Bel-Air residents accuse city of abetting illegal mega-mansion construction
Bel-Air residents living downhill from a massive, unfinished mansion that spurred criminal charges have already lodged a lawsuit against the real estate developer behind the project, trying to force him to tear down the colossal building.
Now they are pursuing new claims in their suit, alleging that the city of Los Angeles knew and failed to stop illegal construction at the site.
The move follows an assertion by a city investigator that a Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety inspector got “items of value” in connection with his work examining the mammoth project on Strada Vecchia Road. In an October deposition, Randolph Osborne testified he had turned over information to the FBI after his probe turned up evidence of possible wrongdoing.
In reaction, neighbors Beatriz and Joseph Horacek and John and Judith Bedrosian are seeking to add new claims against both the city and real estate developer Mohamed Hadid, who pleaded no contest last year to criminal charges involving illegal construction at the Strada Vecchia Road site.
Residents have long questioned how the building department, whose employees repeatedly inspected the project during construction, failed to recognize sooner that the colossal house included entire bedrooms, decks and a theater that prosecutors said were never approved by the city.
In a legal filing that includes the new claims, the neighbors’ attorney George Soneff argued that the recent testimony by Osborne “confirmed what many had long suspected: absent corruption at the L.A. Dept. of Building & Safety, the massively illegal Hadid development could not have been built.”
In their proposed complaint, the neighbors alleged that the city was aware of wrongdoing by Hadid because its employees were regularly at the Bel-Air site.
“Despite this knowledge, city employees watched the illegal structure be built and facilitated the installation of it,” the proposed complaint stated.
Building department spokesman Jeff Napier referred questions about the new claims to the city attorney’s office, where spokesman Rob Wilcox said the office would review the complaint and had no further comment as of Friday.
The Horaceks and the Bedrosians are also seeking to add new claims against Hadid, including accusations of fraud and deceit.
In their proposed complaint, they alleged that Hadid attempted to hide illegal construction with tarps and plywood covered with a thin layer of concrete, and that key documents tied to the construction had been destroyed or intentionally misplaced.
Attorney Jeffrey Lee Costell, who is representing Hadid, said that the plywood and tarps were installed for safety and protecting the structure from the elements, and denied that any documents had been intentionally lost or destroyed. He denounced the new claims as an attempt to smear Hadid and influence possible jurors ahead of a trial.
Costell added that Hadid had never been questioned by Osborne or anyone else about the alleged wrongdoing by a building inspector.
“He is not the target of any such investigation, and it is completely outrageous and reprehensible for these kind of reckless allegations to be made that somehow Mr. Hadid was involved,” the attorney said Thursday.
The drama over the Bel-Air mansion has dragged on for years after L.A. officials first demanded a halt to construction and yanked permits for the unfinished project.
Hadid, a celebrity known for his lavish homes and occasional stints on reality television, later told The Times he did nothing wrong but pleaded no contest to criminal charges to avoid embarrassing the city. Project manager Russell Linch said that a city inspector was “100% aware of every change and deviation” and told him to simply get their permits revised after the fact.
The building department, in turn, said that such after-the-fact changes had never been its policy.
In June, neighbors sued Hadid in civil court and also named the city as a respondent in their initial complaint, demanding that the city be ordered to “abate the nuisance” on the hillside. Hadid sued back, accusing Joseph Horacek of attempting to extort millions of dollars from him over the Bel-Air project.
In the course of that legal battle, Osborne was deposed about a city probe into the Strada Vecchia Road project. Osborne said there was “not necessarily … proof of taking bribes, but receiving items of value” by a building inspector who no longer works for the department, according to a transcript of his deposition.
During the deposition, a city attorney repeatedly stopped Osborne from providing other details about the incident, including who was involved and what was given to the inspector. Osborne later referred questions from The Times to the city personnel department, which said it could not comment on employee investigations.
Nov. 9, 11 a.m.: This article was updated with the city attorney’s spokesman saying the office would review the complaint.
This article was originally published at 5:15 p.m., Nov. 8.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.