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Slumlord Provides Play Time to Avoid Jail Time : Courts: Unprecedented plea-bargain agreement calls for giveaway of $5,000 worth of toys. More than four dozen children show up to receive gifts at Las Familias del Pueblo.

July 17, 1994|TOMMY LI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Give children a toy and they'll embrace it.

Give them more than one and they'll jump for joy.

Give them as many as they want, and . . . well, the energized toddlers will turn the place into a romper-room madhouse.

That's what happened Tuesday when the city attorney's office delivered to the kids at Las Familias del Pueblo $5,000 worth of toys--given at the expense of a convicted slumlord in an unprecedented plea bargaining arrangement.

"We must have given away hundreds and hundreds of toys," said Alice Callaghan, executive director of the garment workers' community center at 307 E. 7th St. "It looked like killer territory there. I wasn't going in."

About 50 children ages 5 to 15 lined up at the community center, sometimes excitedly lunging forward, to take the various toys that city officials brought out from the piles and piles of boxes.

"Barney!" shouted one girl, as she spotted the popular cuddly, purple dinosaur. "I want a Barney."

Within a half-hour, a dozen or so remote-controlled red Ferraris were zooming around the Las Familias center, while Barneys could be heard saying the tape-recorded message: "I love you, I love you."

The kids were too excited to care how the early Christmas presents made their way into their hands or who was playing Santa Claus.

"These are children of sweatshop workers," Callaghan said. "These are really poor families. The typical income of our families is probably $500 a month.

"(So) it's really rare to get all these little toys," she said. "It's like Christmas in July."

Santa Claus, at least for that day, turned out to be Sumruey Aueyong, 38, of Arcadia, officials said.

Aueyong pleaded no contest in May to 10 building, health and safety code violations at the Brownstone Hotel, a three-story, 59-room complex nearby Las Familias, said Richard Bobb, head of the city attorney's housing task force.

It was his second conviction--the first one being a 1992 case in which he faced similar slum charges--and Aueyong could have faced up to five years in jail or a $30,000 fine, or both, Bobb said.

Instead, his attorney offered a plea bargain in which Aueyong, who also owns a wholesale toy business, would serve 100 hours of community service, pay $7,342 in fines and city costs and donate $5,000 worth of toys, he said.

"In the past, we have gotten cash contributions (from plea-bargain sentences), but we never have gotten things like this," Bobb said.

Aueyong couldn't be reached for comment. But his attorney described him as "a charitable guy . . . always making donations to his religious temple."

"The image of the slumlord is one that doesn't really fit too well with him," said Daniel Behesnilian, adding that Aueyong and his wife say they have invested $60,000 to $80,000 to maintain the hotel only to see it damaged or dirtied by its tenants.

Neither Behesnilian nor Aueyong showed up during the toy giveaway.

The attorney, who planned to attend the Las Familias event but was pulled away to a court case, said he likes to brainstorm innovative plea-bargaining sentences.

In the Aueyong case, "it just seemed like instead of donating cash money or paying more in fines to the city that it would make sense to have a nonprofit organization benefit," he said.

"It just feels good when as part of an overall bargain you can do some good and bring some smiles onto people's faces."

Nalleli Garcia was among the happy campers last week. By day's end, she had collected nine toys in a large trash bag.

Besides Nintendo video games, "I have (only) one teddy bear," said the 8-year-old girl, who was looking forward to bringing home company for the stuffed animal.

She liked Barney the most because "it talks."

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