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Mover Pleads No Contest in Dumping of Goods

Court: Under plea agreement, man is expected to return clients' possessions and make restitution for their losses.

May 02, 1996|PATRICE APODACA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANCASTER — A Lancaster moving company owner accused of failing to deliver the belongings of at least 20 customers and of dumping furniture and other items in a desert field has pleaded no contest to 10 felony counts.

Under the terms of a plea agreement, Larry John Phillips, 51, will be sentenced within about 90 days to nine years in state prison. But the sentence will be suspended if Phillips fulfills certain conditions, including serving one year in a Los Angeles county jail, helping authorities identify and return customers' possessions and paying restitution to customers for their losses.

Phillips has 90 days to pay $30,000 in cash, which will be returned to customers whose belongings were lost, damaged or destroyed. He will also be put on five years probation, during which time he must pay full restitution. Authorities said that that figure is now estimated to be more than $500,000, but that it could be reduced if customers' goods are returned intact.

The agreement, reached Friday in state court in Lancaster, requires Phillips to wear an electronic monitor while on probation. He has also agreed not to use aliases, which authorities say he has done in the past.

If Phillips fails to fulfill any of the terms of the agreement, he will be sent to a state prison to serve the remainder of the nine-year sentence, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Iver Bye.

"My main goal in this plea agreement was to get the property back to the people, and also their money," Bye said. "As long as he does everything we tell him to do, the sword will not fall."

Phillips, who was charged last month with 21 felony counts of grand theft and embezzlement, operated mostly under the name Almond Blossom Moving and Storage. The state Public Utilities Commission, which investigated the case, said that Phillips often picked up customers' belongings along with their payments and later refused to deliver the goods unless they sent more money.

Even then, the PUC said, Phillips often did not make the deliveries. The PUC thinks he stored the items in warehouses in the Antelope Valley.

It was when he was evicted from one storage facility last fall that he moved the goods--including sofas, appliances, dishes, boxes of family photographs and even a piano--to a field in Lancaster.

Christy Jackman, a PUC investigator, said she hopes to meet with Phillips in a few weeks to begin identifying the remaining property and its owners.

"What if there are other belongings stored elsewhere that we don't know about?" Jackman said. "This is why we want to meet with him."

Phillips' attorney, Marc Herbert, said that his client remains in custody but that he expects him to be released by the end of the week.

Herbert said that Phillips maintains that the problems stemmed from the actions of wayward employees. But he decided on the no contest plea--which in the court's view is no different from a guilty plea--because "he did feel responsible as the boss of the company."

Herbert said Phillips has the resources to repay customers for their losses, which he believes will be far lower than the $500,000 estimate. Phillips also has "some prospects down the road," Herbert said, but that probably wouldn't include resuming his moving business. "I doubt that he'd be permitted to, quite honestly."

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