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2 Sentenced in Death of Alcoholic During 'Aversion Therapy'

September 29, 1998|ANTONIO OLIVO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two members of a North Hollywood alcohol rehabilitation center accused of killing a patient by force-feeding him alcohol as "aversion therapy" were sentenced Monday to one year in prison plus two more years probation after they pleaded no contest earlier this month to involuntary manslaughter charges.

Both Alberto Saguache, 38, and Armando Sakaquil, 29, had agreed to plead no contest in the May death of 34-year-old Enrique Bravo after a Los Angeles County coroner's report revealed that Bravo died of chronic liver disease instead of alcohol poisoning, as police initially alleged.

The report also found that unconventional methods and a lack of proper medical treatment at Grupo Liberacion y Fortaleza--an unlicensed alcoholism treatment center on North Lankershim Boulevard--contributed to Bravo's death there.

The case spurred county health authorities to look into the issue of unlicensed alcoholism clinics, several of which also reportedly practice the so-called aversion technique. Thirteen clinics were identified. Eight have closed, four of them after authorities ordered them shut under health regulations.

According to police and a prosecution witness, Bravo was repeatedly bound, gagged and force-fed liquor as part of the therapy used at the live-in center to create a distaste for alcohol among addicts.

On May 25, Bravo awoke about 6 a.m., acting "delirious and aggressive," causing center workers to try calming him down with beer, police said. One hour later, he died.

In an apparent effort to conceal Bravo's death at the center, workers dragged his body outside and sat him in a chair next to a pay phone "to make it look like he walked up and died there," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Renetsky.

"Obviously, we found out that's not how it happened," he said.

Because Bravo's death did not appear to be intentional, both Renetsky and lawyers representing Saguache and Sakaquil called the sentence fair.

Assistant Public Defender Dror Toister--who represented Sakaquil--said the defendants might have spent more time behind bars if they refused to accept the no-contest deal offered by prosecutors.

"There were significant factors and legal issues outstanding regarding whether they were criminally liable for manslaughter," he said, "but it appeared that the prosecution had a pretty good case for false imprisonment," which the defendants were also initially charged with.

The maximum sentence for false imprisonment is about four years in state prison, Toister said.

Two other center workers also charged with the crime--Dante Barrera and Jose Rodriguez--have yet to enter pleas regarding their alleged roles in Bravo's death, prosecutors said. A preliminary hearing on their cases is scheduled Oct. 6 in Van Nuys Superior Court.

In a similar case, three defendants face murder charges in the death in November of another patient at an unlicensed clinic in downtown Los Angeles.

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