The owner of a South-Central smog check station and her nephew were ordered to stand trial Wednesday on charges they produced fake smog certificates for dirty or untested cars by hooking up other "clean" cars to the exhaust measuring equipment.
Blanca Adelia Perez, owner of Perez Smog Check at 4250 Avalon Blvd., and her nephew, Gustavo Rodolfo Villeda, a mechanic at the station, are two of dozens of defendants in a major crackdown on sales of fraudulent smog certificates.
Perez and Villeda are both charged with five felony counts of perjury and one count of computer fraud. They face maximum sentences of six years in state prison if convicted of all counts.
Perez's husband, Amilcar, is also named as an outstanding defendant with a warrant out for his arrest. Defense attorney William Graysen said Amilcar is in his native Guatemala, being treated for stomach cancer.
After a 40-minute preliminary hearing with only one prosecution witness, Los Angeles Municipal Judge Glenette Blackwell set a March 10 arraignment in Superior Court for Perez and Villeda, who are free on $5,000 bail each.
Mark Rubin, an investigator with the state Bureau of Automotive Repair, testified he conducted a 2 1/2-hour videotaped surveillance of Perez Smog Check on Sept. 23. With Rubin and surveillance cameras about 30 feet away, Villeda and Amilcar Perez allegedly entered identification data for four cars into the smog-check machine's computer but hooked up two other low-emission cars to the device's measuring probes.
When Rubin reviewed the data from the computer, he found smog certificates had been issued for two Nissans, a Chevrolet and a Honda during the time of surveillance. But Rubin said he only saw, and the videotape confirms, a Volvo and a 1978 Pontiac Le Mans, which is registered to Villeda, hooked up to the equipment.
Villeda, a licensed smog check mechanic, and Blanca Perez, a licensed smog-check inspector, signed the four certificates as required by law, Rubin testified.
Prosecutors allege this was the standard procedure used by the roughly 40 auto repair shop operators and mechanics in Los Angeles County who were arrested in December in the biggest crackdown on phony certificates since the state Smog Check program began in 1984.
Twenty-three smog check stations were targeted in the sweep by officials from the Bureau of Automotive Repair and the Air Resources Board. Among those stations were:
* Ace Bae Auto Repair and Half Price Muffler & Smog in the Mid-City area;
* Mad's Smog & Auto Repair, Main Smog & Auto Repair, Marquez Shell, 2603 Central Ave.; and Victor's Auto Service, in South-Central;
* Tony's Auto Sales in Mt. Washington;
* Express Smog in Huntington Park.
Graysen declined to comment on his clients' case specifically. But he said that, based on discussions with other attorneys, he believes most of these cases stemmed from low-income customers "playing on the sympathy" of the smog-check stations.
"Someone says, 'Help me out. I'm poor . . . and I can't afford to spend $500 to have my car fixed,' " Graysen said. "That's how it starts, and word gets out."
Rubin said state investigators are now focusing on nabbing the taxi companies, used-car dealers and other vehicle fleet operators who purchase the phony certificates.
Prosecutors said the possibility that networks exist that issue falsified smog checks is disturbing because it undermines the smog-check program, the main weapon in reducing vehicle emissions.
"You can expect to see more crackdowns," Rubin said. "We're taking a more aggressive stance against this type of activity."