LOCAL L.A. Now

Group homes' residents allegedly forced to attend religious services

County and state officials have begun moving dozens of physically and mentally disabled residents from two board-and-care homes where they were allegedly forced to live in "deplorable" conditions and punished if they failed to attend religious services.

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer filed a lawsuit against Agape Mission House and Agape Home Church, unlicensed assisted-care facilities, alleging that residents lived in overcrowded and substandard conditions.

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.

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 regardless of 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."

Court records described swarms of flies, broken furniture and missing bedroom doors. 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.

"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."

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 2½ years ago, he was homeless, he said. But the "pastor's generosity and loving, kind heart" helped him turn his life around, he said.

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

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richard.winton@latimes.com

angel.jennings@latimes.com

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