About 80 physically and mentally disabled residents crammed inside two "assisted living" homes in the historic West Adams district were punished if they missed their bi-daily religious services, according to a civil complaint filed by City Attorney Mike Feuer. Punishments included having to stand by a tree for hours, transcribing Bible portions, sleeping outside, or being discharged. A judge appointed Attorney David Pasternak as receiver to move them away from what Feuer calls "a daily nightmare."
Feuer filed the complaint Tuesday against the operators of Agape Mission House and Agape Home Church, saying that since at least August of 2010, defendants Kang Won Lee and Jung Hwan Lee "deceptively recruit[ed] and obtain[ed] as many referrals for residents from placement agencies as possible and then transferr[ed] and hous[ed] the majority of these referrals-residents into substandard, slum-like conditions at an unlicensed facility two doors away."
The disturbing complaint identifies two properties just a short walk from the city's noted First African Methodist Episcopal Church:
Inside the facilities, the allegedly mistreated residents were said to have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. They lived in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, and told investigators they were surrounded by drug abuse and prostitution. One resident told investigators that 50 men had to share one shower and one toilet.
In a written statement, Feuer said:
"These residents are among the most vulnerable in our society and they were forced to live a daily nightmare. We are bringing that nightmare to a close."
Defendant Kang Won Lee purchased property at 2205 Hobart Blvd. in September of 2005, according to the city's records. After being cited for operating without a license, he got a license to operate as a community care facility for six residents. Then defendant Jung Hwan Lee bought 2219 Hobart Blvd. in May 2009, but did not apply for a license to operate as a community care facility.
The LA Weekly attempted to reach the Lees at their Agape facilities in West Adams, but a staff member said they were not available for comment.
Feuer says, "We felt there was urgency to get a different operator controlling the day to day functions of the facility, to make sure that people that are mentally disabled are transferred to a place that is licensed to provide care."
The complaint describes a horrible situation that's been unfolding since 2008, and includes a long list of violations, inspections and investigations by various government organizations who found the unlicensed facility to be an overpopulated, unsanitary environment. The Lees were given time to comply on numerous occasions, according to the city.
According to Los Angeles Police Department investigations between January 2011 and October 2013:
LAPD received over 180 calls for service related to the Hobart Properties, including 12 attempted suicides; numerous assaults and batteries; assaults with a deadly weapon; domestic violence; narcotics activity; drinking; indecent exposure; disturbances of the peace; and burglary from a motor vehicle. These conditions further exacerbated the public nuisance at the Hobart Properties.
And according to an official "Ombudsman Inspection" from November 26, 2013:
Many of the residents stated that they were required to attend religious services twice a day. They stated that if they failed to attend a service they were punished by being forced to stand by a tree for two to four hours, being forced to transcribe sections of the Bible, being locked down and not allowed to leave the facility for days, being given additional work/chores, and/or being discharged."
Though some residents with disabilities are being relocated, the other residents that don't require special needs may be able to stay if conditions could improve says Feuer.
Feuer says, "There are two categories of people whose needs need to be protected here. One is the people who been enduring these conditions at that facility. The other is people in the neighborhood. This is a neighborhood that is close to a house of worship, that's close to a school, people in the surrounding community also deserve to be protected and we're taking action on all fronts."
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[Update at 12:27 p.m. Wednesday]: Renovations and cleanup are already underway, while dozens of residents remain at the site, says Patricia Saiz, a resident at Agape Mission House.
Saiz says, "I feel bad for the pastor, what's going on and everything. This is like a home for us and to me it seems like it's not right. Yeah, pastor knows he did wrong, but he's a loving and caring person. This is our home, so if we lose this, where are we going to go next? So we're going to try to do everything we can to keep our home."
Attorney David Pasternak, who has been appointed receiver by the court, says about eight residents with special needs were relocated to appropriate facilities. "The court has ordered me to operate it, manage it, make sure the residents are taken care of, rehabilitate and restore the location. The residents have been cooperative with me and my staff."