By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
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By David Futch
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By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But, estimating conservatively, the two sisters added tens of thousands of rats to L.A.’s tony Westside. And perhaps far, far more.
Last November, the Denhams, who have never filed a lawsuit before, sued the sisters. They demanded $500,000 and a mandatory injunction requiring that the sisters have the rats exterminated. They also sued Natalie Garner, Sotheby’s agent Barbara Boyle and her boss, Frances Symons Jr., for failing to disclose the rat house next door.
By December, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s office had taken up the case — finally. But prosecutor Susan Strick’s visit to the site followed a familiar government pattern in buckling to the Barthels. She and an LAPD officer came, they knocked, and the sisters conquered. Strick tells the Weekly she saw a rat through the window and asked to go inside, but the sisters refused her entry.
Strick also alerted Adult Protective Services last November, but Strick passively tells L.A. Weeklythat by the spring of 2008, she “never got a report back.” By the time the City Attorney took the sisters to court in late December for defying county health codes, City Hall’s move was moot — a judge in Beverly Hills had already issued a temporary injunction arising from the Denham lawsuit.
Days before the Beverly Hills ruling, the sisters hired American Pest Control to tent the house. A crew wearing facemasks and hazmat suits emerged pale-faced and sober, as if they had just witnessed the aftermath of a biohazard spill — which, in a way, they had. Scott Denham says they hauled several large garbage bags heavy with dead rats from the bedrooms, kitchen, attic, basement and guesthouse, as the Denhams took photos.
City prosecutor Strick never pressed charges, but the case is open for another year. Disconcertingly, Vector Management’s Gail VanGordon has no regrets about the county’s or city’s incredible inaction. “Most of the time, we’re invited inside,” VanGordon tells the Weekly. “They wouldn’t let anyone inside, and we’re strictly informed about the laws of privacy. We can’t step on our tiptoes to look over a brick wall. That’s a violation of privacy. It would be thrown out of court.” She adds, “We’re not social workers.”
That’s absolute nonsense, says Madeline Bernstein, president of Los Angeles’ Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The former prosecutor says that while the City Attorney’s Office and Vector Management may have lacked grounds to push for a criminal search warrant, clearly “there are lower-level search [warrants] that would apply in this area.” Bernstein called the city and county failures in the case “amazing. It’s like a monumental crack that these women are falling through.”
Ultimately, former owner Garner and Sotheby’s settled out of court after the Denhams’ lone witness, Louis Rico, was deposed. His testimony about Garner’s and Sotheby’s failure to disclose was damning.
Garner, who lives in a sprawling Brentwood mansion with Welcome to Mooseport producer Basil Iwanyk, paid the Denhams $115,000. Sotheby’s paid $15,000 for the deception by its agents, Boyle and Symons. In June, Garner audaciously tried to sue the Barthels too, demanding that they pay the $115,000 because they caused the rat boom. A judge threw out her suit.
Apparently, spawning a massive rat population on L.A.’s Westside doesn’t disqualify homeowners’-insurance policies with State Farm. State Farm is bankrolling the Barthels’ legal defense, setting in motion preparations for a bizarre yet entertaining trial, probably this year. Attempts by the two sides to reach a settlement were stymied by the Barthels’ unnerving request: The Denhams would have to withdraw their demand for a permanent injunction — whose only stipulation is that the sisters not harbor rats.
“Since 1958, we’ve had rats,” Marjorie told Barak Lurie during her deposition in May. “I’ve lived with rats since 1958, honey.... When I got the house in , that’s the day I started feeding all the animals. And I fed them as long as I lived there.”
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