DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – Five high-ranking employees of the Amerland Group, including co-founders Ruben Islas and Jules Arthur, have been charged with manslaughter and a series of other crimes in connection with a 2008 fire in one of the company’s San Diego properties.
Solano County District Attorney Dave Paulson said that the owners of the Alexandria Hotel and Rosslyn Lofts in Downtown are to blame for the deaths of three elderly residents of the Casa de Vallejo retirement home because the fire alarm system was inoperable.
Islas, 41, turned himself in early today. Arthur, 44, was arrested June 23, as were Martha Islas-Enriquez, 38, chief executive officer of Vallejo Housing Partners, a subsidiary of the Amerland Group; Michael Hagigeorgio, 32, project manager for the building’s fire alarm system; and Jeremy Turner, 31, director of construction management.
All five defendants were released on $250,000 bail.
Each faces two counts of elder abuse causing death, two counts of manslaughter and 119 counts of elder abuse. Authorities said the fire, ignited when a resident smoking a cigar in his sixth floor apartment had a heart attack, was accidental, but that a proper fire alarm system would have alerted residents of the blaze sooner.
Amerland denied responsibility for the fire.
“At the moment we’re saying no comment, but it was a tragic thing that happened there and we deny any culpability in it and the truth will speak for itself,” Islas said Thursday afternoon.
Amerland, a for-profit developer of affordable housing, has been both praised and criticized for its work in Downtown Los Angeles. Its renovation of the Alexandria Hotel and Rosslyn have transformed two formerly dilapidated, crime-ridden buildings while preserving affordable housing in the area.
But the company has also faced legal trouble in Downtown. In April 2008, then City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo filed 36 criminal counts against the company related to fire code violations at both properties. Amerland brought them into compliance that November. The following year, the company settled a lawsuit brought by several tenants of the Alexandria, who had alleged that after Amerland purchased the building residents were subject to electricity and water shutoffs, faulty elevator service and other problems.
Arraignment of the five Amerland defendants is scheduled for July 6.
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