Consumer Protection

Prosecution of Fraud Violations

gavelThe San Diego District Attorney's Office has prosecuted many civil and criminal consumer lawsuits in years past. Some examples of lawsuits and judgments obtained by this office include:

In 2011

  • Short weight port products

  • People v. Clougherty Packing, LLC

    On November 23, 2010, San Diego County District Attorney’s Office filed a complaint and stipulated judgment against Clougherty Packing, LLC for $451,564. Clougherty Packing, LLC is the packing company for Farmer John products and a subsidiary of Hormel Foods, Inc. The case stemmed from a consumer complaint filed with the California Department of Measurement Standards (CDMS) regarding chitterlings. In the course of the investigation by CDMS, inspectors also found short weights in Farmer John and Hormel bacon products. The short weights were below federal regulatory and California regulatory allowances for such packaged food products. Clougherty agreed to the settlement without admitting fault or liability.

  • Phony Doctor Intentionally Spikes “Natural” Remedies

  • People v. Donsbach

    On December 13, 2010, Kurt Donsbach pleaded guilty to thirteen felony counts including the unlicensed practice of medicine, intentionally misbranding drugs, grand theft and possession of a firearm by a felon. Donsbach was a well-known figure on the alternative medicine circuit who billed himself as a naturopathic doctor with expertise in nutrition. During the course of the investigation, it was discovered Donsbach was spiking his remedies, which he claimed were “safe and natural,” with dangerous pharmaceutical drugs including Nimesulide and Betamethasone. Additionally, it was learned Donsbach was not in fact a naturopathic doctor and had obtained the title by filing forged credentials with the Oregon Naturopathic Board. On April 15, 2011, Donsbach was sentenced to 365 days jail and placed on probation for 10 years during which time he is prohibited from offering nutritional advice, practicing medicine or selling supplements.

    Betamethasone is a powerful steroidal drug not legal for sale without a prescription. Donsbach sold the drug to unsuspecting consumers under the guise the drug was a “Neuropeptide vaccine” which could not harm them. The “Neuropeptide” in fact causes serious damage including osteoporosis, adrenal exhaustion and immune suppression.

    Nimesulide is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that has not been approved for use in the United States because it presents a danger to public health. Donsbach was spiking with Nimesulide a number of his remedies sold under the names: Phenocane, Re-lev-it, Esterox, and Anodyn.

    Consumers who purchased these remedies from Donsbach related companies, including Let’s Talk Health, Health Advances, Healthy Items, Professional Health Solutions, or from third party companies including EuroPharma and SeaCoast Vitamins, are urged to return the product for a refund or to contact the District Attorney’s Office at 619-531-3507.

  • False and Misleading Advertisements

  • People v. LG Electronics, et al

    On December 29, 2010, San Diego County District Attorney’s Office with six other California counties settled a consumer protection regulatory action against LG Electronics, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, and Sony.

    The action was filed in Alameda County and the manufacturers stipulated to the judgments without admitting liability. The California Division of Measurement Standards and local Weights and Measures Departments brought the consumer action to the attention of the local District Attorney’s Offices. It was discovered manufacturers were rounding up the actual size of TV screens.

    Viewable picture size is one of a number of characteristics disclosed to consumers on packaging of television sets, brochures, owners’ manuals and, in certain instances, advertising. The manufacturers and sellers historically described the viewable screen sizes of the television models they manufacture and/or sell by rounding the number of inches, measured diagonally, to the nearest whole number. A television that was described as “40 inches diagonal” or “40 inches” might have had an actual diagonal viewable picture screen size that was smaller.

    The manufacturers agreed to contribute a total of $1.125 million worth of televisions and other audio-visual equipment to schools and other public institutions throughout California. They also agreed to pay costs and other relief of an additional $1.25 million. Further, the manufacturers are now subject to an injunction that clarifies how screen size measurements are to be represented in the future.

  • Environmental Violations

  • People v. Vista Paint Corporation

    On January 4, 2011, San Diego County District Attorney’s Office along with 5 other California District Attorney’s offices, settled a $1 million case against Vista Paint Corporation. The lawsuit was filed against Vista Paint for illegal transportation and mismanagement of hazardous waste and materials.

    The company did not admit fault or liability in the settlement, which pertains to all Vista Paint retail stores in the six participating counties.

    The terms of the settlement require Vista Paint to properly label and store hazardous waste; train each employee at waste-generating facilities to identify hazardous waste; register each Vista Paint retail store that generates hazardous waste with the Department of Toxic Substances Control; and allow for the tracking of hazardous waste shipments.

  • Flooring Company Abandons Jobs

  • People v. Leonidas Serakos

    On January 13, 2011, Leonidas Serakos was sentenced to 3 years summary probation and ordered to pay $27, 909 in restitution to all victims.

    Serakos, the former owner of Bernardo Flooring and Design, had owned the business since 1979. From June 2009 to July 2009, Serakos took down payments from 5 customers with promises to complete their jobs. On August 3, 2009 the business closed its doors and Serakos moved to Texas. The Contractors State Licensing Board investigated the complaints and found Serakos did not order the supplies needed to start the jobs and failed to refund the money to the victims.

    Serakos pled guilty to diversion of construction funds, improper home improvement contract procedure and theft from an elder. Serakos paid in full the $27,909 directly to the victims. Serakos also lost his contractors’ license in California.

  • Environmental Violations

  • People v. Target Corporation

    In March 2011, San Diego County District Attorney’s Office along with 20 other California District Attorneys, California Attorney General, San Diego City Attorney and Los Angeles City attorney settled a $22.5 million case against Target.

    On June 15, 2009 a civil lawsuit was filed in Alameda County claiming that more than 290 Target stores and distribution centers throughout the state handled and disposed of various hazardous wastes and materials improperly over a seven-year period. The waste included pesticides, paint, aerosols, oven cleaners, pool chemicals, drain openers and other flammable, toxic and corrosive materials. All 25 Target stores in San Diego County were involved in the hazardous waste violations. Under the settlement, which includes a final judgment and permanent injunction against Target, the corporation must pay $22.5 million for civil penalties and costs, and fund several supplemental environmental projects.

  • Unlicensed contractor/Sex Offender

  • People v. David Thomas Blood

    David Blood, a high risk sex offender, was charged with acting as an unlicensed contractor for ripping off three customers in San Diego County. From August 2008 to September 2009, Blood was hired to by three homeowners after representing himself as a licensed contractor. During the jobs, Blood double billed one homeowner and did not complete the contracted work. Blood also stayed the night in the homeowner’s home without permission and made numerous 1-900 sex talk calls that amounted to approximately $780 in charges. In another home, Blood incompetently performed a backyard remodel which had to be demolished and redone by a licensed contractor. In a third home, Blood charged for materials he did not deliver and also made unauthorized 1-900 sex calls and ordered adult pay-per-view movies.

    While out on bail for the above offenses, Blood broke into a number of homes in the Balboa Park area and attacked a woman on a trail in Balboa Park. Blood was arrested and held in custody until he pled guilty to all 18 counts. These counts included, grand theft, diversion of construction funds, burglary, fraudulent use of telephone, contracting without license, assault with intent to commit a specific felony, and making a criminal threat. In July 2011, blood was sentenced to 48 years, 4 months prison.

In 2010

  • Petco Inc, was ordered to pay $1.75 million in costs and penalties for the ongoing business practice of charging a price for items higher than the advertised price, and for failing to provide an adequate habitat for pet animals.

  • Fuddruckers was ordered to pay $14,967 in costs and penalties for overcharging their chicken meal deal by 10 cents over a 6-month period, despite being notified about the overcharges by consumers

  • Omar Sarabia and Ezequiel Solorzano were sentenced to 375 days and 270 days respectively, for providing medical services without a license at a "clinic" they operated out of a home in National City. Sarabia and Solorzano were also ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to victims and ordered to stop performing medical services.

  • Counterfeit merchandise cases:
    • Edward Shorts was sentenced to 240 days custody and three years of probation and ordered to pay $500 restitution for possessing for sale pirated movie and music CDs.
    • Joel Gomez was sentenced to 3 years probation and a $2000 fine for a misdemeanor conviction for possessing for sale counterfeit designer jeans at the Southbay swap meet.
    • Armando Velasco was sentenced to 113 days of custody and 3 years probation for possessing for sale counterfeit handbags and wallets at the Southbay swap meet.
    • Lidia Rodriguez was sentenced to 10 days public work service for selling counterfeit purses and wallets a the Southbay Swapmeet.
    • Alexander Jacome was sentenced to 3 years probation, 90 days in jail for having 161 counterfeit items in his possession and having a previous conviction for the same offense.

  • Immigration Fraud cases:
    • Gladys Escobar was sentenced to 120 hours volunteer work, 3 years probation and a 5 year 4 month prison term (suspended), for taking tens of thousands of dollars from victims under the false pretense that she was an attorney qualified to file immigration forms on their behalf. Escobar was ordered to pay approximately $26,000 in restitution to victims and ordered to stop performing immigration services.
    • Liduvina Hurtado was sentenced to 180 days custody and 3 years probation for taking $15,000 from an undocumented immigrant under the false pretense that she and her mother would help the victim obtain immigration documents.
    • Maria Negrete-Ochoa (Hurtado) was sentenced to 180 days custody and 3 years probation for taking $15,000 from an undocumented immigrant under the false pretense that she and her daughter would help the victim obtain immigration documents.
    • Luis Diaz-Pelayo was sentenced to240 days custody and 3 years probation for taking thousands of dollars from the wife of an undocumented immigrant under the false pretense that he was an attorney qualified to file immigration forms. Diaz-Pelayo was ordered to pay $4,300 restitution to victims.
    • Luis Avina Ruiz was sentenced to 270 days in custody and 3 years felony probation for selling counterfeit immigration documents to undocumented immigrants. Ruiz was ordered to pay $17,500 restitution to victims.

  • Food and Agriculture
    • Angel Kyriakides was sentenced to 3 years probation, 80 volunteer work service, and 60 days in jail stayed for importing Star Fruit from Mexico in violation of quarantine laws

  • Unlicensed Medical Practice
    • Gomez and Rodriguez were sentenced to 5 years probation, 200-350 hours of volunteer work service, and the court stayed 1 year jail for the duration of probation for defendants holding out Bertha Bugarin to be a licensed medical doctor and referring to her as such in front of patients when they both knew she was only a medical assistant. They were both ordered not to engage in any employment in the medical field.

  • Diversion of Construction Funds
    • John Aguon of Trinity Construction was sentenced to 4 years in prison and was ordered to pay $545,000 in restitution after he agreed to build a duplex for a family, took all the money upfront, and pilfered all of the money on himself, his other construction projects, and had nothing left to finish the project.

  • Elder Abuse
    • Israel Guerrero was sentenced three years formal probation, 365 days in jail stayed, 30 days public work service, and ordered to pay $8,262.50 to twelve victims with the median age of 85 (ages 66-90) for selling termite contracts, taking $, and either not returning to perform the services or returning and doing more damage than repair.
    • Ismael Tejedo was sentenced to 3 years probation, 270 days custody, $800 fine, and was ordered to pay $33,733.80 in restitution for working with a bank employee to transferring money from the 94 year-old victim's account into his own account and spending all of it in 3 days.

  • Lottery Fraud
    • Peter Jajo was sentenced to 3 years probation, 20 days public work service for informing an undercover "customer" that his ticket won $10 when it actually won $1,000, and keeping the $990 for himself

In 2009

  • Bertha Bugarin was sentenced to 6 years and 8 months in prison, for performing abortions on nine victims. Bugarin is not a physician and was charged with felony unlicensed practice of medicine.

  • Luiz Gomez and Paloma Rodriguez were sentenced to 350 hours and 200 hours (respectively) of Voluntary Work Service, 365 days custody (stayed), 3 years Formal Probation; ordered to pay $2,558 in costs and penalties for assisting in the performance of unlicensed medicine (abortions) by Bertha Bugarin.

  • Johnny Ray Davis was sentenced to 365 days custody, 3 years prison term (suspended) and 3 years Formal Probation for possessing counterfeit dollar bills with the intent to defraud.

  • Christina Rojas was sentenced to 365 days custody, 5 years Formal Probation and ordered to pay $64,000 in restitution for embezzling customer funds and failing to pay for trips while serving as a travel agent.

  • Jose Isabel Garnica was sentenced to 23 days Community Service, 3 years Summary Probation and ordered to pay $2,500 in restitution for possessing and selling counterfeit DVDs.

  • Blockbuster Incorporated was ordered to pay $300,000 in costs and penalties for the ongoing practice of scanner overcharges in its California stores.