The house on Vineland Avenue in the City of Industry was old and forlorn-looking, with some of its windows boarded up.
It belonged to a company run by then-Mayor Dave Perez and his relatives, a powerful family that did millions of dollars in business with the tiny municipality. Nearly nine years ago, Industry's redevelopment agency paid the Perez firm $495,000 for the house and the lot it rested on, city records show.
Long after the sale closed, however, the 1,415-square-foot abode was mysteriously back in the family's hands – uprooted from its foundation and trucked to another property controlled by the Perezes, about 2 miles away on Valley Boulevard.
"They just took it – they took the house," said City Manager Kevin Radecki, who was director of the Industry Urban Development Agency when it bought the residence from the family's Larrache Land Co. "They were paid for it and now it's an asset of theirs."
The Perezes did not buy the house back from the city. Nor did they obtain required permits to cart it off from 145 Vineland and re-anchor it on Valley Boulevard, where it shares a parcel with several other homes, according to government officials and records.
In an interview, Stephen Larson, an attorney for the Perezes, said relocating the 1924 bungalow-style structure "may have been a violation of some technical permit rule," and it "was certainly a less-than-formal procedure," but it had been done in good faith.
Larson said the city granted the family permission to move the house because it otherwise would have been demolished to make way for an industrial project."They worked very closely with the city," he said.
He said he did not know the name of any officials who gave the family the go-ahead.
In response to The Times' queries, Larson sent a letter this week to Radecki saying another Perez firm, Zerep Management Corp., would be willing to pay to demolish the house or ship it back to the Vineland lot – or, if the city preferred, auction it off and donate the proceeds to charity.
He wrote that the company "will be happy to resolve" any code violations that might have occurred when the house was moved.
"I don't think there's any evidence of someone stealing something," Larson said to The Times.
Critics of the family say the tale of the traveling house is part of a deeper, murkier story of the Perezes playing by their own rules, behavior bred from their enormous clout at City Hall, going back decades.
Last month, a city-ordered audit found that the family's companies collected more than $326 million from Industry, estimated population about 400, for services such as street sweeping and trash hauling over the past 20 years. The audit stated the Perez company billings were thinly documented, making it difficult to determine if the charges were accurate or reasonable.
The financial review came five and a half years after a Times investigation detailed the Perezes' grip on the city's purse strings. Around the same time, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office launched a criminal inquiry, which ended in 2011 with no charges filed.
In the wake of the audit, the D.A. probe has been revived, and the California State Controller's office announced it would examine the city's outlays to the Perez companies.
The house from Vineland has not figured into what is publicly known about the investigations.
Radecki said the Perezes offered to sell the house to the redevelopment agency because they needed to raise money to pay a relative who was cashing in his share of the family businesses. The purchase made sense, Radecki said, because the agency wanted eventually to combine the lot with adjoining ones for industrial uses, although the land remains vacant.
The 2006 sale followed appraisals that valued the 18,350-square-foot lot alone at $365,000 for industrial purposes, but at the higher figure – $130,000 more – as a residential property, with the house intact on the parcel, records show. Radecki said the city was obliged to pay the larger amount as fair compensation, but would have insisted on a lower price if it knew the Perezes intended to later wheel the house away.
It was sometime in 2008 or 2009 that the house got ferried to Valley Boulevard, Larson said. In October 2009, the county issued a demolition permit for the foundation at Vineland, but Google Earth images show the house was gone months before.
Radecki said he spotted it on Valley Boulevard in 2012, when he was dropping off a Christmas tree in the neighborhood. By then, Dave Perez had stepped down as mayor amid disputes with Radecki and City Council members over other business dealings involving the family, bad blood that endures to this day.
The Valley Boulevard property is a "multi-family residential" lot, according to county assessor records. They list six buildings at the site, none of which matches the description of the one from Vineland, in terms of size or year built.
Larson said the house has never been occupied since it arrived at Valley Boulevard and the Perezes have made no money from it. He said moving it cost them more than $25,000.
Zulman Quiala, a former operations manager for one of the family companies, said she remembered the day that David M. Perez – the ex-mayor's nephew and a principal in the enterprises – ordered her to have a crew dismantle a fence at Valley Boulevard to make room for a flatbed carrying the house.
"He called me and said, 'We're going to put a home back there,'" said Quiala. "I thought, 'Wow.'"
To accommodate the house, she said, her workers had to tear out some hedges as well. "It was still pretty tight," Quiala said. "It took a long time."
Quiala said she had no idea that the house had been sold to a city agency or that the move required permits.
She said the Perezes fired her in 2012, on grounds she had a company employee repair a gate at her private home. Quiala said she asked the worker only to help her lift the gate after it fell down, a task that took "like two minutes."
The real reason for her dismissal, Quiala said, was that she raised questions about the Perezes' alleged use of city-paid crews to perform work at the family's homes and businesses – including tree-trimming, furniture delivery and driveway washing.
She also has a pending worker compensation claim involving a Perez company, for injuries she said were sustained on the job.
Larson said Quiala's allegations were baseless. "This is just 'beat up on the Perezes' stuff," he said.
He also said that if Radecki thought the house had been hijacked, he should have done something about it years ago.
"If he believed that city property was stolen, he had an obligation to report that it was stolen," Larson said.
Radecki said he regretted not confronting the Perezes after he first eyed the house on Valley Boulevard. He said he had been afraid the family would use its influence to have him fired.
"We didn't ask questions back then," he said. "If you did, you might as well pack your stuff up because you're going to be removed."
Told of Radecki's comments, Larson said, "That's nonsense."