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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

'Scream 2' Operator Sues City

May 02, 2000|MARGARET TALEV and MILO PEINEMANN

SIMI VALLEY — A disgruntled former haunted house operator has filed a $5-million lawsuit, claiming top city officials violated his civil rights and extorted money in exchange for permits to operate his business.

In the suit, filed Friday in federal court, businessman James Erhardt names city officials, the Police Department and others.

City Atty. David Hirsch called Erhardt's allegations "nothing short of a fantasy" and said the city would fight the lawsuit. "These allegations seem outrageous, and from what I understand, are totally lacking in any merit," Hirsch said.

Erhardt operated the Scream 2 Halloween haunted house and a Christmas tree lot at Los Angeles Avenue and Madera Road, from 1997 until last year, when he went out of business.

During its short life, the haunted house drew the ire of neighboring residents who complained about noise, lights and late hours, and of creditors who didn't get paid.

Erhardt, however, contends in a prepared statement released Monday that he was driven out of business by a "campaign of harassment" by the city and its Police Department.

Erhardt alleges the harassment began after city officials learned Erhardt had called the FBI and was wearing electronic recording devices at the agency's request. An FBI official reached Monday declined comment.

According to the statement, Erhardt said he had difficulty obtaining city permits early on, until a local consultant suggested he funnel cash payments through him to city officials. He claims he paid thousands of dollars in cash.

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