Suit Settled Over Misleading Mailers

A Los Angeles company agreed Wednesday to pay an $8,000 fine to settle a civil complaint alleging that its employees sent phony invoices for office equipment repair to Ventura County churches and businesses, authorities said.

Superior Court Judge Melinda A. Johnson signed the judgment against Integrated Design Products, which does business as I.D.P., after an investigation by the Ventura County district attorney's office and the filing of a civil lawsuit.

Under the terms of the judgment, the company did not admit to wrongdoing.

The civil suit alleged that I.D.P. mailed solicitations disguised as invoices to the accounting departments of churches and businesses, most of them real estate agencies, in Ventura, Port Hueneme, Moorpark and other cities throughout Southern California.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Schwartz said the solicitations appeared to be bills for renewals of maintenance contracts for office equipment such as laminators and binding machines.

"A business could think this is a bill for a service that they had in the past and now this is the renewal," he said. "That's why it's illegal."

About 10,000 such letters were mailed, Schwartz said.

Among the businesses that received the solicitations in Ventura County, only the Ventura Regional Sanitation District is known to have paid money to I.D.P., Schwartz said.

The district paid $410 on two occasions, he said, but the money was later refunded.

Ed Harris, who identified himself as the president of I.D.P., denied that the company did anything wrong.

The firm agreed to pay the $8,000, he said, to avoid a costly legal fight.

"It's either pay $8,000 or pay $25,000 to defend myself," he said. "Under the advisement of my attorney, it wasn't worth me questioning."

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