The Rev. Kenneth Lowe of the Universal Life Church was sentenced to 7 1/2 months in the Orange County Jail Monday for continuing to operate unlicensed board and care homes.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Judith M. Ryan gave Lowe the maximum jail term for contempt of court--five days for each of 46 counts--and fined him $23,000. Lowe, who could have received a maximum fine of $46,000, was ordered to start his jail term Dec. 23.
The 56-year-old minister, born in Texas and ordained by the Universal Life Modesto-based mail order ministry, has filed a motion seeking a new trial.
Despite a 1984 Superior Court order that his four unlicensed homes for the elderly be closed, Lowe has continued to operate at least one home which currently has nine residents, according to Deputy Atty. Gen. Richard Spector, who prosecuted the case.
State Sought Order
Ryan found Lowe guilty of contempt of court on Dec. 9. State inspectors had made 46 visits to Lowe's homes, finding "overwhelming" proof, the judge said Monday, that Lowe had violated the court order.
State officials had sought the order on the grounds that none of the homes were licensed as required by state law.
Their action followed state raids at Lowe's homes on Nov. 14, 1983, when investigators allegedly found 16 of 24 residents in need of better medical care. Some residents, including a terminally ill cancer patient, should have been in hospitals or nursing homes, Spector said. In one home, investigators found five elderly residents "restrained in their beds in . . . belts (armless jackets fastened in back)," he said, and their beds "were blocking the exits."
Former employees testified that they dispensed medication, gave shots and placed catheters, none of which may be done in unlicensed board and care or unlicensed nursing homes.
Lowe, a Mission Viejo resident who represented himself during the contempt trial, maintains he didn't need a license to operate a "board and room" home and said aides hired by residents' families performed nothing more than "changing dentures and helping people shower."
Spector said Monday that the state has provisions for moving residents from state-licensed facilities, but not for moving elderly people from board and care homes such as the one Lowe still operates at 24602 Jutewood Place in El Toro.
"(Lowe) is almost holding society hostage by finding . . . this gap in the law," Spector told the judge.
Hopes He Complies
Thus, Spector said after the hearing, "we're really left with hoping he'll comply with the court order this time. . . ."
Lowe, who asked for a new trial the day he was convicted, would not comment after the hearing. The judge has not set a hearing date for his request. Lowe's wife, Norma, said the residents of the El Toro home will remain there.
"Certainly they are" staying there, she said. "They sure are. And their families say they are, too. They have written letters to the judge saying that. I do not understand the charges. Mr. Spector admitted in court today that there was a gap in the law that they had no right to move them."
On Monday, Lowe told the judge that he has turned over three of his homes to the Nisus Church & Bible Assembly. He said that it is a nondenominational church and that he is an ordained minister in it.
Spector said he doesn't know who is operating those homes, nor the names of the residents or their families.
"I don't have any way to contact them and tell them what's going on there," he said. ". . . We'd like to work with the current relatives to make it as smooth a transition as possible.
"The ultimate solution is to knock down the door and start moving out elderly residents, but no one wants to do that. We're not going do that until we've exhausted everything else. But I guess we would if we have to."