DOWNTOWN — Dusk had fallen when Jaime Seoane, an employee of Cozi Couch Washable Luxury, finally arrived at the store on Thursday. He came with a U-Haul.
The store is now an empty shell, with just piles of haphazardly stacked pillows atop stray bits of furniture and a sky blue sign in the back that reads: “We reserve the right to render great service to everybody … Cozi Couch” in scrawled gold letters.
Customers would claim Cozi Couch chose not to exercise that right when they demanded cash payments on custom furniture orders that never materialized.
At 7:30 p.m. that night, Seoane began removing furniture from the store, packing it into the U-Haul to cart it away to an undisclosed location. Disgruntled Cozi Couch customers and bemused policemen reported to the scene only to watch as Seoane left, dealing a blow to their hopes of recovering their furniture or their cash.
Cozi Couch, located at 700 Wilshire Blvd., recently came under investigation by the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office as complaints began pouring in from the community about alleged fraud on the part of the company.
The City Attorney’s Office reached out to the state Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation in the course of the investigation. The state agency is granted greater access by the California Business and Professions Code to pursue records and furnishings than are local authorities.
Their investigation is proceeding and has gained a sense of urgency as a result of recent developments at the store.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I never tell people what I’m going to do next,” said Rick Diamond, enforcement field manager with the bureau. “We are certainly wanting to try to get to the bottom of what is going on with this business.”
Unfortunately for Diamond and his inspectors, that’s the bottom of a deep hole indeed.
Cozi Couch is actually a fictitious name registered to Slip Covers Sofa, Inc. in Irvine. The only currently viable business, and the one registered with the Department of Consumer Affairs is Cozi Sofa Inc., registered to Cory Iturribarria, a man who identified himself as the Santa Monica store manager.
Arman Hazarian is the owner of Cozi Couch (Headquarters), the Santa Monica store, according to the Better Business Bureau.
At this point, state investigators confess they don’t know who owns the company that sold furniture to Santa Monica residents, nor do they know where that company keeps its factories, another key point in the investigation.
Investigators haven’t had any luck in contacting people connected with the store, and are hunting shadows as rumors swirl that the owner, Hazarian, allegedly left the country.
The plot became murkier with the sudden closure of the Santa Monica store on Thursday, the last of the Cozi Couch outlets in Southern California. According to real estate agent Rudy Quintanar of Lee & Associates, Hazarian was plagued by rent problems that led to the company’s eviction.
“He was behind several months,” Quintanar said. “The landlord tried to give him a break, but after all this other controversy, he didn’t want to deal with it.”
Both the City Attorney’s Office and the Department of Consumer Affairs stress that victims need to get their complaints filed with their agencies to help the investigation.
“The main thing is to get us their paperwork. Our office has a form that we can get out to people immediately,” said Adam Radinsky, deputy city attorney in charge of the Consumer Protection Unit. “There’s some urgency because the business is in a volatile state right now. We want to get as much information as soon as possible.”
The Cozi Couch store operated without issue in Santa Monica for several years. Tal Cohen, a Beverly Hills resident, only came to the store because her sister-in-law had a positive experience with the company. Although her furniture had been late, the company gave her a complimentary ottoman to make amends.
Cohen would not be so lucky. She ordered furniture from the store in December 2008, and was asked to pay up front in cash.
“The moment they said ‘Cash only,’ I should have known,” Cohen said. “But you get so many discounts if you pay in cash!”
The sense from Cozi Couch customers is not only one of indignation, but of embarrassment that they were caught in what many consider a scam.
“They prey on housewives — kind, nice, decent people — and play on their heartstrings,” said Joan Blackman, a Malibu resident. Blackman came to Santa Monica clutching a pillow she hoped to match to an ottoman to replace the one the store never gave her.
“You get so angry!” Blackman said.