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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The popular TV show "Storage Wars" - in which treasure hunters bid to buy unseen items in abandoned units - is rigged, with producers sometimes planting valuable items among the junk, a former contestant said in a lawsuit on Tuesday.
David Hester, one of the reality TV show's longest-serving cast members, said producers buried a BMW Mini under trash in one unit featured in the A&E cable series, and a pile of newspapers announcing the death of Elvis Presley in another.
"A&E regularly plants valuable items or memorabilia," Hester charged in his lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday against the cable channel and the show's producers.
When he complained, Hester was fired from the show. He is claiming fraud, wrongful dismissal, breach of contract and unfair business practices, and asking for at least $750,000 in damages.
A&E declined to comment on the lawsuit on Tuesday, saying it did not comment on pending litigation.
"Storage Wars," which made its debut in 2010, is the highest-rated non-fiction program on U.S. cable television, and draws about 5 million viewers per episode. It is also broadcast in Canada, Australia, Britain and other countries.
The show follows a group of modern treasure-hunters who compete at public auctions of abandoned storage lockers in the hope of finding valuable items which they can re-sell for a profit.
Hester said that "nearly every aspect of the show is faked." He said producers regularly place in the lockers "valuable or unusual effects to add dramatic effect" and sometimes stage entire units, according to the lawsuit.
Hester, who lives in Orange County, California, has been featured on the show since 2010. He was fired in October 2012 shortly after a meeting in which he complained about rigging in a meeting with producers, the lawsuit says.
A&E Television Networks is a joint venture of the Hearst Corporation and Disney-ABC Television - a unit of Walt Disney Co.
Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Eric Walsh