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No Contest Plea in Slum Case

The owners of the El Tapatio apartments near Oxnard will have to pay $21,000 in fines.

June 17, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

The owners of a dilapidated apartment complex near Oxnard pleaded no contest Monday to 14 charges that they failed to provide tenants with properly working toilets, running water and other necessities, officials said.

Samuel and Altagracia Martinez of Lennox will have to pay about $21,000 in fines and serve 36 months probation for their mismanagement of the El Tapatio apartments, said Ventura County Deputy Dist. Atty. Eric Dobroth.

"I'm very happy," Dobroth said. "All in all, it's mission accomplished. The place is shut down, the tenants are relocated and [the Martinezes] have to pay substantial fines."

Tapatio tenants had complained for years about leaky roofs, inadequate heat and broken sewage pipes. Late last year, they withheld their rent in protest and in turn were served eviction notices. Since then, most tenants have received help from the county in relocating. A local attorney plans to file a civil claim on their behalf.

The Martinezes' no contest plea will have no bearing on the impending civil claim, attorneys said.

The couple's attorney has argued that his clients were unaware of the full extent of the building's problems when they acquired the property in 1996. They had a strong case, but decided to forego a jury trial because of Samuel Martinez's health, said attorney Joel Tamraz.

"We felt that the rigors of a trial could have endangered his life," Tamraz said of Martinez, who suffers from diabetes. "We probably would've been successful at trial because some of these charges were fairly picayune."

Tamraz said the fines were "much greater" than his clients would have liked, but they intend to sue the property's previous owners to get their money back.

Mike Zambrano, who lived at El Tapatio for eight years, was disappointed when told that his former landlords would not serve any jail time.

"Us, the people that lived there, we went through hell because this man didn't want to take care of business," Zambrano said.

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