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Audit: Damaged San Diego businesses get surprise bills

Posted at 11:38 AM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 20:33:38-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- San Diego businesses damaged or vandalized in the night are receiving surprise bills for as much as $921 from an unauthorized company called to board up their windows, according to a City Audit to be discussed Wednesday.

The audit, released earlier this year, says San Diego Police officers responding to vandalism or damage are calling a non-city-approved contractor to board up the buildings when the owners are not present. The business owners, who did not consent to the work, are then getting bills from a third party that range from $516 to $921.

The audit says that San Diego Police officers are not authorized to contract on behalf of the city, but used this vendor exclusively since 2014. In the last two years, the contractor has been called out to more than 300 buildings.

"As part of our investigation, we contacted several San Diego business owners who had board-up services performed by the same vendor and obtained copies of the itemized invoices they received," the audit says. "We found that some of the itemized charges that were billed were inconsistent and varied according to number of hours billed for the service."

The city launched the investigation after a business owner complained to its fraud hotline over receiving an $891.51 bill to fix a 4-by-6 broken window. The bill included a $250 emergency service after-hours fee. The audit says SDPD attempted to contact the business owner through the alarm company but after about 10 minutes requested the vendor come board up the shop.

The audit does not identify the businesses or vendor, but Freddie LaCarra confirmed that his company, 1-800-BoardUp, has been doing the work, including four after-hours calls Monday night.

He said the audit misses the key issue -- San Diego Police officers can't be standing around guarding an empty business instead of patrolling the streets. He said his company doesn't get paid for its work half the time, and that the billing is calculated through a program called Xactimate.

"We get up at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m.," LaCarra said. "We go out there, we get it done, so the police can go on and protect us instead of sitting there and waiting for a business owner or a homeowner to show up."

The auditor recommends the city alter its municipal code to address how officers should handle vandalized buildings, including how much time they should wait there while trying to contact the owner.

The audit also recommends that the police department procure a competitive contract with a vendor to board up buildings. That would come with liability insurance requirements, prohibit unapproved subcontractors and specify maximum rates. The city hopes to have that in place by April 1, 2023.

The city's audit committee will discuss the report at its meeting Wednesday.