Operation Shut Down
Mission Viejo Solar, which sold $6,550 solar heating packages primarily in Orange County, was moving into southern Los Angeles County when the state obtained a temporary restraining order last Oct. 9 which, in effect, shut down its operations. The state attorney general's office asked for the restraining order based on a complaint filed the previous day in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana.
The complaint charged Mission Viejo Solar and a number of individuals with violating the state's Business and Professions Code by engaging in "unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business practices." It also charged that a number of financial institutions "stand in the same legal shoes" with the defendants in violating the state's Unruh (Truth-in-Lending) Act.
Mission Viejo Solar owner Fears contends that a salesman, Harold C. Maridon, 44, of Irvine, used the firm's contractor's license to employ a Latino sales crew and to make numerous solar heating sales without Fears' permission.
"I never saw one of those people" Maridon sold, Fears said in a telephone interview from his San Juan Capistrano home. "We were just the installation company."
Maridon was arrested last July on nine felony counts of using a contractor's license with intent to defraud, and 11 felony counts of grand theft stemming from Mission Viejo sales of solar units. He posted $100,000 bail. His attorney, Gil May of Laguna Niguel, refused to return telephone calls from a Times reporter.
58 Consumer Complaints
- Home-Guard Contractors Inc. of Anaheim, which has had 58 consumer complaints filed against it, according to documents filed in West Orange County Municipal Court.
Home-Guard sold solar systems for about $10,000, including interest and finance charges, in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and in some Northern California communities.
In moving in February to intervene on behalf of an estimated 35 homeowners facing possible foreclosures by the firm, the state attorney general's office noted in a court motion that Home-Guard had been the target of an investigation last May by the Riverside County district attorney's office.
At the time, the Riverside prosecutor had filed an action against Home-Guard alleging unfair or fraudulent business practices and false and misleading advertising. The prosecutor's action, the motion said, "resulted in a confession of judgment," a court order that approximates an injunction halting the firm from engaging in certain sales practices. Without admitting any guilt, Home-Guard paid a $140,000 fine last July.
Currently, civil and criminal investigations are being conducted into Home-Guard by the state contractors' board, the state attorney general's office and the Orange County district attorney's office. Last February, at the request of the Orange County district attorney, the contractors' board used a search warrant to seize 40 boxes of Home-Guard documents as part of a continuing investigation of the firm.
Home-Guard's attorney, Steven A. Silverstein of Santa Ana, said his client has broken no laws.
"Home-Guard's procedures, representations and policies are totally, completely legal," Silverstein said. "Customers got what they paid for. Sales people, like everyone, do things wrong, but we don't indict a company for that."
Additionally, Sunar of Lodi, which has produced and sold solar equipment, and Fresno-based Solar Resources of California, a seller and distributor of solar energy equipment, are defending themselves in cases brought against them by the state attorney general in Sacramento and Fresno.
Neither Sunar President Gary Ross nor Sunar attorney Robert Mazzera of Stockton could be reached for comment. Solar Resources could not be located and an industry source said the firm is no longer in business.
Firms Under Scrutiny
Other solar heating companies that have come under state government investigation include Liberty Solar and Mundial Solar, both of Los Angeles and both out of business; Statewide Solar of Sacramento, also out of business, and Azizi Enterprises of Anaheim, out of business.
Several finance companies and banks also are the focus of state investigations and several have been charged by the state attorney general's office with various violations of federal and state truth-in-lending laws and of engaging in unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business practices. They include:
- Finance America Thrift Corp., based in Allentown, Pa., a defendant in the Mission Viejo case and, until recently, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bank of America, the nation's second largest bank.