Children's Rights

Brown Arrests Owner of 'Big Bad Student Travel' for Pocketing Thousands for Spring Break Trip

March 27, 2009
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES -- Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced that special agents from the California Department of Justice today arrested Abel Moses Somilleda, the owner of a vacation travel agency, who “ripped off” $55,000 from high school and college students whose 2006 trip to Cancun, Mexico was cancelled.

“Dozens of high school and college students paid hundreds of dollars for a spring break trip to Cancun, but instead of a week of vacation, these students were ripped off by the owner of Big Bad Student Travel,” Brown said. “Abel Moses Somilleda promised a vacation to Mexico, but when the trip was cancelled, he pocketed the students’ money instead of providing refunds.”

Abel Moses Somilleda, 35, of Hawthorne, Calif., was arrested in Hawthorne by California Department of Justice Special Agents. He is charged with:

• Nine counts of grand theft in violation of Penal Code section 487(a);
• One count of failure to return moneys in violation of Business and Professions Code section 17550.14; and
• Nine counts of failure to deliver on ticket or voucher in violation of Business and Professions Code section 17550.17(b).

Somilleda opened Big Bad Student Travel in 2004 after working for ten years in the student travel business and coordinating several trips of his own.

In 2006, Somilleda organized a spring break trip to Cancun, Mexico, for dozens of high school and college students. Students paid approximately $700 for the flight, hotel room, and expenses.

Three months before the trip, however, Somilleda learned that it would be cancelled. But instead of immediately informing those who had signed up, Somilleda continued to accept payment for the trip. It was only two or three days before the trip was scheduled to take place when Somilleda notified students that it had been cancelled.

Somilleda promised the students that they would receive a refund within several days. The students, however, never received refunds.

In total, Somilleda pocketed some $55,000. A search warrant uncovered that Somilleda had spent most of the money on his own personal expenses -- including rent, dinners, groceries, and utilities.

If convicted of all charges, Somilleda faces eight years in prison.

California requires all sellers of travel to register with the California Attorney General’s Office and display their registration number on all advertising. To check the registration of a Seller of Travel visit the Attorney General’s website at http://www.ag.ca.gov/travel/

To help prevent becoming a victim of travel fraud, the Attorney General’s Office has offered a few tips and warning signs.

GET IT IN WRITING AND READ IT CAREFULLY
Before you pay any money, read all the terms and conditions relating to your travel services including cancellation conditions, fees and other restrictions.
PAY BY CREDIT CARD
You have a right in certain circumstances to have credit card charges reversed if you do not receive what you paid for. Check with your credit card company for details. This protection is not available when you make a payment with a check, money order, or cash.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Check beforehand with your local Better Business Bureau or California Department of Consumer Affairs ( http://www.dca.ca.gov/ ), which may tell you how long the seller of travel has been in business, whether there have been any law enforcement actions brought against it in the past, and the nature of consumer complaints it has received, if any.
CONFIRM TRAVEL PLANS DIRECTLY
It is a good practice to confirm all of your travel arrangements directly with the businesses providing the transportation, hotel, or car rental.
BEWARE OF “FREE” TRIPS
While there are legitimate businesses that offer free trips, there are others that offer “free” trips to entice consumers into buying their products or services, which include hidden costs.
INTERNET SCAMS
There are many legitimate sellers of travel that provide great deals on the Internet, but if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
USE ONLY A REGISTERED TRAVEL COMPANY OR AGENT
Sellers of travel must register every year with the Attorney General's office in order to do business or market in California. They must clearly display their registration number in all advertising materials. Do not deal with unregistered travel companies. While registration does not mean that the seller is reputable, you should avoid any seller who has not adopted the safeguards required by law to protect your payments.

IF YOU HAVE BEEN SCAMMED
Taking money without delivering goods or services that are promised can be a crime. If you believe you have been a victim of a crime, call your local police agency. If your travel seller’s main place of business is in California, and under certain other circumstances, you may be entitled to make a claim for restitution from the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund. For more information about how to file a claim, please go to http://ag.ca.gov/travel/consumer.php.

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Brown and Delgadillo Reach Settlement with Mattel

December 4, 2008
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. and Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo have reached a settlement with Mattel, Inc. – and several other toy makers – that will “safeguard California’s children” from lead-contaminated toys this Christmas.

Even though a new federal law ratcheting down standards for lead in toys won’t go into effect until February 10, 2009, Mattel and its subsidiary Fisher-Price, RC2 (which makes Thomas the Tank Engine toys), A&A Global Industries, Cranium Inc., Eveready Battery Company, Marvel Entertainment, Toy Investments, Kids II, and Amscan, have agreed to adopt the tough new federal standards immediately. By this agreement, the companies have pledged not to sell any toys they know contain lead, and in addition will pay $550,000 for lead testing and improved consumer notification.

“These consumer protection agreements will safeguard California’s children from lead-contaminated toys this Christmas,” Attorney General Brown said.
“Putting these agreements into effect immediately is absolutely critical because so many toys are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas, months before new federal standards go into effect.”

In the wake of disturbing revelations about lead-contaminated toys imported from China over the past two years, Attorney General Brown and City Attorney Delgadillo filed suit against 17 toy manufacturers and retailers on November 19, 2007. Nine months later, Congress passed landmark consumer product safety legislation, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

The federal legislation:
• Lowers the standard for lead in paint and surface coatings from 600 parts per million currently to 90 parts per million after August 14, 2009.
• Establishes increasingly tight restrictions for lead in other materials used in toys – such as plastics, metals and fabrics. These restrictions are phased in over time.

February 10, 2009 – 600 parts per million
August 14, 2009 – 300 parts per million
August 14, 2011 – 100 parts per million

By the terms of the settlement agreement announced today, the companies will:
• Implement the federal lead standards on December 1, 2008, instead of February 10, 2009.
• Meet the 90 parts per million lead in paint standard by December 1, 2008, instead of by August 14, 2009, except for Kids II and Amscan, which will adhere to the federal timeline.

• Meet the 300 parts per million standard for lead in plastics, metals, and fabrics by December 1, 2008, instead of August 14, 2009, except for Kids II and Amscan, which will adhere to the federal timeline.
• If the companies find toys in excess of the lead standard, they will stop selling and distributing those toys, regardless of when the toy was made. This will be in effect this holiday season.
• Pay into a $550,000 fund to test toys for lead and improve outreach about future recalls. They will pay another $460,000 for the Attorney General’s and Los Angeles City Attorney’s Proposition 65 enforcement activities and $548,500 in civil penalties.
• Implement a Quality Assurance System that is designed to identify and to segregate toys with lead during and after the manufacturing process.
• Send direct notice of a recall to consumers of the product for whom they possess address or email contact information.

If the companies violate the lead standard in the future, the Attorney General can obtain penalties through an expedited enforcement process.

This agreement settles a lawsuit filed by the State of California and the LA City Attorney in November 2007, after receiving notices of violation from the Center for Environmental Health, As you Sow, and the Environmental Law Foundation.

The lawsuit alleges that Mattel and 16 other companies knowingly exposed individuals to lead—a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and reproductive harm—and failed to provide any warning about this risk.

Other defendants not part of this settlement are: Costco, KB Toys, Kmart, Michaels, Sears, Target, Toys ‘R’ Us, and Wal-Mart.

Background on Proposition 65

During the last year and a half, there have been frequent recalls of toys imported from China due to lead in the paint. Subsequently, the Attorney General’s Office began an investigation under Proposition 65, which ensures that businesses cannot expose individuals to hazardous chemicals without posting a clear and reasonable warning.

Proposition 65 is enforced through lawsuits brought by the Attorney General, district attorneys and city attorneys in cities with a population exceeding 750,000. Lawsuits may also be brought by private parties, but only after these parties notify the Attorney General of the alleged violation. Businesses that violate Proposition 65 are subject to civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day for each violation.

Proposition 65 requires the Governor to publish a list of chemicals that are known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Lead has been listed since 1987 as a chemical that can cause reproductive harm and birth defects, and has been on the list of chemicals known to cause cancer since 1992.

For more information about Prop 65 and to view the private party notices please visit: http://ag.ca.gov/prop65/index.php.

Governor And Attorney General Call On Internet Service Providers To Block Child Porn Access

June 20, 2008
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO--Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today called upon California’s Internet service providers to follow the lead of Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Sprint by “removing child pornography from existing servers and blocking channels” that disseminate the illegal material.

“Protecting the safety of our children must be a top priority, not just for government, but also for businesses with the direct power to reduce the ability to conduct illegal activity,” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said in a joint letter to the California Internet Service Provider Association, which represents more than 100 Internet service providers in California.

“We applaud three of the world’s largest Internet service providers—Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint—for taking steps to block access to child pornography. It is not enough, however, for only a few Internet service providers to join the fight against online predators. Child pornography is not protected by the First Amendment, and distributing this material is illegal.”

On June 10, 2008, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced agreements with Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint, to block access to child pornography by purging their servers of existing child pornography and eliminating access to child pornography newsgroups.

Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown said other Internet service providers should follow these companies’ lead by ridding their own servers of child pornography and preventing access to illegal content through newsgroups.

“The California Internet Service Providers Association is the largest association of Internet providers in the country and we are asking your members to take their leadership role seriously. The association can begin by working with its more than 100 members to remove child pornography from existing servers and blocking channels, which include newsgroups, used for distributing this material,” Schwarzenegger and Brown said.

California is home to the Silicon Valley which has hundreds of Internet service providers, ranging from large companies to smaller, local providers. Some of the major providers include AT&T and AOL. According to the California ISP Association, the largest such association in the country, there are more than 100 Internet service providers in California.

The California Attorney General’s office has been working with other states to protect children from dangerous predators on the Internet. California recently joined 49 other states in reaching agreements with Myspace and Facebook so that those social networking sites take steps, including age and ID verification processes, to protect children from online sexual predators. The attorney general’s office also deploys special agents who conduct undercover investigations into online sexual predators. For more information about the apprehension teams, visit: www.ag.ca.gov/cbi

A copy of Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown’s letter to the California Internet Service Providers Association, sent today, is attached.

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Rachel Silva Charged With Drug Offense, DUI, Felony Child Endangerment

June 9, 2008
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SAN DIEGO--The California Attorney General today charged Rachel Silva, 27, with felony child endangerment and five misdemeanors including driving under the influence of alcohol, driving with a suspended license and driving while in possession of marijuana.

In a declaration in support of Silva’s arrest warrant, Special Agent Stephen Duncan said, “I believe that Rachel Silva’s driving and actions on March 15, 2008, willfully put her son, Johnny Silva, under circumstances likely to produce great bodily injury or death…”

The state’s charges follow an investigation into Rachel Silva’s driving and the automobile collision with off-duty police officer Frank White that she caused at approximately 9:15 p.m. on March 15, 2008 in Oceanside, California. During that incident, Silva was driving in an erratic and aggressive manner with her eight-year old son in the car, while under the influence of alcohol, with a suspended driver’s license, and in possession of marijuana.

After nearly causing a collision with another car, Silva pursued off-duty police officer Frank White in his car and struck his vehicle with her vehicle. During the incident, Officer White fired five rounds into Silva’s vehicle, striking her twice in the arm and her son twice in the leg.

The incident was thoroughly investigated by the Oceanside Police Department. After an extensive briefing about the incident by the Oceanside Police Department, the California Attorney General’s Office and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office agreed that it was appropriate for the Attorney General’s Office to analyze and make any criminal filing decision as to Rachel Silva and for the San Diego District Attorney’s Office to retain the investigation of Officer Frank White.

During the investigation, California Department of Justice agents reviewed 2,500 pages of documents, including an accident reconstruction report. The circumstances surrounding Rachel Silva’s car striking Officer Frank White’s car were insufficient for the filing of a charge of assault with a deadly weapon or any other assault charge against Rachel Silva.

The state’s complaint was filed today and an arrest warrant was obtained. Silva has agreed to formally surrender at her arraignment at 1:30 p.m. on July 9, 2008, in Department 12 of the Superior Court in downtown San Diego.

The state’s criminal complaint and declaration in support of the arrest warrant are attached.

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Brown Sues Toy Companies For Lead

November 19, 2007
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES—California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. and Los Angeles City Attorney Rockard J. Delgadillo today sued twenty companies for manufacturing or selling toys with “unlawful quantities of lead.”

Commenting on the lawsuit which was filed today in Alameda County Superior Court, Attorney General Brown said, “Companies must take every reasonable step to assure that the products they handle are safe for children and their families and fully comply with the laws of California. Despite the lengthening global supply chain, every company that does business in this state must follow the law and protect consumers from lead and other toxic materials.”

“Lead in toys poses a significant threat to the health and well being of our children,” said Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. “This lawsuit is intended to ensure that these companies eliminate lead and other harmful substances from children’s toys, once and for all.”

The state’s lawsuit alleges that companies knowingly exposed individuals to lead—a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and reproductive harm—and failed to provide any warning about this risk. Under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, known as Proposition 65, businesses cannot expose individuals to hazardous chemicals without posting a clear warning.

Proposition 65 is enforced through lawsuits brought by the attorney general, district attorneys and city attorneys in cities with a population exceeding 750,000. Lawsuits may also be brought by private parties, but only after these parties notify the attorney general of the alleged violation.

The California Attorney General—who successfully negotiated settlements in the past to remove lead in candy, soda bottles, jewelry and other consumer products—launched an investigation into toy manufacturers and retailers after the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission began issuing recall notices for toys that exceeded federal lead limits. Beginning with the recall of 1.5 million Thomas the Tank Engine toys in June, 46 toy products have been recalled for excessive levels of lead—totaling approximately 6 million toys this year.

Following the national recall, the attorney general received notices of impending lawsuits against toy companies from the Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Law Foundation, and As You Sow. Under Prop 65, private parties must notify the attorney general of the allegations before bringing a lawsuit. The attorney general then has the option to take over these lawsuits or allow the complaints to proceed independently.

Although Proposition 65 only requires companies to post hazard warnings, many businesses choose to eliminate the toxic chemicals altogether. Last year, the attorney general prompted over 70 retailers and distributors to meet tougher lead standards for jewelry. Many companies subject to today’s lawsuit have indicated they are also committed to taking measures to ensure that lawful standards are met in the future.

Businesses that violate Proposition 65 are subject to civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day for each violation. In addition, courts may order businesses to stop committing the violation. Today’s lawsuit seeks to remedy past violations and prompt manufacturers and retailers to establish processes that prevent toys with lead from being sold in the future.

Proposition 65 requires the Governor to publish a list of chemicals that are known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Lead has been listed since 1987 as a chemical that can cause reproductive harm and birth defects, and has been on the list of chemicals known to cause cancer since 1992.

Lead is a toxic metal that damages the nervous system and other organs. Children are particularly susceptible to the risks of lead exposure. Children can ingest the lead in toys when they place the toys in their mouths, handle the toys and then touch their mouths, or transfer the lead from the toys to other items such as food.

Companies subject to today’s lawsuit include: Mattel, Fisher-Price, Michaels Stores, Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, KB Toys, Costco Wholesale, A&A Global Industries, RC2 Corporation, Eveready Battery Company, Kids II, Kmart, Marvel Entertainment, Toy Investments.

For more information about Prop 65 and to view the private party notices please visit: http://ag.ca.gov/prop65/index.php. For more information about the national toy recall, please visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission at: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.html

The state’s lawsuit is attached.