Friday, 14 June 2024

Attorney general sues property tax rip-off that affected local residents

LAKE COUNTY – The men behind a property tax scam that earlier this year showed up in the mailboxes of thousands of California residents, including many in Lake County, has run into some significant legal trouble.


On Tuesday, California Attorney General Jerry Brown announced that he has filed a lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court against brothers Sean and Michael McConville and their businesses, “Property Tax Reassessment” and “Property Tax Adjustment Services.”


In the first week of February, Jim Campbell, Lake County's deputy county assessor, reported that the assessor's office had begun receiving calls from concerned residents who had received letters from the Los Angeles-based Property Tax Reassessment, as Lake County News reported.


The official-looking letters told homeowners that, for $179, their property taxes could be reduced. But they needed to respond by a certain time or else pay late fees, or they would have their file marked “non-responsive” or “ineligible for future tax reassessments.”


Lake County News attempted to call the company at the number listed on the letter; a woman answered and said it was not the company's number.


Days later, Brown's office issued a consumer alert warning of scams that offered to reduce property tax assessments if homeowners paid hundreds of dollars to a middleman.


On Tuesday, Brown accused the McConvilles of ripping off tens of thousands of homeowners throughout California who were looking to lower their property taxes.


He said the men used mailers that read like government billing statements, featured official-looking logos, and demanded hundreds of dollars in payments for reassessment and reassessment appeal services.


“These scam artists ripped off thousands of homeowners for property reassessment services readily available free of charge,” Brown said in a statement. “This lawsuit seeks to end the deception and blocks these companies from continuing to scam homeowners.”


Brown's suit, which seeks $2.5 million in civil penalties, alleges that the McConvilles and their businesses violated both the Business and Professions Code and the California Civil Code in a variety of ways.


The suit contends that the men made untrue and misleading statements with the intent to induce consumers to purchase products and services; distributed solicitations implying a government connection, approval or endorsement; distributed solicitations that appear to be billing statements; and engaged in unfair competition.


Brown said neither company adequately informed consumers that they were not a governmental entity, the solicitations were not a bill, purchase of the services was not required and services were available free of charge from county assessors.


The McConvilles also failed to complete any of the property tax assessment services homeowners were billed for in 2008, Brown said.


The companies had continued their solicitations, with new mailers recently sent out with a May 26 due date, according to Brown's report.


Lake County Assessor Doug Wacker said Tuesday his office had received a rash of calls after the mailer arrived earlier this year, and that some of those people already had Proposition 8 property tax reviews under way anyway.


Wacker emphasized that having your property tax reassessed is a free service his office provides.


“My heart goes out to those people who went ahead and just wrote a check and sent it off,” he said, noting a few local people did send money in to the companies.


He said the scam mailers started in Southern California and then moved north, reaching Lake and Napa counties.


Some county officials around the state are taking action separately.


Last week, the Ventura District Attorney's Office charged one of the brothers, Sean McConville, with 20 felony counts for criminal conduct stemming from his property tax reassessment operations, Brown reported.


In Napa County, Assessor John Tuteur and District Attorney Gary Lieberstein worked together to gather evidence to prosecute the scam, according to a statement issued May 5.


Similarly, Lake County District Attorney Jon Hopkins said Tuesday he also wants to hear from county residents who sent money in response to the letter but received no services.


He urged anyone who sent off a check in response to the mailer to call the Lake County District Attorney's Office, 707-263-2251, and ask to speak to a district attorney's investigator.


Homeowners who believe they've been victimized also can contact the Attorney General's Office at www.ag.ca.gov/consumers, via telephone at 800-952-5225 or by mail at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244.


The Attorney General's Office urges homeowners who believe their property value has declined and they are paying too much in property taxes to protect themselves by never paying money for something they did not ask for. They also should avoid a middleman and instead contact a local county tax assessor's office for a free property value reassessment.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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