Van Hollen, Slaughter seek probe of lead paint deals

Rep. Chris Van Hollen on Tuesday called for a Justice Department investigation into the practice of companies that buy lawsuit settlements of lead-poisoning victims in Baltimore for cents on the dollar.

State officials are looking into the businesses, which swap guaranteed regular payments over years for much smaller one-time payouts up front. Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, drafted a letter with Rep. Louise M. Slaughter of New York calling for the probe.

Van Hollen is a candidate for the Senate seat that will be left vacant in 2017 by retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

"We are extremely concerned that victims of lead poisoning, many of whom have suffered cognitive damage, are not receiving sufficient counsel and protection when deciding to sell their settlement," Van Hollen and Slaughter wrote to Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in a letter dated Aug. 28 but released Tuesday. 

"We also know that the effects of lead poisoning are felt disproportionately in urban areas, suggesting that the sale of these structured settlements may disparately impact minority communities."

A Justice Department spokesman said officials will review the letter.  

State legislators and members of Maryland's congressional delegation, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, have expressed dismay and pledged to make changes to the current law following a Washington Post report last week on companies that struck deals with lead-poisoning victims, including Freddie Gray.

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