03/31/04 — Cooper keeps busy as Attorney General

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Cooper keeps busy as Attorney General

By Don McLoud
Published in News on March 31, 2004 2:06 PM

From prosecuting bad guys to trying to clean the air, Roy Cooper finds that being the state attorney general means being involved in just about every issue that affects the state.

Many North Carolinians know him from his television commercials where he tells people they can protect themselves from telemarketers by signing up for the "do not call" registry. During a visit to the Goldsboro Rotary Club on Tuesday, Cooperrattled off a list of many other projects his office is involved in.

One of the biggest problems he sees, one that is growing each day, is not just annoying telemarketers, but crooked ones. The state is seeing an increase in telemarketers who are obtaining information about people and then stealing their money.

By getting Social Security numbers and other information that should be kept confidential, these con artists are able to use someone's identity to empty bank accounts, apply for credit cards and perpetrate other fraudulent activities.

Cooper says that people should never give out their Social Security numbers over the phone. He also recommends buying a shredder and using it on any financial documents, old receipts and even all those pre-approved credit card applications. All of those documents have information that could lead to identity theft.

The manufacture and sale of methamphetamine is another growing crime he is concerned about. The drug makes people violent and paranoid, and the chemicals used to make it are highly flammable and can cause explosions.

The fumes from these chemicals are toxic, and the labs where the drug is made become hazardous-waste sites.

So far, one methamphetamine lab has been found in Wayne, but Cooper noted that eight such labs have been found in neighboring Johnston County, and 177 have been found in the state.

"We have to be ready for this new scourge," he said.

Along with crime, Cooper's office has become involved in environmental protection. North Carolina is enforcing rules that require its coal-burning power plants to reduce emissions by 70 percent.

But he said that many other states, whose air pollution drifts into North Carolina, are not following the same rules. So he has filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require 13 other states "to clean up their act as well."

Another project Cooper is involved in is getting better technology for law-enforcement officers to fight crime.

One law his office has pushed for has been to require all felons in North Carolina to give a DNA sample that will go into a computer database to help find criminals.

That same law helped capture Linwood Forte of Goldsboro for raping three elderly women, killing two of the women, and murdering the husband of one of the victims.

For more than 10 years, the crimes had gone unsolved. Because of DNA evidence, Forte was arrested and sentenced to death by a Wayne County Superior Court jury.

New technology is also needed to help track down child predators who are using the Internet to entrap young victims.

The Attorney General's Office has also been putting "Critical Incident Response Kits" in public schools, including those in Wayne County. The kits are designed to help the schools deal with violent emergencies, like the Columbine High School shootings. The office is also working to train law-enforcement officers to better handle these cases.