Bel-Air man­sion law­suit may grow

Res­i­dents su­ing the de­vel­oper of a huge un­fin­ished home pur­sue new claims against the city.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Emily Alpert Reyes emily.alpert @la­ Twit­ter: @AlpertReyes

Res­i­dents who filed suit against the de­vel­oper of an un­fin­ished home are pur­su­ing new claims against the city.

Bel-Air res­i­dents liv­ing down­hill from a mas­sive, un­fin­ished man­sion that spurred crim­i­nal charges have al­ready lodged a law­suit against the real es­tate de­vel­oper be­hind the project, try­ing to force him to tear down the colos­sal build­ing.

Now they are pur­su­ing new claims in their suit, al­leg­ing that the city of Los An­ge­les knew of and failed to stop il­le­gal con­struc­tion at the site.

The move fol­lows an as­ser­tion by a city in­ves­ti­ga­tor that a Los An­ge­les Depart­ment of Build­ing and Safety in­spec­tor got “items of value” in con­nec­tion with his work ex­am­in­ing the mam­moth project on Strada Vec­chia Road. In an Oc­to­ber de­po­si­tion, Ran­dolph Os­borne tes­ti­fied he had turned over in­for­ma­tion to the FBI af­ter his probe turned up ev­i­dence of pos­si­ble wrong­do­ing.

In re­ac­tion, neigh­bors Beatriz and Joseph Ho­racek and John and Ju­dith Be­drosian are seek­ing to add new claims against both the city and real es­tate de­vel­oper Mo­hamed Ha­did, who pleaded no con­test last year to crim­i­nal charges in­volv­ing il­le­gal con­struc­tion at the Strada Vec­chia Road site.

Res­i­dents have long ques­tioned how the build­ing depart­ment, whose em­ploy­ees re­peat­edly in­spected the project dur­ing con­struc­tion, failed to rec­og­nize sooner that the colos­sal house in­cluded en­tire bed­rooms, decks and a the­ater that pros­e­cu­tors said were never ap­proved by the city.

In a le­gal fil­ing that in­cludes the new claims, the neigh­bors’ at­tor­ney, Ge­orge Son­eff, ar­gued that the re­cent tes­ti­mony by Os­borne “con­firmed what many had long sus­pected: ab­sent cor­rup­tion at the L.A. Dept. of Build­ing & Safety, the mas­sively il­le­gal Ha­did devel­op­ment could not have been built.”

In their pro­posed com­plaint, the neigh­bors al­leged that the city was aware of wrong­do­ing by Ha­did be­cause its em­ploy­ees were reg­u­larly at the Bel-Air site.

“De­spite this knowl­edge, city em­ploy­ees watched the il­le­gal struc­ture be built and fa­cil­i­tated the in­stal­la­tion of it,” the pro­posed com­plaint stated.

Build­ing depart­ment spokesman Jeff Napier re­ferred ques­tions about the new claims to the city at­tor­ney’s of­fice, where spokesman Rob Wil­cox said the of­fice would re­view the com­plaint and had no fur­ther com­ment as of Fri­day.

The Ho­raceks and the Be­drosians are also seek­ing to add new claims against Ha­did, in­clud­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of fraud and de­ceit.

In their pro­posed com­plaint, they al­leged that Ha­did at­tempted to hide il­le­gal con­struc­tion with tarps and ply­wood cov­ered with a thin layer of con­crete, and that key doc­u­ments tied to the con­struc­tion had been de­stroyed or in­ten­tion­ally mis­placed.

At­tor­ney Jef­frey Lee Costell, who is rep­re­sent­ing Ha­did, said that the ply­wood and tarps were in­stalled for safety and pro­tect­ing the struc­ture from the el­e­ments, and de­nied that any doc­u­ments had been in­ten­tion­ally lost or de­stroyed.

He de­nounced the new claims as an at­tempt to smear Ha­did and in­flu­ence pos­si­ble ju­rors ahead of a trial.

Costell added that Ha­did had never been ques­tioned by Os­borne or any­one else about the al­leged wrong­do­ing by a build­ing in­spec­tor.

“He is not the tar­get of any such in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and it is com­pletely out­ra­geous and rep­re­hen­si­ble for th­ese kind of reck­less al­le­ga­tions to be made that some­how Mr. Ha­did was in­volved,” the at­tor­ney said Thurs­day.

The drama over the Be­lAir man­sion has dragged on for years af­ter L.A. of­fi­cials first de­manded a halt to con­struc­tion and yanked per­mits for the un­fin­ished project.

Ha­did, a celebrity known for his lav­ish homes and oc­ca­sional stints on re­al­ity tele­vi­sion, later told The Times he did noth­ing wrong but pleaded no con­test to crim­i­nal charges to avoid em­bar­rass­ing the city. Project man­ager Rus­sell Linch said that a city in­spec­tor was “100% aware of ev­ery change and de­vi­a­tion” and told him to sim­ply get their per­mits re­vised af­ter the fact.

The build­ing depart­ment, in turn, said that such af­ter-the-fact changes had never been its pol­icy.

In June, neigh­bors sued Ha­did in civil court and also named the city as a re­spon­dent in their ini­tial com­plaint, de­mand­ing that the city be or­dered to “abate the nui­sance” on the hill­side.

Ha­did sued back, ac­cus­ing Joseph Ho­racek of at­tempt­ing to ex­tort mil­lions of dol­lars from him over the Bel-Air project.

In the course of that le­gal bat­tle, Os­borne was de­posed about a city probe into the Strada Vec­chia Road project. Os­borne said there was “not nec­es­sar­ily … proof of tak­ing bribes, but re­ceiv­ing items of value” by a build­ing in­spec­tor who no longer works for the depart­ment, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of his de­po­si­tion.

Dur­ing the de­po­si­tion, a city at­tor­ney re­peat­edly stopped Os­borne from pro­vid­ing other de­tails about the in­ci­dent, in­clud­ing who was in­volved and what was given to the in­spec­tor. Os­borne later re­ferred ques­tions from The Times to the city per­son­nel depart­ment, which said it could not com­ment on em­ployee in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Genaro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

NEIGH­BORS say the city of Los An­ge­les knew of and failed to stop il­le­gal con­struc­tion at the site, and are seek­ing to amend their law­suit.

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