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Undocumented, disabled serial plaintiff sues SoCal businesses on taxpayer dime

November 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Meet Alfredo Garcia. He's a three-time convicted felon who's now had his record expunged. He's lives in the United States illegally.

And he's filed more than 600 lawsuits against Southern California businesses, claiming they are not accessible for the disabled.

But in at least one of his many, many cases, Garcia was caught in a lie. Oh, and did we mention? Your tax dollars are paying for his lawsuits.

Alfredo Garcia is a 41-year-old undocumented immigrant and professional plaintiff.

He's never happy to see Eyewitness News cameras. But we've been following what some call his "landslide of litigation" for more than a year.

"Mr. Garcia and his attorney target small mom-and-pop-type businesses," said Daniel Munoz, a paralegal and consumer advocate.

Garcia has filed at least 600 lawsuits so far.

Garcia demanded $12,000 from La Casita Mexicana restaurant in Bell, saying its bathroom mirror was too high.

"We knew right away it was a scam," said Jaime Martin Del Campo, co-owner of La Casita Mexicana.

Garcia claims he ate at La Casita four times, but surveillance video from those four dates shows no one in a wheelchair visiting the bathroom -- which, by the way, has a full-length mirror attached to the door.

"We were able to determine that Mr. Garcia had never even been to the restaurant," said paralegal Munoz.

That's what landed Alfredo Garcia in a Huntington Park courtroom Monday. La Casita fought back, suing Garcia for abuse of process. La Casita won, but Garcia refused to pay the $5,000 in damages.

"I don't have no money," Garcia told the judge.

"You've had almost a year to pay him his money or give him information," said Judge Jaime Corral.

"He has a steady source of income which comes from filing these lawsuits," said Munoz. "Some of those cases, he walks away with 2-, sometimes he walks away with 4 or $5,000, sometimes more."

Eyewitness News has learned Garcia has made at least $166,000 off settlements in his hundreds of lawsuits. It's money he admitted he doesn't pay taxes on, as required by law.

In fact, Garcia testified under oath that he has not paid federal income taxes since 1995.

"I'm going to pay, maybe," said Garcia.

That testimony about taxes came in Garcia's August 2011 trial against Quick Stop Auto Center owner Joshua Koo.

Garcia lost, thanks in part to retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brett Klein, who defended Koo for free.

"He sued my longtime auto mechanic," said Klein.

Klein remembers Garcia from his own days on the bench.

"That's his career: He goes from restroom to restroom looking for violations," said Klein.

In Koo's case, Garcia bypassed the building's accessible bathroom and asked to use the employee-only bathroom in the back.

Klein created a visual aid for the trial, using push-pins to represent a few hundred of the L.A. businesses Garcia has sued.

"I did run into some difficulties because there were times when his work was so geographically dense that there wasn't room for all the push-pins," said Klein.

Jere Krischel was on the jury, and didn't buy Garcia's story.

"He didn't think to himself, 'I'm humiliated' or 'I'm embarrassed.' He thought to himself, 'That's $4,000 -- ka-ching!'," said Krischel

And the taxpayer is on the hook, paying for Garcia's lawsuits. In hundreds of cases Eyewitness News reviewed Garcia requested and was granted a fee waiver from the courts.

"You are found to be in direct contempt of this court. You are ordered remanded to the county jail," said Judge Jaime Corral at the Huntington Park courthouse.

Garcia was led away, but then:

"Once he was being taken into custody, Mr. Garcia had a change of heart and all of a sudden he produced a check for the full amount," said Munoz, the paralegal.

For the owners of La Casita Mexicana, it's justice served.

It may be over for La Casita, but not for Garcia.

Asked if he would continue filing lawsuits, Garcia replied, "Yes."

"I'm doing it for disabled people," he said.

Alfredo Garcia may not be doing it for much longer.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is trying to deport him.

A final decision on that will be up to a judge.

State Senator Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) plans to introduce new legislation next year that would give business owners 90 days to fix a violation before a lawsuit can be filed.


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