A “ridiculously reasonable” plea bargain proposal
Trying to solve the mystery of who’s killing my neighborhood has consumed a lot of my time and energy for the past eight months but I’m realizing that a detective’s lot is not the stuff that of Sherlock Holmes or even Sam Spade.
You ask dumb questions and get dumb answers and you think you got the suspect nailed so you sit in court for hours a time half listening to the sorry tales of petty crimes and petty punishments.
I don’t know how cops or prosecutors or judges or even city Building and Safety inspectors do it. It’s a job, I guess.
We’re at the one year anniversary of when my neighbors noticed odd goings-on at the house on Haynes Street in what I call Lower Woodland Hills, a notch of modest tract homes north of Victory Boulevard that went up in the late 1950s. I’ve lived here for more than two decades, some neighbors since the tract was built.
So when work crews started turning the house on Haynes into three apartments, three kitchens, three bathrooms and a dozen or so rooms overall, it was a cause of concern — a threat to their sense of place, to the value of their property, their security, the quality of their lives, a sign of the times of the deterioration of our neighborhoods.
Building and Safety issued the first citation for construction without a permit 11 months ago. More citations followed and finally misdemeanor criminal charges but the house’s ownership kept getting flipped, the suspect list clouded, hearings continued.
And finally Wednesday, it looked like the case might actually go to trial. But it didn’t.
Instead, attorney Gerald Cobb showed up with Nasir Shaikh, who along with his wife Nadya Mahdavi, are accused of four counts involving the illegal conversion of the house on Haynes into a tenement. It was only last month that Shaikh was charged when state records showed he was the CEO of Fidelity Investments Groups, which owns the house bought out of foreclosure in January 2008 by Mahdavi and “sold” to her employee in May and then to Fidelity two months later.
The kitchen in the garage apartment was removed last week along with the wall separating it from one of other apartments, Cobb told Assistant City Attorney Don Cocek. Mahdavi’s father was a long-time client and a good man, he said, not “greedy and disrespectful,” and wanted to restore the tenement to being a single-family home to legal status with rooms that opened up to each other. The tenant in the garage could stay legally, he noted, because there’s a carport.
But there was a problem.
The third tenant has a lease until June 1 so they can’t restore the
house unless she’s willing to move. Mahdavi’s father is trying to find
another place for her. They might try to evict her. They really want to
fix the situation but it could take months, three months, six months,
Cocek’s goal in these cases is to get compliance with
the law and a conviction of the defendants so they have a criminal
record hanging over them, a deterrent he believes to future abuses.
laws after all are weak, the penalties minor, property owners have all
the legal protections even when they commit crimes. All Shaikh and
Mahdavi face only a $1,000 fine on each of the four charges
the outline of a plea bargain began to form in the corridor outside
Commissioner Grodin’s courtroom. No jail time, commitment to restore
the house, payment of about $400 in “investigative” costs, and perhaps
Bottom line: $4,400 in penalties, roughly what the rent
Shaikh and Mahdavi have gotten every month since June and might
continue getting for many more months.
“Ridiculously reasonable,” Cobb was overheard saying.
it’s not a deal yet. Shaikh still hasn’t even been arraigned and was in
court to enter a plea Wednesday but he didn’t have a lawyer because
Cobb has a conflict of interest as the attorney for his Fidelity
Investments and for Mahdavi.
Cobb and Cocek met at the bench
with Commissioner Grodin and held a congenial private chat and worked
out details of the future course of the case. Shaikh was given until
March 11 to get a lawyer. He and his wife are due back in court April 1
when the case likely will be continued unless they decide to accept the
My neighbors won’t be happy about all this. They
will have trouble understanding how the case can be resolved while they
still live with this cancer in the neighborhood, why it has taken so
long. They won’t feel that the penalty will fit the crime.
“It’s democracy,” I was told when I questioned the deal. “Defendants have rights.”
couldn’t help wondering what rights ordinary citizens have, people who
respect and obey the laws, who don’t damage the quality of other
people’s lives, who don’t live by the creed of greed.
I’m no detective but I began to wonder whether Shaikh and Mahdavi were the real criminals.
it really people like them who are killing my neighborhood, so many
neighborhoods of the city? Or is it the government that passes the laws
and enforces the laws and ignores the failure of those laws to solve