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Records Show Past Home-Finding Probes : Real estate: Founders of firm accused in consumer complaints worked for companies that drew lawsuits and scrutiny.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The founders of a home-finding service that has been the target of consumer complaints were previously involved in similar firms that attracted scores of lawsuits and scrutiny by law enforcement and regulatory agencies.

The firm is Global Management, Inc. in the 13700 block of Ventura Blvd. Since opening this past summer, Global has been the subject of 29 complaints to the Better Business Bureau, and has operated without a required state license, according to the California Department of Real Estate.

Vickie L. Cardoza and Greg Schwartz, identified as Global officers in documents filed in August with the California secretary of state, previously were involved with other San Fernando and San Gabriel valley home-finding businesses that were accused of lying about their services and refund policies.

Cardoza owned two rental listing firms in Glendale and Burbank that were sued by at least 30 customers in small-claims court. The real estate department is seeking to revoke the companies’ licenses. Cardoza, who could not be reached for comment, is fighting to retain the licenses.

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Greg Schwartz until earlier this year worked for Vista Property Management, a home-finding service in Temple City that has been sued in small-claims court by at least 35 customers, and is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

Another former Vista employee, identified by authorities as Schwartz’s brother, was sentenced earlier this year to 16 months in prison for violating parole and duping a Vista customer out of more than $1,700. The brother admitted to investigators that Vista was a “scam,” according to Dwight D’Evelyn, a lead investigator for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Greg Schwartz, 20, said he left Vista because “I just didn’t like the business over there.” He said Cardoza, identified in state records as Global’s president, is no longer involved with Global. Asked why Global did not obtain a license to operate a rental listing service, Schwartz responded: “We’re backed by the Department of Real Estate.” He declined to elaborate.

“It’s news to me,” said Randy Brendia, the regional manager in Los Angeles for the Department of Real Estate, when told what Schwartz had said.

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“I can’t confirm or deny that we have an open investigation on Global Management,” Brendia said. Nonetheless, Brendia said the real estate department can only suspend or revoke a license, or cite firms guilty of unlicensed activity.

The real estate department “doesn’t put people in jail. That’s up to the city attorney or the district attorney,” Brendia said.

“It’s a very, very lucrative business, and the victims are the people who can least afford to take this kind of loss,” Brendia said.

The Los Angeles city attorney’s office, which earlier this month filed criminal charges against another San Fernando Valley rental listing firm, is not investigating Global, a prosecutor in the office said.

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In recent years, authorities have been deluged with complaints about more than half a dozen rental listing businesses in the Los Angeles area. Salesmen often move between the firms, and when faced with mounting complaints and investigations, some operators have closed down and reopened elsewhere under a different business name.

Many of the alleged victims are low-income workers or students, some with limited command of English.

According to authorities, customers are hooked by newspaper classified ads for attractive-sounding rental dwellings. When the home-seekers call for an appointment to see the unit, they get a salesman who invites them to come in for information. Customers typically are charged $150 for lists of rental units, and in some cases are told the money will be applied to the deposit or last month’s rent. They also are promised refunds if they don’t find a home or find one on their own. In fact, state law requires rental services to refund all but $25 to customers who do not find a suitable rental.

But consumers often complain that the lists prove useless--that information is inaccurate or units were not actually available for rent. Other times, consumers said they encountered irritated landlords whose dwellings had been listed without their permission--a violation of state law.

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“Typically, what happens is the people pay their fee, find that the rentals are unsatisfactory, . . . and, of course, they don’t get their money back,” Brendia said.

Just these types of complaints have been made against Global, according to a report by the Better Business Bureau of the Southland.

“Complaints generally allege misrepresentation during sales of the list and of the refund policy,” the report states.

“Specifically: Property listed did not meet specified criteria and was not as described; landlords never consented to list their properties; and, verbal refund promises were not kept.”

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Los Angeles police two weeks ago arrested two of three defendants in a criminal case involving another rental listing service, Express Homes of Van Nuys. In a 16-count misdemeanor complaint, the city attorney charged the executives with grand theft and violating the state Business and Professions Code, which governs rental listing services.


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