A plea of poverty: “I’m saying is there is no money”
Finally, the Day of Reckoning for the people accused of killing my neighborhood — April Fool’s!
Thirteen months after Nadya Mahdavi was first cited for construction without a permit and began converting a house in my single-family tract into a three-unit tenement, she and her now ex-husband Nasir Shaikh were supposed to face the strong arm of the law and go to trial Wednesday.
Shaikh had stalled the case for months by denying he was a principal of Fidelity Investments Group which bought the house from his secretary Claudia Perez who bought the house from his wife — all in the space of six months last year.
On Wednesday, his excuse was he’s so poor that he can’t afford a lawyer so he stood before Commissioner Thomas E. Grodin in Van Nuys Court Department 121 and asked for an attorney to be provided him at taxpayer expense.
His vow of poverty got him a stern lecture from Grodin but it did buy a delay until April 30, much as his wife’s flipping ownership of the house, failure to appear in court and her own pleas of poverty had gotten them a long string of continuances.
There was no discussion of the $40,000 or so the couple has gotten in rent on the house that has caused my neighbors so much distress but there was considerable talk about the four houses owned by Fidelity Investments, some of which have Building and Safety issues now being investigated.
Assistant City Attorney tracked down the four properties and put their assessed value at about $3 million with one valued at just under $1 million.
Shaikh insisted the properties are all “under water” and he can’t afford child support so he needs a lawyer. He was supposed to bring income tax and other financial records but offered the court only a few pay stubs.
“All the properties are upside down. . .what I’m saying is there is no money,” Shaikh said.
Grodin was unimpressed: “”I told you last time you were supposed to come with an attorney. You told my bailiff you had an attorney.”
When Shaikh disputed that, Grodin turned on him: “His word is good. What’s going on is you’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth . . . I can’t appoint a lawyer for you at government expense.”
At that point, Shaikh talked out of the side of his mouth that communicated his desire to represent himself. “I would like to go pro per.”
In the meantime, the deconstruction of the tenement at 19953 Haynes St. in Woodland Hills is going on with kitchens going out and interior walls going in and one of the three tenants leaving. Soon, it is likely to look like a single family home again on the inside although the law does not proscribe how many people actually live in such a dwelling.
The investigation of the property dealings of Shaikh and Mahdavi are expanding to the various companies they set up and their employees but there is no indication whether anyone will take a hard look at how these transactions were put together and financed.
Mahdavi’s attorney, Gerald Cobb, indicated to the court that the house on Haynes will soon be in compliance with the law.
As is usual in these cases, compliance is prosecutor Cocek’s No. 1 goal.
But these are criminal charges, four misdemeanors carrying penalties of up to six months in jail and $1,000 fines each, and it remains to be seen how it will play out in the end.
Will my neighbors feel justice was served and the punishment fit the crime?
Will they see compliance with the law as the proper resolution to the year of aggravation, the year of worrying that their neighborhood, their property, would go down the road to becoming a slum like so much of LA
Will they accept that the economic meltdown that appears to have robbed Mahdavi and Shaikh of their dreams of wealth as a fitting end to the story?
The verdict and sentencing in this case — a rare one that has become publicly visible — will tell us a lot about whether it’s people like Mahdavi and Shaikh who are killing our neighborhoods or whether it’s the city itself, its policies, its laws, its enforcement that are the real criminals.