Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit (CEPU)
CEPU prosecutes violations of law that arise from consumer transactions or actions that damage the environment. Most cases handled by the Unit come from enforcement agencies. For a list of agencies that investigate consumer complaints, please contact the City Attorney's Office or consult the reference sheet . However, CEPU also investigates complaints of false or misleading advertising. To make a complaint, please call our hotline at (619) 533-5600 between the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. CEPU Complaint Form .
Highlights of cases brought by the Unit in 2014
- People v. Whole Foods Market California, Inc. was a civil case brought by the City Attorneys for San Diego, Santa Monica and Los Angeles. The complaint alleged that Whole Foods charged more at the time of checkout than what was posted in advertisements and on items in the store. In addition, prosecutors alleged that the stores failed to deduct the weight of containers before charging consumers in self-serve food areas. The company paid civil penalties, investigative costs, and cy pres restitution totaling $798,394 and is prohibited from committing future violations.
- People v. CSK Auto, Inc. (O'Reilly Auto Parts) was a civil case brought by the City Attorney, along with the District Attorney Offices in San Bernardino, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. CSK Auto, Inc. agreed to pay $1,550,000 in civil penalties, investigation costs and restitution for alleged scanner price and injunction violations. O'Reilly has agreed to and is required to maintain a "$5 Off or Get It Free Program" to protect consumers against overcharges. Any customer who discovers an overcharge can obtain $5.00 off the price of the item; or, if the item price is less than $5.00, O'Reilly has agreed to give the item to the customer for free.
- People v. AirGas USA, LLC was a civil case filed in San Diego Superior Court in which defendant was alleged to have added certain fees to the prices of some goods without adequately disclosing either the existence of the fees or their nature and purpose. The complaint also alleged that defendant lacked displays and disclosures required by law at check-out stands at its stores throughout California. Defendant agreed to correct the alleged violations and was ordered to pay $625,000 in civil penalties, costs, and restitution.
- People v. Rajesh Manghani was a criminal case against defendant for unlawfully charging an upfront fee for loan modification services and also mailing a phony government notice to homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments. Manghani pleaded guilty to two criminal offenses and was placed on three years informal probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine, complete 10 days of Public Work Service and pay restitution to his victims of his crimes. Manghani operated under the business names of Secure Horizons Law Counsel, Secure Horizons Investment Counselors, and Universal Relief Advocacy in Poway, CA.
- People v. Cirilo Rocero Urmeneta was a criminal case in which defendant advertised the sale of frequent flyer airline miles for "Cheap Roundtrip Tickets" on Craislist.com in May 2013. The victims responded to the advertisement and met with Urmeneta who agreed to purchase legitimate round-trip airfare with the use of his frequent flier miles in exchange for $350.00 cash per ticket. After the purchase Urmeneta sent confirmation emails to the victims with the flight information. Within twenty-four hours Urmeneta cancelled the ticket purchase, receiving credit back to his frequent flier miles. Urmeneta pleaded guilty to misdemeanor petty theft and was placed on three years' probation and ordered to pay court fines and restitution to two separate victims.
- People v. Stephanie Strong was the second criminal case against a San Diego woman who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor crimes of practicing law without a license and grand theft. Stephanie Strong, also known by the last name "Overstreet," had previously been convicted of practicing law without a license in 2012. Strong was ordered to do 45 days of custody (or an alternative custodial sanction to be evaluated by the Sherriff) and 45 days of custody was stayed pending her successful completion of probation. She was also placed on probation for three years and will pay court fines and restitution to her former clients.
- People v. David Connor was a criminal case against an unlicensed contractor who took approximately $55,000 from three separate homeowners for landscaping improvements that he started but abandoned. Connor pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor crime and was placed on probation for three years and ordered to pay fines and restitution.
- Unlicensed Professions Prosecuted: This year the Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit continues to prosecute unlicensed/unpermitted professionals including lawyers, contractors, car dealers, dentists, auto repair mechanics, cosmetologists and sellers of liquor.
- People v. Manson Construction Co. was a civil case in which a ruptured hydraulic hose on board a vessel operated by defendant caused a spill of approximately 400 gallons of hydraulic oil into the waters of the Pacific Ocean four miles from the California coastline off Point Loma. Approximately 20 gallons of hydraulic oil was spotted near Pier 12. The Court ordered defendant to pay a $55,000 civil penalty.
- People v. Lowe's Home Centers, LLC, People v. TJX Companies, Inc., and People v. Albertsons were civil cases prosecuted jointly by California District Attorneys and City Attorneys offices in law enforcement actions against the companies. The actions claim that stores throughout the state unlawfully handled and disposed of various hazardous wastes and materials. The companies were ordered to pay civil penalties totaling $23.9 million.
- People v. Darren Boyd was a criminal case in which the defendants doing business as Ceiling Specialist allegedly dumped six bags of construction debris containing greater than 1 percent concentration of friable asbestos into the Miramar Landfill. Darren Boyd pleaded guilty to unlawful disposal of hazardous waste and was ordered to pay fines and placed on probation for three years.
- People v. Thanh Vu, Vu was working as a handyman/contractor when he was hired to dispose of ceiling material. This was another criminal case in which the defendant transported and unlawfully disposed of friable asbestos, a hazardous waste, into the Miramar Landfill. Vu pleaded guilty to unlawful disposal of hazardous waste was ordered to pay fines and was placed on probation for three years.
Highlights of cases brought by the Unit in 2013
- People v. Pacific Maritime Freight, Inc. was a criminal case against a company that discharged diesel fuel into San Diego Bay. The company was placed on probation and ordered to pay a fine of $3,800.
- People v. Rite Aid Corporation was a civil case brought by the City Attorney and 52 other prosecutors' offices in California to redress the illegal disposal of hazardous wastes at Right Aid stores in the state. The company paid penalties, costs, and other monetary relief totaling $12,324,000 and was ordered to implement a program to prevent future illegal disposals of hazardous waste.
- People v. Ultimate Fitness Nutrition was a criminal case involving undisclosed caffeine and anabolic steroids in dietary supplements advertised to body builders. The company recalled the supplements, paid restitution and paid a $5,500 fine. News Release 11/14/13
- People v. Empire Today, LLC, was a civil case prosecuted jointly by the City Attorney and the Riverside County District Attorney for misleading advertising, insufficient disclosures, and violations of the California contractor's law limiting the full upfront payment of services to the lesser of $1,000 or 10% of the contract price of the flooring installation. Empire paid $330,720 in civil penalties and costs and is bound by a permanent injunction prohibiting similar violations.
- People v. LOUHOT, Inc., doing business as Kirby Vacuum and Best Promotions, was a criminal case involving the unlawful use of promotional gifts without full disclosures as required by California law. The company changed its advertising practices and paid fines and restitution.
- People v. Jazmine Ford and People v. Christopher Crouch, both of these cases involved Craislist.com room rental scams with multiple victims. Both defendants were convicted, ordered to pay restitution and fines and Ford was sent to jail.
- People v. Stelios Proios: A Riverside County farmer was selling produce at local certified farmers’ markets that was not of his own production. The farmer told undercover agricultural inspectors that his produce was pesticide free; however, lab tests revealed the broccoli and Brussels sprouts had been treated with undisclosed pesticides and a fungicide. Defendant has been banned from selling produce in farmers’ markets in San Diego County and has been placed on three years of probation.
- People v. Corinne Francisco, dba Nationwide Processing Services: An unlicensed professional was operating an illegal loan modification business. Defendant was sentenced to one year of custody, ordered to pay $48,652 in restitution to multiple victims and was placed on three years of probation.
- People v. Jorge Zazueta, Et. al.: A multi co-defendant case involving convictions related to allegations of illegal towing and vehicle tampering for unlawful “booting” of cars in private parking lots.
- Tax Evasion Cases: Multiple sellers of untaxed cigarettes have been prosecuted, fined, ordered to pay taxes and placed on probation.
- Unlicensed Professions Prosecuted: Contractors, Car Dealers, Cosmetologists and Barbers.
- People v. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, Inc. was a civil case against a grocery chain for charging consumers more at the time of checkout than the currently advertised lowest price and for false advertising. The company paid $833,137 costs and penalties and is required to maintain a program for 3 years to take $3 off the lowest advertised price of any item when the store overcharges for it at the time of checkout.
- People v. Best Buy Stores, LP was a civil case against an electronics retailer for charging consumers more at the time of checkout than the currently advertised lowest price and for false advertising. The company paid $875,370 costs and penalties and is required for 5 years to give consumers $3 off the lowest price of an item when they are overcharged.
- People v. Trevor Long was a criminal case against a man who advertised nonexistent seats to a local concert on Craigslist and sold two tickets for $200. He was convicted and sentenced to serve 88 days in custody and to pay restitution to the victim.
- People v. Bruce England was a criminal case against a man for taking 30 undersized lobsters from the ocean. He was convicted and sentenced to pay $2,240 in fines and to serve 5 days in jail. He faces an additional $17,000 fine if he violates the terms of his probation.
Highlights of cases brought by the Unit in 2012
- People v. Walgreen Co. was a civil case against the owners of drugstores for illegally disposing of hazardous waste. The company was ordered to pay $16,475,000 costs and penalties and to institute procedures to properly dispose of hazardous wastes.
- People v. Horizon was a civil case against the maker of jewelry making kits which were deceptively packaged to appear as though they contained more product than they actually contained. The company paid $225,000 costs and penalties and is prohibited from deceptively packaging Disney brand jewelry making kits in the future.
- People v. Rite Aid Corporation was a civil case brought together with the District Attorneys of Riverside, Santa Clara and Ventura against the retailer for misleading advertising about its +Up Reward program and for failing to redeem gift cards with a value of less than $10 for cash. The company paid a penalty of $700,000, costs of $25,000, and cy pres restitution of $75,000.
- People v. Arnoldo Rodriguez dba City Wide Towing was a criminal case against the owner of a tow company who towed vehicles without the permission of the vehicle owners in violation of state law. The defendant pleaded guilty and paid $3,160 restitution to 11 victims, performed 5 days of Public Work Service, and paid a fine of $3,000.
- People v. Patricia Sanchez was a criminal case against a woman who solicited donations for the YMCA but used the money herself. She pleaded guilty to theft and paid $103 restitution to the YMCA, a $400 fine, performed 5 days Public Work Service, and served 2 days in jail.
- People v. Valley Pacific Concrete, Inc. was a civil case against a company that allowed concrete etching solution to go into the storm drains. The company paid a penalty of $1500 and costs of $500.
- People v. Ysmael Munoz was a criminal case against a man selling counterfeit DVDs of recent movie releases. He pleaded guilty and paid a fine of $500. The 320 DVDs he had at the time of his arrest were destroyed and he performed 5 days of Public Work Service.
- People v. Massoud Gitiforooz dba California Exotic Autos was a criminal case against a man selling salvaged title cars through Craigslist without disclosing they were salvaged and claiming to be a dealer when he was not licensed. He pleaded guilty, paid $5,450 restitution to 2 victims, paid a fine of $1000, and performed 10 days of Public Work Service.
- People v. Mohammed "Tony" Atta dba Cox Auto Service was a criminal case investigated by the Bureau of Automotive Repair against the owner of an auto repair facility for theft for charging for repairs not needed and repairs not made. He pleaded guilty and paid restitution of $2,340, a fine of $1000, and must undergo 40 hours of training on laws regarding auto repair.
- People v. Cartwright Termite & Pest Control, Inc. was a civil case investigated by the County of San Diego Dept of Agriculture against a pest control operator for violating numerous safety regulations endangering workers and the public. The company was ordered to pay a fine of $51,493 and implement needed safety measures in the future.
- People v. Binh Chau was a criminal case against a repeat offender who took undersize lobster from the La Jolla Marine Reserve. He pleaded guilty and served 270 days in custody and paid a fine of $5000.
- People v. Laverne Bosse dba Rent San Diego Properties was a criminal case against a woman who sold rental lists for which she had no authority from the property owners and which were misleading. This case was investigated by the Dept. of Real Estate and Ms. Bosse had a real estate license. She pleaded guilty, paid $362 restitution to 4 victims, surrendered her real estate license, and paid a fine of $500.
- People v. Stephanie Strong was a criminal case against a woman who offered to do paralegal work for individuals for a fee. She pleaded guilty to practicing law without a license and false advertising, paid restitution of $4,035 to 3 victims and paid a fine of $750.
- People v. Lirio Ramos was a criminal case against a woman who made loans to co-workers and others at exorbitant interest rates. She pleaded guilty to loansharking, paid restitution of $23,953 to 12 victims, performed 100 hours of Volunteer Work, and paid a fine of $1000.
- People v. Michelle Calderon dba Mac-Cal Towing was a criminal case against a tow operator who booted a vehicle after it was towed, charged and excessive rate for the towing services, and wouldn't accept payment by credit card. She pleaded guilty, paid restitution of $365, and a fine of $750.
- People v. Carquest Auto Parts was a civil case brought by the San Diego City Attorney and San Diego District Attorney to redress scanner overcharges. Reports from 10 counties in California revealed customers were charged more at the time of checkout than the currently posted or advertised price. The company paid penalties and costs totaling $242.715 and are prohibited from committing future violations. The case was brought to prosecutors by the County of San Diego Dept. of Agriculture, Weights & Measures.
- People v. Yvette Mercado dba Coastal Home Solutions was a criminal case against the owner of a loan modification business who took advance fees from homeowners. The defendant pleaded guilty and paid restitution of $1,850 to a victim. She was placed on probation and fined.
- People v. Jasmine Ford was a criminal case against a woman who advertised a room for rent on craigslist and in the Pennysaver. She took the first month's rent from 10 victims and the room was non-existent. She pleaded guilty, served 6 months in jail and was ordered to pay restitution totaling $3,545.
- People v. Wal-Mart was a civil case brought by the City Attorney, California Attorney General and San Diego District Attorney to redress overcharge violations. Wal-Mart was previously prosecuted for overcharging consumers at the time of checkout and was ordered by the Court to implement a "Get it Free" program. This action addressed the fact that Wal-Mart did not comply with the Get it Free program when it overcharged consumers. The company paid $2,100,000 in penalties, costs and cy pres restitution and was ordered to extend the Get it Free program one year.
- Unlicensed Contractor Sting: The City Attorney obtained convictions in 9 criminal cases involving unlicensed contractors who advertised for home repair contracting work. The State Contractor's Board set up undercover appointments with the suspects and the suspects offered to do contracting work, even though they had no license to do so. Defendants paid fines and were placed on probation.
- People v. CVS Pharmacy was a civil case brought by the City Attorney and 44 other prosecutors' offices in California to redress the illegal disposal of household hazardous wastes at CVS stores in the state. The company paid penalties and costs of $11,750,000 and was ordered to implement a program to prevent future disposals of hazardous materials.
- People v. Jeffrey Butler was a criminal case alleging that the defendant sold fake driver's licenses at the University of San Diego to minors so they could represent themselves to be over 21 years old. He pleaded guilty, forfeited his computer, paid fines of $5,400 and served 25 days Public Work Service.
Highlights of cases brought by the Unit in 2011
- People v. Target Corp., was a civil case brought by several prosecutors' offices including the City Attorney. The Complaint alleged the owner of retail stores improperly disposed of household hazardous wastes. The company paid penalties and costs totaling $22,500,000, and stores must implement a procedure to properly dispose of these wastes.
- People v. Aryubi et. al. dba Gamma Towing, was a criminal case against the owner and drivers of a tow company that towed vehicles from lots staffed by its spotter, failed to wait an hour before towing, improperly completed paperwork, and failed to drop a vehicle when required by law. The defendants pleaded guilty and paid restitution of $6,862 to people whose cars had been illegally towed. They were also required to perform substantial public work service as a condition of their probation.
- People v. 5 Star Parking San Diego, was a civil case alleging the owner of parking lots threatened to tow vehicles if customers failed to pay for parking, when it had no authority to do so. The company paid $74,000 in penalties and costs.
- People v. Fastenal Co., was a civil case alleging the owner of stores selling various fasteners charged a higher price at the time of checkout than the posted or advertised price. The case addressed violations throughout the State of California. The company paid $173,000 in costs and penalties.
- People v. Hamzavibedi and Arjona dba Fair Lender Audits; People v. Khatib dba Best Mortgage Solutions; People v. Dixon dba Nations Mortgage Solutions and Coastal Mortgage; and People v. Rosas dba 4R Real Estate Investments, were criminal cases in which the owners of loan modification companies pleaded guilty to crimes arising from their businesses. All defendants demanded advance fees for their services and the law prohibits these companies from doing so. Upon their convictions, the defendants were put on probation and ordered to pay restitution totaling $24,950 to victims.
- People v. City Boxing was a civil case against the owner of a health club that represented to military members that it would not charge them monthly fees when they were deployed. The Complaint alleged the company continued to make unauthorized withdrawals from the accounts of deployed military members and failed to correctly state the right to rescind in its contracts. The company paid restitution of $2,089 and penalties and costs of $7,911.
- People v. Christian Philippe dba Puppy Dogs Pet Shop was a criminal case against the owner of a pet store who did not comply with state laws regarding the proper care of animals. The owner pleaded guilty and was placed on probation. He paid a fine of $600.
- People v. Bahriz dba Brooklyn Pizza, and People v. Tamimi dba International Market were criminal cases that alleged the owners of a restaurant and a store allowed their businesses to become vermin infested, resulting in the sale of adulterated food. The owners pleaded guilty and paid fines and costs. They were closed by the San Diego County Dept. of Environmental Health and were permitted to re-open only after their businesses were cleaned up and food was properly stored and handled.
Highlights of cases brought by the Unit in 2010
- People v. Petco Animal Supplies, Inc., was a civil case brought by several prosecutors offices including the City Attorney. The Complaint alleged the owner of pet stores charged customers more at the time of checkout than the currently advertised prices. The company paid penalties and costs totaling $1,750,000, and stores must give customers an item for free if they are overcharged, or, if the item price exceeds $3.00, they must subtract $3.00 from the lowest price.
- People v. Berry and Nihart was a criminal case in which the two owners of Save Big Liquidators, Inc. pleaded guilty to falsely advertising sales at their stores as though they were going out of business. Falsely Advertising "Closing Doors Forever" Costs Store Owners $25,500 in Criminal Fines"
- People v. Wing Man Choy was a criminal case against the owner of Kirin Sushi, a restaurant that was located at 4111 Voltaire Street in the Ocean Beach neighborhood of San Diego. Ms. Choy was ordered by the County Dept. of Environmental Health to close her business for sanitation violations. Ms. Choy pleaded guilty to the crime of holding food for sale under conditions that could cause it to become adulterated.
- People v. Willey and Torres was a criminal case filed against Michael Willey and Eric Torres who did business as California Tax Reassessment. They sent mailers to homeowners that appeared to be from the San Diego County Assessor's Office, falsely stating that the homeowner had a payment due of $186 to complete a property tax reassessment and that a late fee would be charged if payment was not received by a specific date. They were ordered to pay $12,500 each in fines and to pay restitution to homeowners who sent them money. They are on probation.
- People v. Zizan Shaba was a criminal case against the owner of Millenium Towing for towing vehicles within one hour of their being parked and failing to maintain records of vehicles towed from private property as required by law. Shaba was ordered to pay $935 restitution to three people who had their cars towed unlawfully and to pay a fine of $2000. He is on probation.
- People v. Prijoles was a criminal case filed against Lauro Cornejo Prijoles and Cristina Gutierrez Prijoles as owners and operators of Cristy's Bakery & Restaurant. The Prijoles were sentenced for food safety violations found at the restaurant including 2 counts each of failing to maintain potentially hazardous food at required temperatures. They were each ordered to pay a $1750 fine, serve three years probation, and not to own, manage, operate or supervise food employees at any restaurant. " Restaurant Owners Sentenced For Food Safety Violations"
Highlights of cases brought by the Unit in 2009
- People v. drugstore.com, Inc., distributed diet patches under the names "Slim Form Patch Weight Loss Patch" and "DynaSlim Topical Weight Loss Patch." The company sold these drugs without first obtaining approval from the State to do so and the products were misbranded. In this civil case, the company was ordered to pay $50,000 restitution to consumers and $35,165 costs and penalties and was ordered not to violate these laws in the future.
- People v. UltraLife Fitness, Inc., distributed dietary supplements under the names "TruGenix Hoodia," "UltraLife PM," "Pure Health Laboratories Hoodia," "Pure Health Laboratories Green Tea and Hoodia," and "UltraBurn PM, which were falsely advertised and were unapproved drugs. The false advertisements included unsubstantiated claims about Hoodia. In this civil case, the company was ordered to pay $5454 costs and penalties and was ordered not to falsely advertise in the future.
- People v. National Steel & Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO), spilled petroleum in the San Diego Harbor, a violation of California's environmental protection laws. In this civil case, the company was ordered to pay $18,000 in penalties and costs and was ordered not to have similar violations in the future.
- People v. George Stolow was a criminal case alleging Mr. Stolow was an unlicensed mortgage foreclosure consultant. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to pay restitution of $1250 and fines of $600.
- People v. Binh Chau was a criminal case filed after Mr. Chau was apprehended for the third time with undersize lobsters. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve 90 days in jail. " Lobster Poacher Sentenced to Jail (Chau)"
- People v. Jason Chavez was a criminal case filed against Mr. Chavez after he was apprehended with 46 undersized lobsters during the season when it is illegal to take lobsters. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve 120 days custody. " Lobster Poacher Sentenced to Jail (Chavez)"
- People v. Agustin Chavez was a criminal case alleging Mr. Chavez operated an unregistered appliance repair business. He pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay $275 restitution to his three victims, to do public work service for 5 days and to pay a fine of $860.