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tv   NBC Bay Area News Special  NBC  March 7, 2016 12:00am-12:31am PST

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you're watching an nbc bay area news special. "we investigate. >> so this is broken glass? >> yes. when consumers have major problems with auto repair shops, the public can't see the complaints made to the state. >> it just makes me feel that they're not doing their job. plus, small businesses feel they're getting sucker punched over a little known federal law regulating pay-per-view boxing matches. >> we had no idea. >> the information is not getting out. >> and now a bay area lawmaker promises to fight for the businesses. >> i think we need to change the law. but first, employees say they're getting sick just from going to work. >> i would characterize it as a sick building. >> their employer, the epa.
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the government agency in charge of protecting the environment and health of the american public. here is senior investigative reporter vicky nguyen. >> thank you for joining us. epa workers based here in the bay area say it's ironic. they're reporting to an office building they don't think is safe. after two years of renovations, nearly 100 employees have complained about the indoor air quality. the workers claim their bosses aren't fixing the problem. now they're turning to us for help. construction continues outside the region 9 epa headquarters in san francisco. but workers say it's what you can't see growing inside the building that troubles them. >> it just seems crazy to us that someone would be risking their health by coming into the
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office to work on cleaning up the environment elsewhere. >> reporter: sally worked as a staff attorney for the epa and served as vice president as one of region 9's three unions. leaders from all unions sat down with the nbc bay area investigative unit to voice their concerns about the indoor air quality for workers assigned here. >> some folks are reporting that they come to work and within an hour they're not able to actually work and function. >> reporter: so what is causing the bad air? air quality studies conducted by a consultant hired by the epa reveal elevated levels of formaldehyde and caprolactum which is found in furniture and carpeting. the health effects are less known. >> people are breathing these chemicals? >> yes. >> reporter: the two chemicals tested above california state standards. the epa doesn't believe it's out of compliance because the levels were not sustained over eight hours. but then again the agency admits it never tested over an eight-hour span of time. that's something the unions want. has there been resolution that satisfies you and the employees
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that work there? >> no. we are still waiting for them to step up to the plate. >> reporter: nearly 100 workers have reported missing work, staying home, or difficulty doing their jobs since december of 2014, saying working in the building makes them sick. >> i would characterize 75 hawthorne as a sick building, absolutely. i think it meets the criteria in epa's literature. >> reporter: according to the sick building fact shake, symptoms clute headaches, irritation and dizziness, the same symptoms employees reported to their union reps in a survey. of the 139 employees reported, 64% reported feeling sick when renovations began. were you surprised by the results? >> i was personally surprised, yes. i knew there were impacts for employees but i wasn't aware of the extent of the employees, especially employees who reported feeling up to five different symptoms. >> this is not a sick building. >> jared bloomenfeld is the head of region nine.
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bloomenfeld says he's just as frustrated as his employees. he says he's also feeling sick. >> were people feeling symptoms including me? absolutely. it was a royal pain. >> people put little yellow stickies to see if the air was moving. this was the number one worst office. >> but he says it's not the epa's fault. he blames building management company hines. >> we need a ventilation system that works. >> i know it's the building management because we spent more than $100,000 to work out the answers. >> bloomenfeld says he pushed hines to increase the airflow after the epa conducted testing and talked to experts. the company declined an interview but they said we have worked diligently to resolve any air flow concerns raised. a company spokesman also said it's conducting a comprehensive analysis of the hvac system and will reevaluate the building's air system floor by floor once the system is complete. we showed the reports to a senior environmental inspector
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at healthy building science. >> if they're not getting good airflow, then the chemicals don't have any way to be flushed out and they'll continue to persist until you can get some ventilation or they'll persist for much longer, even a couple of years. >> reporter: he says hines didn't increase the ventilation until the nbc bay area investigative unit contacted the company. >> you coming, you phoning the building got a lot of action. >> union leaders say ultimately public safety is suffering because the workers on the front lines of protecting our health and safety are now fighting for their own. >> they just use that as charge for the admission to protecting the environment and public health. it has failed to do so in this case. >> for its own employees. >> yes. >> the latest air test results done on february 8th show the indoor air quality is getting worse, not better. chemical levels increased on five floors ranging anywhere from 10% to nearly double. the union wants management to allow any worker who has felt sick from working inside the building to work off-site. but epa management says that's
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just not feasible. coming up -- crime and punishment. >> the time is way more than you would even get for the crime itself. >> we investigate california's criminal sentencing guidelines. and look at whether justice is really being served. - hi, it's me. [imitates fanfare] lois prices from grocery outlet. - hi, it's... the rest of us! - hey there. - hi! - hey. loifor over 60 years now, grocery outlet has been selling the brands you know and love, for up to 60% less than what you'd pay at traditional grocery stores. - and check this out. announceright now, two pounds of halos california mandarins are just $1.99! - and we've got a really catchy theme song. hit it! - ♪ grocery outlet bargain market ♪ - ♪ bargain market ... now it's stuck in my head.
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california's three strikes law forces a mandatory 25 years to life prison sentences for many offenders who get a third felony conviction. senior investigative reporter stephen stock analyzed years worth of data and found california's sentence enhancements have not worked as promised. >> i started carrying a gun around 16 years old, right? i shot and killed daniel reyes in a gang dispute. >> committed murder. >> 50 years for gun enhanced. >> 15 to life. >> i committed gang-related murder. >> 25 to life for the gun. >> and 49 years was in gang enhancements.
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>> if you want to witness the impact that california's sentence enhancement system has on those convicted of violent crime, look no further than antoine white. >> we're all shaped by our environment. >> reporter: antoine was 19 years old when he got into a heated argument with his stepfather through a locked screen door. antoine he said he saw his stepfather going for what he thought was a gun. he pulled his own gun and shot. >> i committed the act of killing my stepfather after he abused my mother and my little brother. >> after a trial, a jury found antoine guilty of manslaughter. the judge sentenced him to seven years in prison. but 17 years later, antoine still sits in san quentin. >> so me shooting through the screen door allowed me to have my seven years enhanced to 32 years to life. >> that's right. all because a screen door separated antoine from his stepfather, a prosecutor added a sentencing enhancement of shooting into an occupied dwelling during trial, meaning
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much more prison time for antoine than his original seven-year manslaughter sentence. >> we can't grow to a point of success when we're being crippled by our environment. >> antoine is just one of thousands of inmates serving extraordinarily long sentences in california because of sentencing enhancements. >> even though i've taken a life, i don't believe it was fair. >> while there is no specific data on people like antoine -- >> 3/8 inches gave me a life sentence. >> using what data is available, nbc bay area found at least 40,000 inmates currently serving time under the three strikes sentencing enhancement law alone. as part of our investigation, we were also granted rare access by san quentin to talk with dozens of inmates currently serving time under sentencing enhancements. >> i had a gun to i was given 25 to life. >> lewis got 15 years for attempted murder after he shot a man in the leg but 94 more years or six times the original sentence for four separate gun enhancements all tied to the
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same crime as the same gun. >> the time is way more than you would even get for the crime itself. >> the numbers show sentences in california for violent crimes increased 63% between 1990 and 2009. >> enough is enough. >> state senator lonnie hancock is pushing for change in the california justice system. >> back at the end of the 1980s, we had three state prisons in california. we now have 33 state prisons. our population has about doubled, but our prison populations have grown by over 400%. >> hancock chairs the public safety committee overseeing prisons. she wants to see less attention and resources spent on punishment and more on rehabilitation and drug and mental health kounsing. how did it get this way? >> any reform that comes up, the lobbyists for too often the sheriffs, the d.a.s, the police chiefs come up and oppose. >> advocates of sentencing
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reform say the current system also gives prosecutors too much power because the prosecutors can stack enhancements on to criminal charges, often forcing criminal defendants to plead out rather than risk enhancements following a trial. what we did in the '80s and '90s in locking people up, i don't care what anybody else says. i fervently believe we did the right thing. >> san mateo county district attorney steve wagstaff is the vice president of the california district attorney's association. he says the system is working as designed. >> is reform needed? do we have too many enhancements? is there any inconsistency in the system? i don't think so. >> while the debate over sentencing reform continues outside the walls of san quentin, antoine can't help but think what might have been if he had just served time for the crime rather than also for the enhancements. >> i know that my time will come. my faith is in god. i know god will open these doors. >> last year, senator hancock authored a bill now law that
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requires the parole board to consider releasing offenders for certain crimes if they were committed by someone when they were under the age of 23. coming up -- fighting for the little guy. in a world of pay-per-view events. >> i think there's a big problem there. i don't think it's clear.
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(singing) i just can't wait to meet you, sweet child you're on the way, i'm filled with expectation, and you're growing everyday... (instrumental)
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small businesses are facing six figure lawsuits for what they call innocent mistakes. they say they're being punished for simply not knowing how to license pay-per-view boxing matches. but as investigative producer liz wagner reports, they now have someone fighting in their corner, a local congressman. >> let's go! >> in a dozen rounds in may
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2012, boxing fans watched mayweather take down kodo. martha sanchez saw the fight. >> we rented it and then just showed it on our tv set, just like anyone else. >> but she wasn't at home. she was at work. this empty space once belonged to her family's restaurant. >> the tv was right up here. >> people who want to show boxing matches in their businesses have to pay a special commercial license fee. >> commercial license sounds like a big production. we were just hanging out here watching the fight. >> a year later, sanchez was sued for pay-per-view piracy by this man. >> because it's a federal offense. >> joe galardi. he is the president of j & j sports production, the campbell company that licensed the fight. j & j has sued thousands of businesses, but it's not just restaurants and bars. we found barbershops, beauty salons, auto centers, even the catholic church have been slapped with lawsuits. >> they made up the law. i didn't make up the law. the promoters didn't make up the
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law. >> the law involves two federal statutes that prohibit unauthorized cable or satellite reception. if anyone receives the program they're not entitled to, they may be liable in court. business owners who fail to pay j & j a fee for fights like these are violating the law whether they know it or not. >> we had no idea. >> the information is not getting out. >> attorney trevor mccann has defended more than two dozen clients in piracy cases. >> of the people you represented, how many were unaware that they needed to pay commercial rates? >> nearly all. >> it appears from the company's website business owners have to contact j & j sales staff to pay the commercial fee. >> if i don't know you exist and you make no effort, no real effort, to inform me of your existence and you later come to sue me, how are you the victim? >> do i go from door to door to go do this? no. >> the law doesn't require him to.
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galardi declined to show any examples of his company's advertisements. he says he makes calls to bars and has placed notices in a spanish language newspaper. so you believe there is enough announcements, enough education, notification to small businesses that they should know the law. >> absolutely. >> do you believe small businesses when they say they don't know the law? >> no. >> you don't? >> no. they don't -- they know the law. >> and the law allows stiff penalties. court records show j & j routinely seeks damages of more than $100,000. do you think that's fair? >> yeah. >> you do? >> absolutely. >> for a commercial license fee that cost $2,000 and somebody would maybe end up on the hook for $100,000? >> right. >> while defendants often negotiate down, attorneys suspect j & j is making a pretty penny in court. >> j & j is making a lot of money suing people as opposed to
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protecting their property rights. >> small business owners, they're not out to break the law. they're out to try and make a go of their business. >> north bay congressman mike thompson began looking into piracy laws after the investigative unit contacted his office. >> i think we need to change the law and deal with not only the penalty phase but the clarification of what the law is and how it's to be carried out. >> thompson says business owners need to know how to comply. >> and i think there's a big problem there. i don't think it's clear, and we need to straighten out those ambiguities. >> and thompson says j & j bears much of that responsibility. >> i believe it's also incumbent upon the companies to make sure they do a good job explaining what it is small businesses have to do. >> are you committing to changing these laws? >> oh, i'm all in. >> with strong words from a federal lawmaker, small businesses now have someone with muscle in their corner.
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to give you a sense of what's at stake, court records show 81 judgments in favor of j & j, which added up to more than $1.3 million. coming up -- broken beyond repair. >> he tells me the car fell off. at this point, i'm like no. >> we investigate why a state agency keeps almost every auto repair shop complaint secret.
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if you knew which auto repair shops in california received the most complaints it might help you the next time you have car trouble. there's a state agency that handles the complaints and protects consumers. but we found it's not the best road map for drivers. >> right here. >> albert and michelle say their
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problems began when their suv wouldn't start. >> this is an estimate. >> so they had it towed to this midas auto repair shop in san jose off monterey highway. when they picked up the car, michelle immediately noticed something was wrong. >> squeaky noises, a lot of when you turn the wheel, cracking noises and stuff. we called and they said nothing had happened, which i knew something happened but they just weren't saying what had happened. >> so you thought all your problems were because you needed new tires. >> correct. >> albert went to another shop to replace all four tires for about $300. >> and did that fix the problem? >> no. >> that very same day, they got a call from a former employee of the midas shop. >> at the tells me the car fell off the lift. at this point, i was like, no. >> the mechanic even had pictures, that eight-passenger suv crashed onto its side from several feet in the air, the lift pierced the bottom of the car and the front passenger window shattered. adam wicklander is the employee
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who took the photos. he didn't want to talk on camera but told us he and his coworkers were ordered by their district manager to fix the car as best they could without telling the owners of the suv. how would you describe the work that they did? >> sloppy. this wasn't never like this. color don't match. >> plus, the paint bubbled up. while the right window was replaced, pieces of the old one were left inside the car door. >> so this is broken glass. >> yes. >> and you've never had your window broken. >> no. ever. >> the midas corporate office told us specific questions about what happened would need to be answered by the actual repair shop. since it's independently owned and operated. the shop's district manager jawan khan, who is also the shop owner's son would not talk to us on camera, but confirmed that the lift malfunctioned. and in a memo to the family, he admitted there was a cover-up from the shop that took place. but he denied any involvement
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and blamed it all on his employees. >> did you believe that? >> no. >> other repair shops assessed the damage at more than $11,000. michelle and albert filed a complaint with california's bureau of automotive repair, a state agency created to protect consumers and hold auto repair shops accountable. but the couple says a bureau investigator called them to say there was little he could do. >> just made me feel they're not doing their job. >> we reviewed state data for the past three years and discovered that for about 97% of auto repair complaints, repair shops never receive any kind of discipline or enforcement action. that's more than 10,000 cases each year. >> so for 10,000 cases, you couldn't find anything? >> a lot of them are mediated and taken care of with educational conferences with the shop. >> bureau chief says current laws only allows the bureau to
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issue citations or fines to unlicensed repair shops or those that violate the smog repair program. when it comes to bad repairs or fraudulent billing, investigates can only recommend cases go to court. which rarely happens since that often requires a chain of similar complaints. >> what happens to that consumer who may have been taken advantage of before anyone else? >> sometimes there's rework, adjustments to the bill. >> the bureau can't force an auto shop to do anything. but through that mediation process, consumers get about $5 million a year in voluntary repairs and refunds. but because no citation is ever given, the consumer complaints are never made public, even when the state believes repair shops took advantage of consumers. in recent years the bureau removed consumer complaints from its website and our request to see those complaints was denied. isn't that information that consumers should know about in. >> if we posted information where we felt like they violated the law and they didn't get a chance to defend themselves, we would be in trouble as a government agency. >> is that an incidence of your office, though, siding with the
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auto repair industry against consumers? >> i wouldn't say we're siding with anyone. >> albert believes that's the problem since the state's consumer advocacy group should be siding with consumers. after we contacted the agency, albert's case was reassigned. >> you're from the bureau, right? >> a new investigator called him and soon after issued this inspection report, which recommended the shop improve recordkeeping and communication with its customers, but no actual citations or fines were issued. so when consumers search the online database of more than 36,000 auto repair shops, that midas doesn't have a single violation. >> they're going to do it to the next person and to the next person until someone really says, hey, this has to stop. >> midas management paid for a rental car and offered the family $6,700, but the company's insurance company estimated their car to be worth about a thousand dollars more and paid the claim.
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the family is now considering suing. if you have a story for us call our tip line at 888-996-tips. that's 8477. or send an e-mail to the we thank you for watching. you're invited to watch us regularly here on nbc bay area. why? because we investigate. for nbc bay area, i'm vicky nguyen. good night. - hi, it's me. [imitates fanfare] lois prices from grocery outlet. - hi, it's... the rest of us! - hey there. - hi! - hey. loifor over 60 years now, grocery outlet has been selling the brands you know and love, for up to 60% less than what you'd pay at traditional grocery stores. - and check this out. announceright now, two pounds of halos california mandarins are just $1.99! - and we've got a really catchy theme song. hit it! - ♪ grocery outlet bargain market ♪ - ♪ bargain market ... now it's stuck in my head.
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and this is "open house."
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this week we're shining a spotlight on sports fanatics' dream homes. we'll take you inside a contemporary estate in pasadena designed to let you play in a big way. and a connecticut compound complete with a golf course, tennis courts, basketball court, and so much more. plus a long island home with a sports bar and putting green. but first, the ultimate sports playground that was once home to actor mark wahlberg. [music playing] sara gore: welcome to "open house." right now i'm coming to you from a truly unique penthouse on the upper east side of manhattan. this prewar takes up the 17th and 18th floors. one of the most exceptional features


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