A father and son who own and manage at least 50 apartments in Wilmington pleaded no contest last week to various criminal charges stemming from alleged slum conditions at four of their properties.
Victor Corpuz, 74, a former honorary mayor of Wilmington, and his son, Samuel, 46, entered the pleas in a bargain arranged by their attorney, Lawrence L. Roman, and Deputy City Atty. Abraham Khan. Under the plea bargain, Khan said, he agreed to drop 11 misdemeanor counts against the elder Corpuz and 25 misdemeanor counts against his son.
"In order to get the defendants to admit their culpability, I agreed to delete some of the counts," Khan said. "We didn't give anything away. A no-contest plea is considered a guilty plea in all purposes except in a civil action. It doesn't sound as bad as guilty, but it carries the same consequence criminally."
Khan said guilty pleas would have strengthened any civil actions brought against the Corpuzes by their tenants, but he said that by law he cannot require defendants to plead guilty as part of a plea bargain. Khan said he did not consult with tenants of the four buildings when he worked out the plea bargain, in part because there are too many of them, but also because the city considers all residents of Los Angeles as victims in such cases.
Message for Landlords
"The tenants' main concern is to have a decent place to live in," Khan said. "We enforce these laws and go after these people because we want other landlords to get the message. We hope other landlords will appreciate that leaving their buildings in a state of disrepair is criminal.
The Corpuzes entered their pleas before Los Angeles Municipal Court Commissioner Barry Kohn just before their cases were scheduled to go to trial. Victor Corpuz, who pleaded no contest to six misdemeanor counts involving a one-story duplex he owns at 1446-1448 N. Wilmington Blvd., faces a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a $6,000 fine, Khan said. Samuel Corpuz, who pleaded no contest to 18 misdemeanor counts involving buildings at 1450-52 N. Wilmington Blvd. and 936-942 and 1011-1013 1/2 Island Ave., faces a maximum penalty of nine years in jail and an $18,000 fine, he said.
The two landlords will be sentenced Nov. 24, and Khan said the city attorney's office will request that they be given jail terms. "The real question is how much time," Khan said.
Khan said he will also request that the court order the Corpuzes to repair the buildings and correct any building- and health-code violations.
Slumlord Label Denied
Roman, the attorney who represents the Corpuzes, declined to comment on the convictions this week. In interviews last summer, the two Corpuzes denied that they were slumlords and said they were making good-faith efforts to rehabilitate their buildings.
"My apartments are not the best, but they are fairly good," Victor Corpuz said at that time. "I am not a slumlord."
City inspectors disagreed, however, citing the two men for various violations involving rat and cockroach infestation, inadequate plumbing and water heaters, exposed electrical wires, missing screens and "generally dilapidated interiors." Deputy City Atty. Stephanie Sautner, who heads the city attorney's housing enforcement task, said in an interview then that the Corpuzes are considered among the worst slumlords in Los Angeles.