Posted: Friday, February 3, 2017 – 2:44 PM
By Victoria Talbot
On Jan. 15, 2016, Angella Nazarian noticed that her security system keypad was flashing an error signal and called ACS to inquire about it. Four hours later, her son entered the home, alarm blaring, to find it thoroughly ransacked, with two safes stolen and jewelry, cash and valuables stuffed into the family luggage and carted away.
What happened to the Nazarian family raises questions about how consumers shop for their home security firms, and what homeowners can do to protect themselves.
That day, Nazarian queried the customer service representative who answered the phone.
Later, it would be revealed that the problem was not solely at the Nazarian residence. In fact, the company was “inundated with calls from customers,” according to internal emails. The problem was a failure of a Verizon toll-free landline that connected between 100 and 7,388 homes to the security company. It would be over 24 hours before all the homes would be reconnected to the services that they had contracted for, and it would be too late for the Nazarians.
Most of their customers, allege legal documents, had no knowledge that the company they trusted for their home security had no back up plan in the event of a telephone failure. Most never knew their homes went unguarded.
The Nazarian home is in a Bel Air neighborhood that is set back from the street so that the few passers-by would not easily see suspicious activity. The burglar alarm could have been active for three-and-a-half hours before the Nazarian’s son arrived home at 10:45 p.m. He found the alarm blaring, and multiple security breaches reflected on the keypad. He went to his room, not sure if there were still burglars inside the house. He hid in the closet and called 911, ACS and his parents. His father, David, was out of town. He found his mother at a friend’s home. Burglars had entered breaking a second-story window, whereupon they “ransacked much of the house,” said Nazarian. ACS had not patrolled the area to hear the alarm.
According to transcripts, two hidden safes weighing in excess of 300 pounds, were carried down stairs and loaded into a waiting truck. Statistics from the Beverly Hills Police Department show that most burglars spend 3-5 minutes inside a residence. The thoroughness with which the Nazarian house was plundered, however, indicates that the burglars were not in a hurry. The alarm may have been activated upon their departure, ringing through the night without response. The Nazarian family lost more than their valuables that day.
Feeling violated and betrayed by the security firm they trusted to live up to their stated promise, “to protect and serve you at the highest level possible,” they are now embroiled in an expensive lawsuit that claims “gross” negligence, breach of fiduciary duty; fraud and deceit; unfair business practices and false advertising.” ACS has been evasive in providing documentation, say lawyers.
“They’ve been dragging their feet,” said Nazarian. “This is so difficult.”
“Even after working on this case for nearly a year, I remain startled by the indifference exhibited by ACS and My Alarm Center towards their customers last January 15 and throughout the course of this lawsuit,” said Nazarian lawyer, Keith Wesley, of Browne George Ross LLP. “I am absolutely confident that, when we come to trial, a jury will feel the same.”
Al Radilaleh, the regional vice president of ACS, twice cancelled depositions on short notice, he said, and twice walked out in the middle of depositions. Rather than apologizing for his company’s failure, in his deposition, Radilaleh attacked the victims, dismissing the notion that the burglary had traumatized both the couple and their son. However, ACS employees who had just upgraded the Nazarian alarm system two months prior to the event, had full knowledge of the home, the valuables, the safes, and most importantly, access. There is no evidence that it was an inside job, but the finger-pointing is ironic.
When she phoned that day, Nazarian was not informed of the widespread outage affecting an unknown number of homes, or that the company had no plan for a back-up. Instead, she was told to step out the door to test the alarm, which went off, as expected. But the alarm’s telephone system was not communicating the potential breach to the security company. The company took no steps to notify their customers of the breach, claiming that they did not have the manpower to call the potential 7,388 customers affected.
“We would have driven up inbound call volume with questions. . . to a point. . . we would not be able to man real emergency calls,” said an internal document.
The customer service representative not only did not explain that her home (and that of an unknown number of others) was not protected. He treated the problem as a one-off with the Nazarian household; the company made an appointment to send someone out the next day for service.
“If I had known, I would have stayed home or asked for additional security,” said Nazarian.
Meanwhile, company employees worked with Verizon from midnight until 4 a.m. that night because “the problem was in their switch and that office does not open until 6 a.m.,” according to internal emails. It was not until 4 a.m. the following day that everything was working.
ACS, like many security companies, is part of a national conglomerate headquartered on the East Coast. Though once a locally owned interest, the company’s assets were sold in 2012 to My Alarm Center. The lawsuit contends that ACS sold itself as “locally owned and operated,” and that they “deliberately concealed My Alarm Center’s ownership and operation of ACS Security with the intent to deceive its customers, including Plaintiffs, into contracting with them for their home security services.”
“A lot of us think when we go with a local company like ACS we will get better treatment,” said Nazarian.
If she had known it was a conglomerate, she would have sought a local company.
Beverly Hills Police are reluctant to make recommendations on alarm companies, but they strongly endorse having security. They will walk through your home and discuss options for better security. Call 310-288-268. Surprisingly, 23-percent of home burglaries occurred when the alarm was not activated. Review the phone tree on existing systems he says, to ensure you are notified of a breach. BHPD recommends that residents alarm second-story windows, often accessed by lawn furniture or maintenance equipment. Sgt. Max Subin recommends that residents note unusual vehicles or circumstances. Lock gates, he says, install motion detector lighting, have security cameras on access points, collect newspapers and mail and tell neighbors when you leave town. Ask police for a vacation watch by calling 310-285- 2122. Bolt safes to the floor and get to know your neighbors.
“Dogs are an incredible deterrent,” he says.
In Beverly Hills, there were 151 residential burglaries in 2016, up 14-percent over 2015 with 132; 19 of those occurred in December 2016.
Several new state laws designed to reduce the State’s prison population have redefined jailable offenses and set free hundreds of recidivists from the prison system. The Beverly Hills Police Department has hosted two town hall meetings to encourage public awareness. Later this month, they will be rolling out a new effort to encourage Neighborhood Watch.
The Nazarians, who usually try to keep the media spotlight away from their private lives, say they are going public so that no one else’s family is put in danger the way theirs was.
“I am just so grateful nothing happened to my son,” said Nazarian.