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L.A. suit accuses unlicensed care facilities of abuse

They were pitched as small, quiet homes for the physically and mentally disabled — safe places in the heart of Los Angeles' historic Adams district. But court papers paint a much grimmer picture of Agape Mission House and Agape Home Church.

Swarms of flies filled the living areas. Broken furniture was scattered, bedroom doors were missing and plaster was falling off the walls, according to court documents. Some residents slept in bunk beds crowded into small rooms with 1-inch pads instead of mattresses. One resident lived in a "storage room" and others in an attic.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer said his office had filed a lawsuit against the two unlicensed assisted-care facilities for allegedly abusing their physically and mentally disabled residents by forcing them to live in "deplorable, overcrowded and substandard living conditions" and taking the residents' government benefits.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge last Friday appointed a receiver to immediately begin relocating residents from the homes in the 2200 block of South Hobart Boulevard with help from state and county officials.

"These residents are among the most vulnerable in our society and they were forced to live a daily nightmare," Feuer said. "We are bringing that nightmare to a close."

The suit names Kang Won Lee and Jung Hwan Lee, a husband and wife, as operators of the facilities, both registered as charities. Neither of the Lees could be reached for comment

Residents were punished for failing to attend religious services twice a day, despite their individual beliefs, court documents said. The punishments allegedly included being made to stand by a tree for up to four hours, translate Bible verses for an entire day and sleep outside at night.

"He calls himself pastor and does force all the residents to attend religious services," said Assistant City Atty. Jose Egurbide, adding that the two homes were packed with "as many as 80 residents."

According to court documents, Kang Won Lee bought one property and was cited in 2005 and 2008 for operating without a license. He subsequently obtained a license for six residents. Jung Hwan Lee acquired the second property in 2009 and never obtained a license for it, court papers said. They surrendered their sole license last year after repeated violations, records show.

Some residents stood outside the pale yellow house Tuesday on South Hobart Street, expressing shock over the allegations. They talked lovingly about Pastor Lee and his wife, who led the morning and night worship services. Henry Beasley, 56, said the strong Christian emphasis helped deliver him from years of substance abuse. Before he moved into Agape 2 1/2 years ago, he was homeless, he said. But the "pastor's generosity and loving, kind heart" helped him turn his life around, he added.

Beasley, who is a praise leader, said he did not experience or see any mistreatment.

"I never witnessed anything that was asked of a client that I wasn't willing to do," he said.

J.J. Thurman, 38, said Kang Won Lee sometimes yelled at residents and ignored patients who needed medical attention. But Thurman said he never saw any physical abuse. The men said they gave Kang Won Lee and his wife their monthly government relief funds of $221 and food stamp allowances of about $200. They considered it the cost of living at Agape, they said.

Los Angeles police reported receiving more than 180 calls from January 2011 to October 2013 related to the properties, including a dozen attempted suicides, numerous assaults and batteries, and assault with a deadly weapon.

Inspections by the California Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing Division from 2010 to this year found one home in repeated violation of state laws. The city issued several abatement notices to the second property.

richard.winton@latimes.com

angel.jennings@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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