Couple Charged With Abusing Mentally Ill

Times Staff Writers

A husband and wife were accused Thursday of taking 10 mentally ill adults out of licensed facilities and placing them unsupervised in dirty and unsafe conditions as part of a scheme to steal their government disability checks.

Abraham and Alicia DeGuzman chose victims who were suffering from debilitating mental conditions and had no relatives, "zombified" some with drugs and warehoused them in slum-like squalor, according to affidavits in the case.

One resident was forced to work for the DeGuzmans, two attempted suicide, others overdosed and one mutilated himself, according to warrants.

Within an hour of the arrests, authorities shut down a facility owned by the DeGuzmans, the Parks Manor Guest Home for mentally disabled adults in the 1900 block of Oxford Avenue near downtown Los Angeles, and relocated 28 residents. The 10 victims cited in the criminal charges were previously removed from the substandard conditions.

"They knew who didn't get calls and who didn't get visitors," said Glendale Police Officer Matt Irvine. "They drew from that group and they just spirited them away to squeeze the last pennies of profit from their government aid."

The couple appeared dazed as they were taken into custody at 6:45 a.m. at their home in the 600 block of Corwin Avenue in Glendale. Abraham DeGuzman, 52, was jailed in lieu of $1.4 million bail. Alicia DeGuzman, 48, is being held in lieu of $750,000 bail.

The Los Angeles district attorney's office charged each with 28 felonies, including abuse of dependent adults, grand theft, intimidating witnesses and conspiracy. The crimes allegedly took place at two Glendale homes owned by the DeGuzmans between Jan. 1, 2001, and May 2002.

The 10 victims, ages 20 to 62, suffered from debilitating conditions including hallucinations, major depression, paranoia and violent outbursts, according to medical records obtained through the search warrants. They were moved more than a year ago when police shuttered one of the Glendale houses and the DeGuzmans closed the other. Six went to other care facilities. The remaining four returned to Parks Manor and were relocated by authorities Thursday.

The victims are considered dependent adults deserving of special protections under state law. The DeGuzmans hid them in a nondescript home, authorities alleged.

The DeGuzmans, allegedly with the help of a local credit union official, set up accounts for residents, taking most of their monthly $900 government disability checks.

Residents lived on mattresses found stacked in a drafty garage and on a kitchen floor. The DeGuzmans instructed them to run from police and, if caught, to tell authorities that they rented the house from the DeGuzmans and pooled their money for rent, food and other living expenses, according to the affidavits.

One longtime resident was allegedly forced to work for free in a now-defunct restaurant owned by the couple.

Some tenants were so traumatized by the living conditions that they mutilated themselves and took overdoses of medication, according to the search warrants.

At least three residents received injections of powerful and obsolete anti-psychotic medication designed to "zombify" patients rather than treat them, the warrants said.

The drugs Prolixin and Haldol, once commonly prescribed to keep mentally ill adults docile, confused and submissive, were being used by the DeGuzmans as "a fiduciary equivalent of date-rape drugs," according to search warrants.

The California Department of Social Services sought Thursday to revoke the couple's licenses to operate care facilities and bar them from ever again working in a licensed home.

And the state Board of Registered Nursing will seek to suspend the license of Alicia DeGuzman, a registered nurse since 1975 with a clear disciplinary record, said Susan Brank, the board's assistant executive officer.

Abraham DeGuzman's 73-year-old mother, Natalie Calantas Buendia, also known as Natalie DeGuzman, also was arrested Thursday and charged with dissuading a witness from reporting a crime. She is being held in lieu of $100,000 bail.

Devere Warrington McGuffin II, the 59-year-old chief executive of California Adventist Federal Credit Union, was charged with grand theft and conspiracy for allegedly helping the couple set up improper accounts for the victims. He is being held at the Glendale jail in lieu of $110,000 bail.

The arrests culminate a 14-month long investigation by the Glendale Police Department, the district attorney's office, the state Department of Justice and the U.S. Social Security Administration. It was launched after a resident overdosed on drugs at one of the DeGuzmans' homes.

A Glendale police officer responding to an overdose call in 2001 in the 400 block of South Verdugo Road reported finding mentally ill adults in squalid conditions. The city later closed the home, which was owned by the DeGuzmans.

Investigators said residents were forced to sign over their entire government disability checks, which were issued on the understanding that the victims were in a supervised care setting.

Prosecutors alleged the DeGuzmans culled the most vulnerable and anonymous victims from Parks Manor, a licensed board and care facility, and moved them into the unsupervised living arrangements. Many received the highest level of disability pay because they required the highest level of care outside of hospitalization.

One victim, who has been treated for schizophrenia since he was 5, was moved from Parks Manor to a garage in the 600 block of Corwin Street near the DeGuzmans' home, then to a particle board-and-rattan addition behind a house in the 400 block of South Verdugo Street, according to court documents.

He admitted himself to a local hospital three times in 2001, claming he was suicidal, according to the search warrant affidavits. He told authorities that he wanted to kill himself "out of fear that he will cause his board and care to be shut down and its residents to be made homeless." He said Abraham DeGuzman dropped him off at a hospital emergency room each time he became ill but DeGuzman never entered the hospital.

Another victim, who was in a psychiatric hospital before he was placed in the DeGuzmans' care, stopped taking his medications, became depressed and slashed his arms, court records show. His doctor told authorities that he thought his client was receiving around-the-clock supervision at Parks Manor.

His care was provided by another patient, a diagnosed schizophrenic, who is paranoid, suicidal and hears voices, according to court records. The caretaker has lived on the DeGuzmans' properties since 1989 and also was treated like an "indentured servant," being forced to work long hours in the kitchen of their restaurant without pay, according to authorities.

Authorities allege that the DeGuzmans' stole at least $20,000 from the 10 victims in the last year, but said they believe there might have been many more victims during the last several years.

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