Three men accused of killing a patient at an unlicensed treatment center by force-feeding him alcohol pleaded no contest Tuesday to involuntary manslaughter. Each was sentenced to two years in prison.
Ariel Prado was one of 11 men to die at such unlicensed clinics, leading Los Angeles County supervisors to call for a crackdown on the facilities. Eight clinics suspected of running 24-hour live-in clinics where patients were held against their will--including the one where Prado died--have since shut down.
Faustino Arenas, 30, Victorio Lonbera, 27, and Albert Garcia, 26, were both patients and caregivers at the Grupo Vida Nueva Clinic in Los Angeles, Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Katz said. He said they were trying to cure 40-year-old Prado of his alcohol addiction when they made him drink liquor, hog-tied him, gagged him and left him on his stomach for hours. He was found dead Nov. 23.
An autopsy revealed Prado died of positional asphyxia, meaning he suffocated from being left on his stomach with his hands and feet tied behind him and his mouth taped shut, Katz said. The men were originally charged with murder and had faced a 15-year maximum sentence.
On the eve of their trial, they entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors to the lesser charges of involuntary manslaughter in exchange for the two-year sentence. Because they have been in custody since Prado’s death, the men will probably be released from prison after serving less than a year.
Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Paul Enright also ordered them to pay $3,000 in restitution. Katz said he thought the deal was fair because the defendants were not acting with malice when they killed Prado.
“As horrific as their conduct was, it wasn’t malevolent,” Katz said. “I thought that, in a very warped way, they thought they were doing what was best for the decedent by hog-tying him and forcing him to consume alcohol.”
The lawyers who represented the defendants could not be reached for comment.
In a similar case, the preliminary hearing on manslaughter and false imprisonment charges against two men is expected to continue in Van Nuys Municipal Court today. Dante Barrera and Jose Rodriguez are accused of tying up Enrique Bravo in May and force-feeding him alcohol.
Although an autopsy revealed Bravo died of liver disease and had no alcohol in his system when he died, the Los Angeles coroner has testified that the death was a homicide. He said the “unconventional” methods used at the Grupo Liberacion y Fortaleza clinic in North Hollywood could lead to asphyxia even though the body showed no signs of it.
Two other men who were charged in Bravo’s death pleaded no contest to manslaughter charges earlier this month. In exchange for their plea, Alberto Saguache and Armando Sakaquil were sentenced Monday to a year in jail.
Police began an investigation into Bravo’s death after another patient at the clinic called authorities and said he was there when the man died. He said Bravo was carried out when he was dead or dying and other patients who witnessed the actions were bound and moved to another building when police came to investigate.
According to a police report, the defendants have admitted tying up the victim and feeding him alcohol as part of their program.