South County : Minister Gets 230 Days Over Board, Care Homes

An Orange County man who refused to close his four unlicensed board-and-care homes and received a 46-count conviction for contempt was ordered Monday to begin serving a 230-day jail sentence.

Superior Judge Judith Ryan also ordered the Rev. Kenneth Lowe, a minister of the Universal Life Church, a Modesto-based mail-order ministry, to pay a $46,500 fine. The fine, however, was suspended until Lowe completes his sentence.

Lowe, who lives in Mission Viejo, was handcuffed and escorted from the courtroom after a hearing in which he told the judge that a "petty thief" would have gotten a fairer trial.

"What has gone on isn't a fair trial in any way, shape or form," he added.

Lowe, who acted as his own attorney, maintained his innocence and contended he did not provide medical care, which requires a state license, at the four homes.

Larry B. Bruce, Lowe's court-appointed advisory attorney, added that his client is a "caring" human being whose motto was supplied to him by God: "The word that he has invoked to follow is to 'Feed my Sheep.' " Ryan found Lowe, 56, guilty of contempt charges last December after he continued to operate four board-and-care homes in Orange County despite another judge's order to close them. The homes are in El Toro, Mission Viejo and Laguna Niguel.

The judge's order followed raids at Lowe's facilities in which investigators allegedly found 16 residents who needed better medical care. Some residents--including a terminally ill cancer patient who died in one of Lowe's homes three days after her arrival--should have instead been hospitalized or placed in a nursing home, according to prosecutor Richard Spector, a deputy state attorney general.

In January, however, Ryan threw out the contempt order after ruling she had made an error by failing to hear a motion for a new trial that Lowe had previously filed. She subsequently denied the motion for a new trial, and Lowe was arrested a week later for failing to appear for sentencing.

Spector on Monday adamantly challenged a plea made by Bruce to have the court postpone Lowe's sentencing until the judge could consider a motion to reopen the case.

"Innocent, elderly people have a right to have him sentenced now," he said. "There is a danger of allowing this man to continue to operate his board-and-care home when we've had people die in this facility, people whose names we don't even know . . . names we may never know."

While Lowe no longer operates three of the four homes ordered closed, he has continued to operate an unlicensed board-and-care home at 24602 Jutewood Place in El Toro, state authorities said.

After the hearing, Spector said he was hopeful that Lowe's sentencing would, in effect, close the El Toro home. Last year, Lowe caused a stir by stating that he wanted to replace another attorney representing him with convicted murderer Charles Manson. He noted in court documents that Manson was "the best qualified counsel available to me in the whole world."

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