State recovers more than $6 million for consumers

State recovers more than $6 million for consumers (AP) � The South Dakota Division of Consumer Protection has recovered more than $6.5 million for consumers during the fiscal year that ended year June 30.

An additional $1 million was paid in court-ordered restitution.

The numbers reflect the hard work of the state agency to recoup money for consumers, according to state Attorney General Larry Long.

The Division of Consumer Protection is part of the attorney general's office.

"This office provides a valuable service with a great recovery rate, and I encourage you to contact us when you have a complaint or inquiry," Long said.

The recovered money was the result of 2,261 individual consumer complaints filed with the state agency.

The division collected about $2.5 million in fiscal year 2002.

The $1 million in restitution developed from a settlement with D&J Glass Co. in Sioux Falls. The antique-restoration company was convicted of charging for repair work that was not completed. The company's owner, David Jasper, charged 4,607 people a total of

$1,000,942, none of whom had their antiques repaired.

Two consumer-protection investigators and an officer from the Division of Criminal Investigation sorted through the D&J Glass contracts and returned close to 10,000 items, said Sara Rabern, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.

Jasper was sentenced to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of grand theft.

Consumer complaints trigger the recovery process with the state. The division contacts the company and mediates a settlement if necessary. Often, there will be several complaints filed against one company, creating a pattern. When that happens, the division could seek a court order to get restitution.

For example, the agency went to court against DirectONE, a California phone company, which was billing South Dakota residents' credit cards without their authorization.

The division alleged that DirectONE was defrauding the consumers; and, through a lawsuit, recovered $100,000, which was distributed to 850 residents.

The division also joined with several other states to reach a settlement with H&R Block Services Inc., which was accused of adding an additional fee of $22 to some consumer tax return preparation invoices without consumer authorization. A settlement of $3.3 million was established with H&R Block, with about $50,000 of that sum going to South Dakota residents, Rabern said.

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