On December 3, drivers on Interstate 8 west saw an addition to the picture of district attorney Bonnie Dumanis on the 14-foot tall, 48-foot wide billboard near the El Cajon Boulevard exit.
On the billboard warning that "Workers' Comp Fraud is a Felony," a vandal or vandals defaced the DA's face, adding a black mustache and goatee and blacking out a tooth. The billboard sits atop the roof of Jejjoni Sign Manufacturer, a business located on Center Street in La Mesa's industrial section.
The vandalism occurred during the weekend, probably on Sunday, December 2, according to business owner Hoss Jejjoni. The vandalism differed from previous billboard defacements.
"I don't know if this was an anti-authority expression or a high-school prank," Jejjoni said in a December 6 interview. About six months ago, "there was a problem with gang graffiti. I know the police set up sensors [to detect] anyone on the catwalk." He said the sensors were removed.
As Jejjoni spoke, a crew from Lamar Outdoor Advertising, owner of the billboard, was removing the anti-fraud ad from the flexible vinyl. They replaced it with an English/Spanish advertisement for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital because the outdoor advertising campaign was near the end of its four-week run.
Lamar senior account executive Steve Keezer said he learned about the defacement from the sheriff's department on December 4. Once defacement is spotted, Lamar dispatches a crew as soon as possible to remedy the situation, said Keezer. The solution may be to touch-up the billboard if there is "a little graffiti." In the case of the "foul" word on a casino-advertisement billboard near Highway 94, a powerful blast of water washed away the word, he said.
The DA's anti-fraud billboard in La Mesa was one of 65 erected countywide on November 7. Lamar and CBS Outdoor worked with Dumanis by offering reduced rates for the billboards, according to a DA's office news release. To compensate for the loss to the DA's office, Lamar extended the value of the contract at another location.
Keezer estimated the defacement damage at $1200. According to Section 594 of the California Penal Code, damage of $400 or more could result in a misdemeanor or felony charge. If the amount of the defacement is $400 or more, the penalty is a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment in county jail for up to a year, according to La Mesa police captain Dan Willis. If the damage or destruction is $10,000 or more, the vandal could be fined up to $50,000, imprisoned, or receive both penalties.
Keezer said Lamar employees monitor their billboards to check on things such as whether the lights are working. Lamar staffers give pictures of defaced and tagged billboards to law-enforcement agencies because authorities may recognize a signature and come up with a suspect.