A Santa Monica service station owner has been served with a consumer protection lawsuit claiming that he illegally issued smog test certificates for vehicles that did not meet state emission-control standards.
The suit claims that the mechanic and owner of Chon's Shell Service, 1866 Lincoln Blvd., failed to conduct the necessary inspections and tests before issuing smog-device inspection certificates to customers. The state requires these certificates every two years for vehicle registration.
The suit also claims that service station personnel falsified and illegally signed certificates, gave certificates for vehicles that had been tampered with and falsely indicated to customers that the inspections were conducted legally.
Each of the 40 violations cited in the lawsuit could bring a fine of up to $2,500, according to Jeffrey Holtzman of the Santa Monica city attorney's consumer affairs office.
The lawsuit is the result of a two-year investigation by the state Bureau of Automotive Repair, which found "blatant and ongoing" violations by station owner Sung Chon and mechanic Mostafa Soryazadeh despite warnings from enforcement officials, Holtzman said.
Customers, apparently believing that the proper inspection had been done, paid $28 for the work and the certificate, Holtzman said.
Chon could not be reached for comment, but has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit filed in Santa Monica Superior Court.
Holtzman said this is the first case of its kind prosecuted by the city of Santa Monica.
The state's smog-device inspection law, enacted in 1982, is administered under the automotive repair bureau, but violations may be prosecuted by various law enforcement agencies, officials said.
Michael Botwin, a deputy attorney general specializing in consumer law, said that although he has no exact count of the number of smog-certificate violations that have been prosecuted in California, this is "a major law enforcement problem" in the field of consumer protection.
Although the majority of inspection facilities are honest, he said, "a few cause the problems for the many."
In some cases the consumer seeks out a company willing to illegally provide a certificate for a car that does not comply with the law, but other times he may be an unwitting victim, Botwin said.
For example, a person may unknowingly buy a used car with a false certificate. In such cases it is difficult to prosecute because it may be many months before the purchaser needs a new certificate and discovers the smog document is false, he said.
If the car's catalytic converter has been tampered with, it could cost the new owner hundreds of dollars to install the required equipment, Botwin said.
Violations of the state's vehicle inspection law are costly not only to owners, but also to the public because air quality is affected by improper emission control, Botwin said.
"We are not talking about academic or theoretical problems here, but about real health, environmental and financial problems that affect us all," he said.
California is affected financially because its tough air quality laws do not conform with federal guidelines and the state loses out on millions of dollars in federal funds, he said.