Residents are moved out of assisted care homes sued for alleged abuse

They pitched themselves as small, quiet homes for the physically and mentally disabled -- safe places in L.A.’s 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, L.A. 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,” 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 at 2205 and 2217-19 S. Hobart Blvd., 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, husband and wife, as the operators of the facilities, both registered as charities. Neither 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 purchased the 2205 Hobart 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 property at 2219 Hobart in 2009 and never obtained a license for it, court papers said. The couple 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 moving into Agape 2 1/2 years ago, he was homeless.

But the “pastor’s generosity and loving, kind heart” helped him turn his life around, he said.

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.

But J.J. Thurman, 38, said Pastor Lee would sometimes yell at residents and ignore patients who needed medical attention. But he said he never saw any physical abuse.

The men said they gave Lee and his wife their monthly government relief funds of $221 and food stamp allowances of about $200. They considered it the cost to live at Agape.

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 alleged assaults and batteries and alleged assault with a deadly weapon.

Inspections by the California Department of Social Services Community Care License Division from 2010 to this year found the 2205 S. Hobart Blvd. home in repeated violation of state laws. The city issued several abatement notices to the 2219 Hobart property.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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