Crystabel Funes Is Fighting One of L.A.'s Richest Families for the Right to See Her Daughter
ILLUSTRATION BY JESSE LENZ
Crystabel Funes is parked outside the house on Woodland View Drive, letting the memories return. It's a gorgeous house — a master bedroom over a two-car garage, a cavernous living area under a sloped roof, a jacuzzi — much nicer than any place she had lived before. Yet Jimmy made her feel as if she belonged.
She recalls playing in the pool with him and her daughter. "Wow," she sighs. "Just being here ... I can't believe he's dead."
On weekend nights, Jimmy would take her out in his Porsche, speeding down the hill on Victory Boulevard, the San Fernando Valley unfurling in front of them. He was proud of the car; unlike the house, he had paid for it himself.
"He had everything going for him," she says.
Sometimes she gets mad — how dare he leave her in this position — but right now she is blaming herself. "He knew I wanted to be with him," she says, defensively. "I wasn't rejecting him."
She didn't see the signs, or maybe didn't want to believe them. She was a happy person then, and she didn't understand that kind of despair. But now she does.
When Jimmy died, she lost her home. Then she found herself battling his powerful family, and knowing she could not win. She lost her family, her stability, her sobriety. These days she has a studio apartment in Koreatown, but for much of last year she lived in a truck.
"Now I really know what sadness is," she says. "I know what he was feeling — like helplessness. I would not do the same thing. I couldn't do it. I can't hurt myself that way. But I do understand it. ... You know that dark place? Yeah, I feel that now. I know that feeling of feeling alone, of feeling nobody understands you. Nobody loves you. You're not good enough.
"I never felt that until now," she says. "But now I understand him."
Crystabel Funes was 23 when she first met the man who would change her life. It was May 2005, and she had been hired in the cost engineering department of Tutor-Saliba (now Tutor Perini), a large construction company based in Sylmar. Jimmy, then 39, worked in IT, and had come over to set up her computer.
Her first impression was that he wasn't that bright. Though he had been at the company 20 years, he didn't seem to know what he was doing. She ended up configuring the computer herself. But he would always have a job at Tutor-Saliba. He was Jimmy Tutor — the owner's son.
She was a single mom, recently divorced, with a 1-year-old daughter, Kelly. She also was one of the few young women at the company, and he began pestering her for a date. She told him she wasn't interested. When the secretaries let her in on the fact that his father was Ron Tutor, she tried to turn him down more gently.
By that December, he'd finally prevailed. He took her to the company Christmas party at his father's mansion in Hidden Hills. She was blown away by its opulence: marble floors, crystal chandeliers, stone archways, a backyard grotto.
She had never seen such wealth before. Her parents were refugees who fled the Salvadoran civil war. Her father became a real estate broker, helping other Salvadoran immigrants set up small businesses around Van Nuys. Her parents had split when she was young, and she grew up in a series of apartments, usually near the freeway.
Slender and girlish, she had dark eyes and a fondness for makeup and fancy handbags. At Taft High School, she was on the drill team. At home, her mother was strict, and they fought constantly. Funes got out of the house as fast as she could, moving in with a boyfriend at 17.
Jimmy was a child of wealth. When he was a boy, his mother, Cheryl, married Ron Tutor, who adopted Jimmy. Ron's father was an Armenian immigrant, Albert G. Varjabedian, who anglicized his surname and founded A.G. Tutor Co., in 1949. Ron Tutor turned the family business into one of the nation's largest construction companies. He bought massive yachts and flew on private jets, and has been ranked as one of L.A.'s wealthiest men.
Although Cheryl and Ron Tutor divorced in the late 1980s, they remained friends. She married Horst Osterkamp, a wealthy hotelier, and moved into a home a few blocks from Tutor's mansion in the gated community of Hidden Hills, in the West San Fernando Valley. The two families would often socialize over the holidays.
At such gatherings, Jimmy tried to make Funes feel comfortable. His mother was gracious and welcoming, but Funes still felt ill at ease around "fancy people." They were always talking about their fabulous vacations and home renovations. Often she would gravitate to the kitchen, where she ended up speaking Spanish with the housekeepers.
Jimmy wasn't entirely comfortable in his own family either, she says. He was always the oddball, wearing Tommy Bahama shirts and making goofy faces in family pictures. She saw a sweetness in him, and he showed real tenderness to her daughter.
He enjoyed going to Vegas to watch fights, and clubs in Simi Valley and Hollywood, where he would throw the Tutor name around. But while he was a partier, he'd never touch a drop of alcohol. He was a reformed alcoholic and cocaine addict. When she met him, Jimmy had been sober for three years. He was up front about it, and even took her to a few meetings.
He was fast approaching middle age, and balding enough that he had shaved his head. But he acted like a 20-year-old kid. He had lost a lot of years to his addiction, and now he was trying to recapture his youth.
Behind his party boy facade, she saw deep sadness. He loved chasing girls but had never had a long-term relationship. At one point, he showed her his poetry. She was struck by how lonely he must have been.
In a way, it was perfect. He had everything except a family — and that was the one thing she could provide.
They discussed marriage, but he wanted more time to sort things out. In February 2007, he announced he was making his annual monthlong trip to the Philippines, without her. She begged him not to go.
When he got back, she told him she was pregnant.
He wasn't ready. "What are you gonna do?" he asked.
"What do you mean, 'What am I gonna do'?" she responded. She was going to have the baby. They fought and broke up. Around the office, she would overhear him talking on the phone to other women, to make her jealous.
The office gossip was hard to take. Some people whispered that she was trying to trap him, and the baby wasn't even his. When she was six months pregnant, Funes was demoted. She didn't come in for a few days; after that, she was let go. Someone from work came to her apartment to drop off the plant she had kept on her desk.
For the last few months of her pregnancy, she lived on food stamps. She stayed home, depressed. What little income she had came from selling craft items on eBay. She blamed Jimmy. "I wish I never met you," she wrote to him.
When the baby — Kate — was born, she fought back in the only way she could. She listed her ex-husband as the father on the birth certificate.
Looking back on her life years later, Funes acknowledges that she often made stupid choices. Of course it's easier for her to point fingers at powerful forces outside her control, and there's some truth in that. But in a series of interviews, she often says how much she regrets her own behavior, too.
She admits she wasn't mature enough to face the reality and severity of her problems. She always wanted an easy way out. "I behaved like a teenager in hiding my need of help," she said in a handwritten letter to a family law judge. "I did this to not face being told I was wrong and being in trouble."
But avoiding her problems tended to make them worse.
After Kate was born, Jimmy sent a process server to her hospital room to order a paternity test. The results proved Jimmy was the father.
She says he came to her door, crying, and apologized for abandoning her. But the reconciliation was short-lived. Jimmy's parents no longer approved of her. She was erratic and irrational — too much drama. They encouraged him to break it off with her.
The situation quickly devolved into a battle for custody. Jimmy was paying child support, and he wanted joint custody. Funes didn't trust him to take her baby overnight. A recovering addict, he had never held a baby before.
He went to court and got an order allowing him to see Kate three afternoons a week. But Funes was so angry that she often failed to show up or was late to their meetings. So Jimmy went back to court. His lawyers claimed, wrongly, that Funes was a Salvadoran immigrant, and suggested she might flee the country.
When Funes refused to come to court, the judge ordered an Amber Alert and an arrest warrant. Frustrated with her defiance, he also gave Jimmy full custody.
The police found her at her apartment in Canoga Park. They took her to jail. Her older daughter, Kelly, was turned over to Funes' sister and Jimmy got Kate, then 9 months old. Funes had never been in a jail. "It was awful," she says. "It was humiliating."
When she was released, two days later, she called Jimmy again and again, begging to see her daughter. It took him a month to call her back.
But that day, he told her to meet him at an address in Woodland Hills. With help from his parents, he had bought a $2.5 million home. He wanted her to live there with him as a family.
The house was brand-new, with a stone turret and a movie theater. The toilets had never been flushed. She was giddy — the life she had always wanted was within her grasp.
There was just one problem: Jimmy hadn't told his parents that Funes had moved in.
On her birthday, he got Funes a new truck — she walked outside, and there it was with a big bow on it. But that day, Jimmy's mother found out she was living there and came over in a fury. According to Funes, Cheryl Osterkamp called her a lazy Mexican, grabbed Kate, and told her to get out of the house. (Osterkamp did not respond to requests for comment.) Not wanting to defy his parents, Jimmy moved Funes to a nearby hotel.
On his birthday, a few weeks later, they spent the day together. That night, he got drunk for the first time in years.
Funes felt bad for him, but she also felt cheap. She wanted them to be a family, and he was forcing her to sneak around. She refused to sleep with him, her only leverage to pressure him into confronting his parents.
She spent the days with the nanny at the new house while Jimmy went to work. At night, she would return to the hotel with her older daughter while Jimmy stayed with the baby.
On Friday, Oct. 17, 2008, they spent the day preparing for Kate's first birthday party. That night, when he dropped her off at the Comfort Inn, he went in for a kiss. She turned her head to the side. She wouldn't do anything with him until he resolved things with his mom.
He returned to his house. Late that night, he texted her: "I feel so down."
The previous weekend, he'd gotten drunk and she couldn't reach him. She was worried about her baby. So she had called Ron Tutor and said Jimmy might have tried to kill himself. Ron came to the house, jumped the front gate and slapped his son awake. Jimmy had been so mad that she'd done that.
Now, she called him to see if he was all right. "Oh, don't worry," he said, laughing. "I just wanted you to call me back."
Relieved, she went to bed. She didn't receive the rest of Jimmy's texts until she got up in the morning.
I want to die.
I took 40 pills.
I can't even die when I want to.
Goodbye my love now you have Kate that's what you want?
I took lots of pills there you have Kate.
Early that morning, she got a knock on the door. It was the LAPD. The nanny had found Jimmy's body on the living room floor. Kate was in the next room, fast asleep.
Funes had come to depend on Jimmy. She still had no job. When she had her own apartment, he paid the utilities. He bought gas for her car. When he moved her to the Comfort Inn, he paid $2,700 up front for a one-month stay — just long enough, they'd thought, for him to sort things out with his family.
Now he was gone and she was cut off. A former co-worker, who was close to Ron Tutor, called her and suggested that Funes not come to the funeral. Jimmy's family was grieving and they wanted some space. She stayed away.
She wanted Kate, but she and 4-year-old Kelly were essentially homeless, depending on friends for shelter, moving between spare rooms, couches and motels. Even the truck, which Jimmy had got her as a birthday gift, was repossessed.
Kate and her nanny went to stay with Jimmy's mother. Within a week of Jimmy's death, Tutor-Saliba's lawyers went to court on Cheryl Osterkamp's behalf and filed for guardianship.
The construction industry is known for brutal litigation that can drag on for years. Often the difference between a profit and a loss comes down to the quality of the lawyers. And Ron Tutor is well known within the industry as a legal brawler.
"Ron has a very good attorney. She's a pit bull," says Tammy Holguin, who worked as Tutor's secretary and used to take breaks with Funes. Of her former co-worker, Holguin says, "She had nothing and nowhere to go."
Tutor-Saliba's lead attorney, Nomi Castle, declined to comment for this story, and Ron Tutor did not respond to requests for comment via a company spokesman. In court documents, lawyers from Castle's firm noted that Funes had not called 911 in response to Jimmy's texts, and suggested she might have been responsible for his death. They also revived the claim that Funes was an immigrant with ties to El Salvador, when, in fact, she has never been there.
Without a lawyer, Funes was unable to tell her side in court.
"I know Ron Tutor like the back of my hand, and I know Cheryl. She was the momma bear. She was not gonna let anybody take that grandbaby," Holguin says. "Unless you're a multibillionaire, you don't fight Ron Tutor."
It wasn't much of a fight. Funes remembers being in the hallway at court, where one of Tutor-Saliba's attorneys explained that Osterkamp was grieving and it would be best for everyone to let her have her grandchild, at least until Funes got back on her feet.
It seemed to make sense.
"I thought it was better to keep it peaceful," Funes says. "But I saw early on that what they want, they get. I'm sorry to say that, but money runs this world."
Funes signed an authorization for Osterkamp to have guardianship of Kate. In the margin, she initialed her name next to the word "temporary." She thought the arrangement would last two weeks.
She was allowed visitation, every other day for one hour. She would show up at the front gate at Hidden Hills, waiting while the guard called up to the house. Often, according to documents filed by Osterkamp's lawyers, she would be late for appointments. She never felt comfortable there.
At a meeting with Osterkamp's lawyer in early December, Funes said she wanted her daughter back. But at the key court hearing the following week, Funes wasn't even present. A notice had been mailed to one of her addresses, but she apparently never got it. Osterkamp's attorneys informed the court that Funes' whereabouts were unknown.
The judge granted Osterkamp full custody. The judge also ordered continued visitation, as agreed between Funes and Osterkamp. The visits continued for a short while, and then, for some reason, stopped. Funes says Osterkamp stopped returning her phone calls.
Funes has not seen Kate in five years.
Without Kate, Funes began to spiral. To provide for herself and 4-year-old Kelly, she continued to buy trinkets at flea markets, paint them, and sell them on eBay or Etsy. That wasn't always enough to pay the rent, and a few times they were evicted and forced to move to another rented room or motel.
"When Jimmy passed away, she went off the deep end," Holguin says. "Everyone tried to help her for quite a while. I gave her money so she wouldn't sleep on the street."
Funes had gotten close enough to wealth to see how rich people lived. She saw how Jimmy had been bailed out over and over again. But when Funes fell, she reached for her own safety net — and found she didn't really have one. Her father had moved back to El Salvador. She barely talked with her mother and her sister. Whatever she did, she would be doing it alone.
When faced with an obstacle, she tended to get angry or offer childish evasions. Though she would long deny it, public and private records strongly suggest she also began to use methamphetamine — searching for something to jolt her out of her growing depression.
In March 2010, the Department of Children and Family Services paid her a visit at a motel. They had gotten a tip that she was using drugs around Kelly. The room seemed clean and Kelly was healthy. But the next day, Funes skipped a drug test. She checked out of the motel without leaving a forwarding address.
That September, she showed up at UCLA for an abortion, saying she'd been raped. A social worker became concerned when she said that she needed to leave to feed her daughter. DCFS was dispatched to her house, where, agents reported, they found a "parade of tweakers" coming and going from the front door.
The case workers found Kelly with a baby sitter at a nearby El Pollo Loco. Based on Kelly's descriptions of life at the house — she said she had to shake her mother awake to get food and she had to put herself between her mom and her boyfriend when they were fighting — the social workers decided to place her in emergency foster care.
Back at the hospital, Funes tested positive for methamphetamine. She swore up and down that she never used drugs, and now blames the test result on diet pills. When she found out her daughter had been taken, she began cursing and threatening the social worker.
"How could she fucking do this to me?" she screamed, according to an affidavit for a restraining order filed by UCLA. "I am going to fuck that bitch up."
In the days that followed, Funes repeatedly denied using drugs. She acknowledged living in a "tweaker house" but said that her roommates liked having her and Kelly around because they kept the tweakers away.
One of her roommates, Arriane Giladi, now says that the authorities greatly exaggerated the meth allegations, and that Funes was a good mom. "Crystabel and Kelly love each other," she says.
Kelly told the DCFS workers she wanted to go home. "My mom never did something bad," she said. She said her mother was an excellent cook, and even though she was not in school, her mother had taught her letters and numbers at home.
To get her daughter back, Funes would need to get better in a hurry. But Kelly had kept her going. Without her, Funes got worse.
At home, Funes lashed out at her roommates, Giladi says, blaming them for her losing Kelly. Having already lost Kate, she decided she would do whatever it took to get Kelly back.
Two days later, a friend drove Funes to a DCFS office for a visit with Kelly. Inside, Funes became hysterical and grabbed her daughter. Fighting off the social workers who tried to stop her, she ran into the parking lot, but her friend refused to help Funes escape. Funes was persuaded to put the child down before the police arrived.
A month later, she tried again. This time, she showed up at her daughter's after-school program in Reseda and forged the foster parent's signature on the sign-out sheet. Just like that, Kelly and her mom were reunited — and also fugitives.
The kidnapping made it onto TV news, with viewers advised to be on the lookout. The police posted Funes' photo at cheap motels all over the San Fernando Valley.
For the next few weeks, the duo moved from one place to another, twice narrowly eluding capture. On one occasion, Funes spotted police from her window at a Motel 6. Quickly, she grabbed Kelly's clothes and hustled out of there.
Funes didn't have much money, and she spent what she had on room service and video games for Kelly. She knew she couldn't hold out forever. She thought about giving Kelly back after New Year's — maybe they would go to the Rose Parade together.
They didn't last that long. In early December, she was at a Motel 6 in Sylmar, just down the street from Tutor Perini, when she decided to take Kelly for breakfast at Denny's. As she left the room, the police swarmed her. One of her friends must have tipped them off.
"Put your hands in the air!" they shouted. "Don't move!"
Kelly started crying. Funes crumpled on the outdoor staircase, trying to shield her daughter's eyes. They had been on the run for a little more than a month.
Kelly, though, seemed to be in good health. She told a social worker that she and her mother had moved around a lot and "traveled the world."
The kidnapping charge eventually was dropped. Funes was sentenced to six months in jail for contempt of court, of which she served only three weeks. But her chances of ever getting Kelly back were becoming remote.
"Once they have their hooks into your kids, it's hard," says Shawn McMillan, an attorney who sues DCFS on behalf of parents who have lost their children. "Especially if you've got any kind of drug history, it's very hard to get them to back down."
Funes would have to submit totally to the DCFS reunification program, which included parenting classes and drug rehab. Even then, it would be difficult. And though she told social workers she had "learned her lesson," she found excuses for missing drug tests.
At visits with Kelly, she would become emotional. "I didn't do anything wrong," she said during one visit. At another visit, Kelly gave her a Valentine's card and Funes began to cry uncontrollably.
In March 2011, police caught Funes and her boyfriend in a motel with methamphetamine, and he was arrested. From there, though, she actually improved. Funes got into therapy, where she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and began to work on impulse control. She also started to attend 12-step meetings, though she continued to deny she had a drug problem.
She was eager to get Kelly back, and deluged a series of foster parents with texts and phone calls. One foster mother overheard Funes telling Kelly that she would be coming home soon. Kelly was thrilled, but the foster mother had to cut off the call and admonish Funes not to discuss the case. Kelly was later heard bragging to the other kids that she would be going back with her mom.
DCFS considered placing Kelly with Funes' sister but ultimately decided that Funes' instability would make that problematic. Funes simply would not acknowledge any drug issue. So in May 2012, the department recommended that Kelly be put up for adoption.
Funes was becoming increasingly desperate. In a series of pleading text messages to a new set of foster parents, she offered to pay them in exchange for weekends with Kelly. When a DCFS worker confronted her about it, she screamed at her and called social workers "baby stealers."
In one phone call with Kelly, Funes promised to get her a puppy when she came home. She asked Kelly if she still loved her mommy, and got excited when the girl said yes.
In a last, desperate bid to stave off adoption, Funes submitted paperwork to DCFS showing that she'd completed 48 parent-education classes. When the case workers checked up on it, however, they determined that she had been kicked out of the program and had forged the document.
In December 2012, two years after the kidnapping, Funes was told she could have one final visit with Kelly. After that, Kelly would be formally adopted. Kelly was 8 years old. She wouldn't be allowed contact with her mother again until she turns 18, and then only if she chooses. The visit would last 15 minutes.
Funes brought her some presents — a Hello Kitty toy, some clothes for her doll. Kelly gave her mother a notebook and some perfume, and started to cry.
"I love you. Be a good girl," Funes said. She also said that this would not be the end: "I will always be fighting to get you back."
The social worker admonished her for talking about the case and cut the visit short.
In a series of interviews, Funes repeatedly denied that she ever used drugs. But ultimately she acknowledges using methamphetamine — though she claims it was just twice. Once, she says, was after her final visit with Kelly.
She just didn't care anymore.
Six years ago, Crystabel Funes was living in a $2.5 million house. But by the start of 2013, she'd lost her boyfriend, her baby daughter and finally her older daughter. Her relationships with her sister and mother, which were never strong to begin with, had frayed to the breaking point. She believed they hadn't done enough to try to adopt Kelly.
Without hope of getting Kelly back, she stopped working. When she was still trying to impress DCFS, she had tried to keep an apartment with room for Kelly. But without that motivation, she became homeless. For six months, she lived in her truck. At night, she would park on Vanowen Street, close to a friend's house where she could go in the mornings to shower and change.
In July 2013, she was arrested twice with methamphetamine. She pleaded no contest to possession charges and was sentenced to probation and ordered to attend 12-step meetings.
Funes went to the meetings and sat quietly as others told stories about their addictions. It didn't connect with her. Everyone was smoking, and she hated that. They also made drugs seem like a big party. That wasn't her experience. She felt awful on meth — like everyone knew she was high.
She never shared anything. At the end of the meetings, she would get her paperwork signed for court and leave.
Funes could barely understand what had happened to her. She stopped talking about it to friends, convinced they wouldn't believe her. She didn't really believe it herself.
After a while, Funes started to shake herself out of it again. In December, she met a man who wanted to buy a cigarette lighter from her on eBay. They got to talking, and he told her he was a freelance TV news producer. He was interested in publicizing her story. He helped move her into a studio apartment in Koreatown and gave her hope that he could help her reunite with her kids.
To do that, she needs a lawyer. She got a part-time job at Home Depot and started saving money.
She wants to appeal Kelly's adoption, though that will be difficult. A more manageable task might be Kate: Funes' parental rights in her case are still in effect. But if she's to see her younger daughter again, she needs a judge to order a resumption of her visitation schedule.
She knows that a lawyer will cost at least $5,000. She has saved $1,000.
"I just want to go get Kelly and Kate and go to my house and lock the door and be a mom," she says.
Lacking any other way to communicate with her daughters, Funes joined Twitter in hopes they would see her messages. "I miss you Kelly & Kate. Did you girls have a good day? Ask for me. I'm here waiting by my phone Honey Bunnies."
Asked why she never shares at 12-step meetings, she says she doesn't know what to say. She worries people will think she's a bad mom. But in trying to tell her story, little by little, Funes is beginning to see it clearly.
"I'm afraid," she says. "I'm so afraid."
A few weeks ago, she found a photo of Kate on Instagram. Osterkamp had posted it after taking Kate for lunch at the Ivy. Now 6 years old, Kate is wearing a red dress, with her hair in pigtails. Funes enlarged the image and tacked it to her wall, right next to her photos of Kelly.
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