Sober-living operator pleads guilty to violating occupancy rule

A sober-living operator whose rented Westside Costa Mesa house was cited for having too many recovering addicts pleaded guilty this week to a misdemeanor charge.

Carrie Heckel, founder of Serenity Shores Recovery Center, based in Costa Mesa, had been charged with having 18 client beds in a two-story, six-bedroom house on the 600 block of Senate Street — 11 more beds than city law allows for recovery homes in single-family neighborhoods.

She pleaded guilty Monday and agreed to a civil compromise — a kind of informal probation, said Michael Do, a city attorney working on the case.

Heckel, who initially pleaded not guilty in January, faces thousands in fines, but if she doesn’t commit any crimes for a year, she can then pay a reduced fine of $400 to the city. She was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

“We’re happy to put this matter to rest,” said city spokesman Tony Dodero. “We’re also glad that this community is no longer being affected by a group home that was breaking the law.”

Throughout 2014, city officials received complaints about the Senate Street home, including reports of loud arguments, profanity, trash, excessive traffic, loitering and cigarette smoke, according to a news release. The house was also advertised as an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting location.

After issuing a violation notice and subsequent citation to the home’s owner, Saroj Gupta of Orange, officials inspected the house on Oct. 29, 2014.

At that time, they only found seven beds, but hours later, city officials received photos of trucks moving additional beds into the house. With that evidence, they were able to obtain a search warrant and raided the home in November 2014, when they found the 18 beds, seven of which were in a single room.

In January, Heckel told the Daily Pilot that the extra beds were temporary, and that she had since ceased operations at the house.