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Carpet cleaner pleads guilty in bait-and-switch scam

July 22, 2009 |  1:33 pm

The owner of a Los Angeles-based carpet cleaning company has pleaded guilty to 10 criminal counts resulting from a pricing scam, said officials from the Santa Monica city attorney's office.

Sharon "Sean" Gilboa was convicted of four counts of grand theft and six counts of false advertising.

His company, which operated throughout Southern California, was formerly known as Clean Dry USA but later did business as Target Carpet Care, Clean N' Dry Carpet and SoCal Dry-Tech. It ran glossy ads in the Clipper magazine, Money Mailer and other circulars, offering to clean three rooms of carpet for $49.95 using special "dry" cleaning technology.

But customers reported that the company sent a representative who used bullying, intimidation and false statements to coerce them into paying much more than advertised. Elderly customers were charged more than other customers, and most customers' carpets were left wet and in worse condition, said Deputy City Atty. Adam Radinsky.

An 85-year-old Santa Monica woman brought the scam to the city's attention. A company representative demanded she pay $2,000 to clean the carpet in her 570-square-foot apartment. When she balked, he lowered the price to $995, then to $795. Intimidated, the woman finally agreed to pay $560. Her carpet was wet for three days, and the company did not return her calls.

"This is a shameful scam," Radinsky said. "We caution everyone to use carpet cleaners only after verifying that the company is legitimate, with a real location, a local business license and a good rating with the Better Business Bureau."

Under an agreement with the Santa Monica city attorney's office, Gilboa was sentenced to three years' probation. He was ordered to provide full refunds to all known customers, totaling more than $20,000 and to perform 360 hours of hard-labor community service. He also was barred from operating any cleaning business in California and must discontinue his company phone numbers and advertisements.

-- Martha Groves