, thank you for highlighting that. Before I answer that, I also want to give credit where it’s due as the governor was working on thinking through different ways that we can assist Nevadans. By Nevadans, I don’t mean just individuals, I mean our companies through as well. We brought in proactively of the realtor’s group, the apartment association, and came up with language that we thought would be helpful during the pandemic.
Again, we’re working right now proactively with those same groups, because we understand that this is a burden for everybody. That would be eviction moratorium and the foreclosure moratorium applied not only to individuals, but it applies to businesses as well. That’s something that you should also let your business owners know about to the extent that they are having problems. This applies to them.
Moving to your question. Yes, you’re right. We use settlement funds to provide $2 million to the United Way, which is essentially serving as an administrator. They have doled this money out to Northern and Southern and rural and urban Nevada, the different entities that are now helping with rental assistance programs. The public health emergency is also an economic emergency for hundreds of thousands of Nevadans. I’ll dry every corner of the state, though recognizing that thousands of Nevadans have lost their jobs, that they’ve been furloughed or they’ve had their hours drastically cut, do the no part of their own.
We developed this program that allows different entities to distribute monies through preexisting programs that exist. You can click to the United Way’s website. They have a delineated list of entities that received these funds that had already had preexisting rental assistance program available to residents in our state. Now, those monies have been augmented by $2 million from settlement funds that my office had secured.
BUFFINI: You may or may not know this, but is that something United Way is doing throughout the country and working with organizations and state agencies like yourself?
FORD: Well, I don’t know if the United Way’s elsewhere. This was something that my office extended to the United Way. I’m starting to other attorney general offices throughout the state that are looking for partnerships with other nonprofit and media-based organizations. That’s probably what’s happening right now. Elsewhere, I don’t know if it’s with United Way particularly, but —
Brian: Well, it’ll be a resource for our folks to go research. If they’ve got folks they need to help out and get information too, that’s another great source. I got to tell you this. I’ve looked at the list of all the things your office has done, remarkable stuff on behalf of your constituents, but I’m a son of a house painter. I’m an immigrant from Ireland. I’m a fifth-generation house painter.
I said to my wife a few weeks ago, I said, “Do you know who has a lot of this PPE or the paint companies?” I said, “I wonder if anybody’s doing that.” I saw on this, you have this great list of things you’ve done, and all these things you’ve done with the treasury on behalf of your constituents and whatever else. I thought, you went to Sherwin-Williams and got PPE from Sherwin-Williams paint company to the first responders. Now, I just dig that idea. I got to tell you, because I was saying the same thing to my wife. How did you guys come up with that idea?
FORD: Frankly, it’s through preexisting relationships and it’s all about cultivating relationships with folks. Some of the folks that I knew from Sherwin-Williams and I had a conversation. Sherwin-Williams, obviously, as paint or organization, has a lot of these things, these masks and whatnot, so they reached out looking for opportunities to work with us. They were able to deliver 5,000 units of gloves and masks. I was able to facilitate back going out through our National Guard and being distributed to first responders throughout the state. It was a great opportunity for participation and for assistance to folks in our state. We appreciate Sherwin-Williams for doing that. They didn’t have to.
There was also another example of Aaron’s Rents or Aaron’s Incorporated, which runs Aaron’s rental, furniture rentals throughout the country, and I and my office working together to deliver 500 mattresses to shelters throughout our state, whether they were homeless shelters or shelters to protect victims and survivors of domestic violence, or other types of shelters out there. We were able to facilitate the delivery of 500 brand new mattresses, the box springs and whatnot. We’re working with other organizations as well.
I’ll have to leave their to name just until we roll out the program. There are a lot of opportunities for public-private partnerships. Building on these relationships that I have personally cultivated or my office has cultivated with other entities over time, I think, is an important opportunity that we can capitalize on to help Nevada.
BUFFINI: Sure. I think you’re touching on something. I think there will be things that bounce back to some form of normalcy at Lord willing at some point in time, but there’s going to be some things that are changed. There, I think we’re going to see more people working from home. We think other zoom-type technologies are going to continue to grow and another seven or eight different types of organizations out there to provide that.
Also, this whole dynamic of public and private partnerships seems to have expanded significantly where companies that are typically for-profit and or trying to drive shareholder value or whatever else or just independent smaller businesses like myself, are looking for ways to help and give.
All of a sudden there’s this connection been made, which is bringing the entrepreneurial people and the governmental folks together. That’s kind of oil and water for a long time, but seems like in this “all hands on deck,” I think this is going to be something that continues on. In some regards for a lot of years after this, I think there’ll be a lot of good from it. That’s good stuff.
FORD: I couldn’t agree more.
BUFFINI: That’s great. You’ve got a lot of work to do. Governor’s going to put up the bat light for you. It’s probably in the next 10 minutes here there for you, come and do your next job here. I have a couple of questions here. The Department of Homeland Security has designated real estate as an essential service because many people are in a position where they most buy or sell a home. Do you have any advice for the folks dealing with the pandemic and just a very uncertain market from the consumer side and the real estate community that’s trying to help them?
FORD: I do. Again, this gives me an opportunity to thank realtors in particular for a more recent directive that came out. My time is starting to get lost on it, but maybe in by three weeks or so we put out a new directive the governor did. They had talked about real estate and the sale of homes during this time period and restrictions that they needed to go into place to again protect against improper social distancing and things of that sort. Open houses for example, where we’re limited and we worked specifically with the Realtors Association to develop language to still allow the virtual showing of homes during this period.
It’s just great to go back to something you said a minute ago, be able to work with organizations on a proactive and on a way that’s beneficial to all Nevadans including our businesses. To your question, I think we’re all in new territory here, and with other natural disasters that just hurricanes or earthquakes, we have an idea of what the devastation will be like and how a community will take to respond and to rebuild, because the coronavirus is so novel, it’s difficult to predict what the long-term effects are going to be in this circumstance.
We’re still learning on how to respond. I know a lot of real estate agents are offering, as I’ve indicated, virtual tours now and based-time tool, the homes and whatnot. They’re continuing to work remotely in order to buy and sell properties until it’s safe to go back to their job site. We’re all having to make these adjustments to the way we work and how we run offices in business, in our family lives. Again, kudos to the Realtors Association, a local winning and certainly the national ones that have also been doing this to find ways to work with government as we continue to try to cope with this pandemic.
BUFFINI: You bet. Well, we appreciate that. It has been inspiring to see the real estate community just stepping up. We’re not just focused on making sales but on serving and giving back and being there, a voice of value, and connecting people. On a national level, we had Shannon McGahn, who’s NAR’s advocate on Capitol Hill, just advocating for people in general, small business people, and how to support, and then getting the information out to agents to try to support their customers.
It’s been Trojan work all around. Just as we finish up here, what advice do you have or message that you have to anyone out there who’s struggling with this pandemic, whether it be they’ve lost their job, they owned a restaurant, their business is down, what encouragement do you have for somebody as we finish up here today?
FORD: Look, if I can pass on message to every Nevadan out there, every American, every individual and family out there that’s struggling with their health or struggling with their finances, or struggling in general through this uncertainty, I would say that our communities are working hard each day, doing everything in our power to get us through this. We’re all going through this together. I’m reminded of my frequent trips to my local grocery stores in town. My wife sometimes will order the food for me to go pick up.
You can pull in and they will bring the food out to your car. This is one lady there, her name is Kathy. Kathy has on several occasions brought our groceries out. The first time I saw her, she looked exasperated. She was tired, she had been working all day. This is at the beginning of the pandemic. I greeted her and I thanked her for what she was doing. She just opened up and began to share with me that, I was at that point, one of the first in a while who had given her some pleasant interaction. It just dawned to me, we all need to understand that we’re going through this together, be nice to each other.
There’s no need for us to compound the issues that we are experiencing right now by being nasty toward one another. We know who the essential workers are now and they’re getting paid minimum wage oftentimes. The reason we recognize the work that they’re putting in, the exposure that they’re placing themselves in, so that we can at the “comfort” of being able to stay home for it in Nevada in this instance. Franklin D Roosevelt once said that, “If you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
BUFFINI: Yes, sir.
FORD: I’ll quote him and say, we’ll get through this and let’s be nice to each other as we do it.
BUFFINI: You bet. People are pulling together. Even when they’re acting wrong — I don’t know if you saw the story in Massachusetts where an ice cream store opened up after being shut for eight weeks and they’re doing the social distancing. People are looking forward to their favorite ice cream store, but it’s not the same as it was. They’re socially distancing, it’s taken more time. People were pretty rough on this 17-year-old gal behind the counter. They were giving her grief and yadi-yada and all this pent-up frustration that people feel. Well, at the end of the day, this gal quits and the ice cream the store owner goes, “I’m shutting it down until you people are nice.”
The story goes viral, and that gal, the local community put $30,000 into our college fund.
FORD: Oh my God.
BUFFINI: Sweet little African American gal, one of seven kids, busting her butt in this ice cream store, high schooler, and people weren’t treating her great, then here’s the rest of the community comes along and puts 30 grand in our college fund. I think, to echo you, we’re all a little wrapped a little tight right now. Even when we get back to things we know, it won’t be quite the same. We need to be patient. Love is patient, love is kind and we need to be patient. We need to be kind. We’re all in this together. I appreciate you.
I appreciate you being on this with us today. I appreciate your story. I know we didn’t get into it too much. You’re a guy that’s just made himself into a real special performer and achiever. You’ve devoted your life to public service. I’m a guy, came to America with 92 bucks in my wallet. I went the entrepreneurial route. The fact of the matter is, it’s still America, it’s still the best country in the world.
BUFFINI: It will be again. We appreciate people like you holding the fort down, watching our backs, making the wheels of commerce go and keeping us safe on the legal side of things. We really appreciate you and your team and what you’re doing for Nevada. We’re hoping to host a conference in Las Vegas as soon as they let us.
BUFFINI: Many people who’ve benefited from doing business in Vegas and in Nevada are looking to contribute back to that economy at some point in time. As soon you let us, we’ll be there.
FORD: Brian, I appreciate the opportunity. Thanks so much, man. Looking forward to seeing him.
BUFFINI: You bet. Look forward to seeing you in person. Thanks for being on our show today. Well, many thanks again to Dr. Ford. I don’t know about you, but it’s encouraging and comforting to know that there are extraordinary people like Aaron Ford behind the scenes there, being the Attorney General for the folks in Nevada. He mentioned a number of programs connected for Nevada, every state and province in Canada, these services exist. What I heard was, “Go and find the 800 numbers of your state Attorney General’s office regarding these same issues and reach out and go on the websites of your state government,” and that these folks are here to help, and that they have staff to help.
For me personally, I’ve never reached out to a politician in 33 years of living in America, but during this time when the CARES Act was coming on and other issues going on, I’ve reached out and talked to a whole bunch of people in the political realm and in the governmental realm. Again, it’s to connect and to advocate and to make sure that people are aware of things that are going on. Again, if any of the programs that we mentioned in this episode today fit your bill and you’re not in Nevada, go to your local.gov and go and see the numbers that are there regarding the same issues that Dr. Ford brought up.
I hope you enjoyed this today. I hope it’s beneficial. I hope you feel a sense of confidence and comfort to know there’s people on the wall, holding the spears that got our back. I think that’s a great thing. Let me finish up the way my mom always taught me to do, and that’s, may the roads rise up to meet you, may the wind always be at your back. May the rain fall soft upon your fields and the sunshine warm upon your face.
Until we meet again, I hope we all know that even in the midst of this virus, God has us all in the hollow of his hand. We’ll see you next time.