The California attorney general's office sued a group of Los Angeles-area individuals and their operations, alleging they ran illegal schemes that siphoned more than $3 million from small San Diego County businesses.
In three lawsuits filed Thursday, the state accused eight individuals and their companies of duping the businesses in separate scams by sending official-looking mail warning them of consequences if they failed to pay fees promptly. The fees sought ranged from $150 to $250, according to the suits.
"These cases will send a powerful signal that small-business owners must be on the alert," Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said. "These rip-off artists sent official-looking documents through the mail for the sole purpose of duping small-business owners into paying them money -- for no value in return."
According to the lawsuits, the defendants sent to small businesses mailers and forms adorned with government-looking seals, official-sounding names and reply-by dates.
The mailers, sent to tens of thousands of businesses in San Diego County, said they could lose corporate or limited liability status if payments were not made within specified dates, said Christine Gasparac, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.
All the defendants are accused of violating state laws forbidding deceptive solicitation, phony billing, false advertising and unfair business practices, Gasparac said.
One suit named as defendants George Alan Miller and Rebecca Miller of Valencia, and Arghisti Keshishyan and Kristina Keshishyan of Glendale. They allegedly ran Burbank companies Annual Review Board Inc., Business Filings Division and Corpfilers.com, which also were named as defendants.
In another suit, the defendants were Maria Jones and James Jones of Porter Ranch and their companies, Corporate Filings Division in Studio City and Corporate Compliance Filings Inc. in Woodland Hills.
The third suit names as defendants Anthony Williams and Helena Martell-Williams, who operated Eneque Inc., which has done business under the name Compliance Annual Minutes Board in Temecula.
Gasparac could not say how or whether each couple was related. In all three cases, the attorney general seeks civil penalties of about $3 million and injunctions to shut down the businesses.
Brown, who is expected to run for governor, has stepped up his office's enforcement of fraud cases, especially in the real estate and consumer protection areas. He served two terms as governor through 1982.