A Newport Beach man got six months in jail for posing as a fire marshal and charging small, mostly immigrant businesses across Orange County for fraudulent inspections.
Brian Lee Carsten, 37, pleaded guilty Friday to five counts of felony extortion by force or threat, five counts of misdemeanor fraudulent impersonation of fire personnel and one other misdemeanor: possession of a firearm in violation of a protective order.
Besides the 180 days in county jail, Carsten must serve three years of formal probation and pay restitution to his victims.
On Aug. 31, 2016, Carsten entered Beach Auto Sound in Huntington Beach while wearing a uniform and identifying himself as a fire marshal. He charged the merchant $209 for a fraudulent inspection of the business and provided a bill and receipt on Cal-Fire letterhead.
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On Sept. 12, 2016, Carsten pulled the same act at State College Distributors in Anaheim, where he threatened the merchant with a citation if he did not pay for the inspection. Carsten returned to the business the following day with forged invoices and receipts and collected two payments of $209 for each lot from the victim, reports the Orange County District Attorney’s office.
That merchant contacted the Anaheim Police Department later that same week, but Carsten was not done playing fireman. On Sept. 16, 2016, he conducted similar fraudulent inspections at Newport Awning and Imperial Auto Service, which are neighboring businesses in Santa Ana. He extorted $209 from each business and provided receipts with forged Cal-Fire logos.
The Santa Ana and Huntington Beach victims saw news coverage of the Anaheim crime and contacted their respective police departments. Besides cops in Anaheim, Santa Ana and Huntington Beach, Anaheim Fire & Rescue and the Huntington Beach Fire Department participated in the investigation.
That probe led to Carsten’s Sept. 23, 2016, arrest, when he was found in possession of two firearms in violation of a domestic violence protective order, prosecutors say.