Alfredo Garcia has been ordered back to Mexico. Garcia was arrested on immigration violations in February 2011. But while his case -- and now his appeal -- work through the courts, Garcia remains free. He is monitored but not incarcerated.
"This guy doesn't work. He's been here for past how many years? And making money off American citizens," said the owner of Trimana.
He wants to fight Garcia's $4,000 lawsuit in court.
"I talked to the lawyer, and he said it will cost probably more money to fight it, but we're trying to fight it," the business owner said.
According to court documents, Garcia has filed at least 615 lawsuits involving the Americans with Disabilities Act, and taxpayers are paying for them.
In each of the hundreds of cases Eyewitness News has reviewed, Garcia requested and was granted a fee waiver from the court. That's about $300 per case and a grand total of more than $193,000. As a result of our earlier stories, the Los Angeles Superior Court began to hold hearings to determine if Garcia is really poor enough to qualify for those fee waivers.
The hearings themselves are closed to the public, but transcripts obtained by Eyewitness News suggest Garcia perjured himself in court. Garcia claimed under oath that he made $16,500 in lawsuit settlements in 2008. But Eyewitness News sorted through hundreds of cases and court documents to learn Garcia really made $125,000 in lawsuit settlements that year.
"He's making a lot of money, and he's making a lot of money that he's not reporting to the courts and probably to the IRS," said Pasadena attorney Jim Link.
Link also crunched the numbers on Garcia's settlements and filed a declaration with the court.
"So if you start doing simple math, you end up with $1,712 per case," Link said.
Link calculates that if Garcia continues to collect from these lawsuits at the same rate as he has in the past, he would make $1 million when he resolves all of his 615 cases.
Garcia testified in a case that he typically collects about $2,000 per case, and that's after his attorney takes half. Morse Mehrban, Garcia's longtime attorney, estimates that 75 percent of his law practice is based on ADA lawsuits.
"Isn't every lawsuit technically extortion?" Mehrban said.
Court records show Mehrban's law firm has filed about 30 percent of all ADA lawsuits filed in L.A. County since 2010.
"I'm actually encouraged by it because it shows that people are doing something, they're standing up for their rights," Mehrban said.
Mehrban says he usually represents a couple dozen ADA clients at a time. Most are on government aid, and many have criminal histories.
Mehrban has filed every one of Garcia's more than 600 ADA lawsuits, and his firm assists in the filing of Garcia's fee waiver applications. But Mehrban seems to blame the court for not knowing that Garcia is making too much money to qualify for fee waivers.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do about that," Mehrban said. "The court is fully aware of what he's been making. The court knows he's filed 600-something cases."
Transcripts from Garcia's fee waiver hearing in December 2011 show Garcia told the commissioner, "It's not much money. It's a struggle trying to make it."
Mehrban prepared one court document detailing settlements and judgments paid out to Garcia in 2007 and 2008. It adds up to $169,500. When asked if he knew that Garcia made too much to qualify for a fee waiver, Mehrban responded, "I don't keep track of every client and how much they're making. When there's a settlement, of course, I learn what the settlement is."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein jumped into the fight to reform California's ADA law last year. She wants business owners to have more leeway in fixing violations before a lawsuit can be filed.
"I happen to believe it's a mistake to enforce the law by allowing lawyers to go out and sue people and essentially blackmail them," Feinstein said.
Feinstein wrote letters to State Senate President Darrell Steinberg, vowing that if the California Legislature did not act to stop these "shakedown tactics," she would take action herself.
"These are the problems for thousands of small businesses," Feinstein said.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB1186 in September. The ADA litigation reform crafted in part by former State Sen. Bob Dutton.
"It really was intended to eliminate the abuse, but also provide the incentive for small businesses to actually improve access," Dutton said.
The new law bans "demand for money" letters often sent by attorneys and reduces the financial incentive for unscrupulous plaintiffs.
"If this is something you can fix in 30 days, the maximum you'll be subject to is a $1,000 fine," Dutton said.
Garcia said Friday that he has stopped filing new lawsuits, but according to court records, he still has about a dozen pending lawsuits. He has also collected at least 31 settlements in the past year.
The judge ordered Garcia to start paying half of his court fees.