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San Diego City Attorney Sues Fire Cleanup Firms

City officials have filed a lawsuit against two companies it had hired to clear debris from home sites ravaged by last year's wildfires, alleging they falsified records and knowingly overcharged by at least $2 million.

The lawsuit filed Friday by City Attorney Michael Aguirre accuses A.J. Diani Construction Co. of Santa Maria and Watsonville-based Granite Construction Co. of violating the California False Claims Act by inflating the cost of removal, as well as the quantities and types of debris they removed.

"The disaster of last year's wildfires has been compounded by a scam perpetuated upon the citizens of San Diego," Aguirre said. "We can't afford these rip-offs.

Aguirre's office opened its investigation and Mayor Jerry Sanders ordered an audit of the debris removal program in August, after a report in The San Diego Union-Tribune raised questions about the work of Diani and Granite.

Diani and Granite cleaned debris from 112 of the 365 home sites in the Rancho Bernardo area destroyed by fire on Oct. 22, 2007. Together, they charged the city of San Diego $9.4 million.

Granite spokeswoman Jacque Fourchy said in a printed statement that the company was disappointed that Aguirre filed his lawsuit before the completion of the mayor's audit. She said Aguirre's complaint lacked facts to support the allegations.

An e-mail sent to Diani seeking comment early Sunday was not immediately returned.

Mayoral spokesman Darren Pudgil said Sanders' office also believed it was premature to file a lawsuit before the audit could be reviewed.

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