Sunday, April 30, 2006

Where's the Weed? -- Everywhere.

From: Los Angeles Daily News

The plainly labeled brown door on the second floor of a Studio City office gives no indication of the marijuana being sold inside.

Valley Collective Care keeps the deadbolt locked. Inside sits an armed security guard; another watches over the stock. There is a surveillance TV in the lobby, a few copies of Amsterdam News and a white poster board with the handwritten message of the Fourth Amendment, protection from warrantless searches.

Between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily, patients walk in with a slip of paper and an ID, and a few minutes later leave with a cure for what ails them.

Valley Collective was one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries in the San Fernando Valley when it opened last August. Now there are at least 20 in the Valley, with about 50 operating countywide and more than 200 throughout the state.

"This is the wild, wild West. Everybody is just trying to stake their claim," said Scott H. Linden, a Pasadena attorney who has helped several Valley dispensaries open.

Ten years after voters approved Proposition 215, legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, these pharmacies operate with little oversight.

Advocates maintain fairly comprehensive databases, but government officials, including those of the Los Angeles Police Department and the county's public health chief, don't even know how many dispensaries exist.

All it takes to get started are a few easily obtained business licenses, a willing landlord and a list of doctor-recommended patients such as Fritz Weaver, 44, of North Hollywood.

"I can function on pot and it doesn't destroy my liver," said Weaver, whose doctor told him to find an alternative to Vicodin for chronic back pain. "It's a no-brainer."

Cannabis clubs, or co-operatives, have been the source of controversy. Patients like Weaver have come to rely on them for comfort, but communities have taken a decidedly different view.

Because they house massive amounts of cash and thousands of dollars worth of marijuana, dispensaries have been targeted for smash-and-grab burglaries; Valley Collective had computers and an undisclosed amount of cash taken March 29. Some co-ops also have been accused of selling to people without prescriptions.

Seeking to limit such problems, some Northern California communities - including San Francisco and Oakland - have moved to regulate where, when and how these clinics operate.

Pasadena and 19 other cities have outright banned them.

And nearly 60 cities - including Simi Valley, Moorpark, Long Beach and West Hollywood, which already had seven - have enacted moratoriums on new dispensaries.

L.A. County Supervisors are scheduled to vote May 9 on a law to allow dispensaries in unincorporated areas, though not within 1,000 feet of schools, youth facilities, churches and parks. The proposed law would also require specific signage, proper lighting and security guards.

Sgt. Lee Sands, a Los Angeles police spokesman, said there has not been a trend of criminal activity occurring around cannabis clubs. The city has no regulations planned.

"Dispensaries must be regulated," said John Furry, founder of, which reviews co-ops based on their level of "compassion" for sick and dying people. Low marks fall to those places that overcharge because they know someone will pay.

"Many of these operators are in it just for the money," said Richard Eastman, an AIDS patient who in 1996 helped open L.A.'s first dispensary. "How could someone on Medicare or Social Security afford $20 a joint?"

Federal laws still consider it a felony to grow, sell or use marijuana. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that Californians could be federally prosecuted for using marijuana - even if it was allowed under the state's Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

That means agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration could come knocking on Valley Collective's door any day. That's one reason co-ops keep close to the chest the names of their owners and employees.

DEA has performed dozens of raids during the past five years, the biggest and most recent on 13 dispensaries in San Diego in December. In many cases, paraphernalia has been confiscated but charges have not been filed.

Twenty people involved with medical marijuana have been convicted on drug charges since Proposition 215 passed, according to Americans for Safe Access. The DEA's office in Los Angeles couldn't verify that. To them, there is no distinction between using marijuana recreationally or medicinally - both are illegal.

But agents can't just shut down dispensaries the moment they open, said DEA spokeswoman Sarah Fenno.

"If you read in the paper someone was selling meth out of their house, we couldn't just go and arrest them. We would still have to conduct an investigation and obtain a search warrant or an arrest warrant to identify the players involved," Fenno said.

The Food and Drug Administration entered the politically charged arena April 20, when it said "no scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana."

That was endorsed by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which interacts with DEA.

"We certainly don't want the absolutely fraudulent claim that this is some therapeutic medicine to sweep in here and confuse people about the risk that they are running when they take marijuana," Dave Murray, special assistant to the drug czar, said in an interview last week. "This is not a proven medicine. It has not been approved by the FDA."

This has caused much grumbling in the medical-research community.

"It's politics and not science that is driving the train here," said Dr. Donald Abrams, a professor of clinical medicine at University of California, San Francisco, whose studies have shown marijuana benefits some AIDS patients.

To many, the FDA's statement seemed to ignore a 1999 review by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. That 288-page report found marijuana to be helpful with certain cancer and AIDS patients, particularly those having problems eating.

"There is an awful lot of scientific evidence," said Dr. John Benson, co-chairman of the review committee.

Cannabis sativa, as marijuana is known medically, has been found most beneficial for treating chronic pain; muscle spasms, such as those caused by multiple sclerosis; the physical wasting away of AIDS patients; and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Eastman, 53, of Hollywood was experiencing the wasting. Since contracting HIV in 1994, Eastman has been at death's door several times. Anti-retrovirals are keeping him alive, but they strip him of his appetite. Some AIDS patients literally starve to death.

Eastman didn't want to beat the disease, only to die from the treatment.

Early on he remembered that smoking marijuana as a teen had given him the "munchies," that stoner struggle to fill an insatiable hunger. Eastman's daily routine consists of taking protease inhibitors to combat the now-undetectable AIDS eight times a day and smoking marijuana twice, shortly after he wakes up and again two hours before bed.

"About an hour and a half ago, I smoked some medical marijuana, which is helping me eat this now," he said over a bacon-and-eggs breakfast.

"When we got the law in '96, I thought we'd won. Why do I still have to keep fighting 10 years later?" Eastman asked.

The debate over medical marijuana has been running for more than a century and a half.

Marijuana was introduced into western medicine in 1842, Abrams said. It was a legal, if unsavory, substance until four years after Prohibition ended. In 1937, marijuana had been identified as the drug of jazzmen and Mexican farmers, and Congress moved to outlaw it.

At hearings before the House of Representatives, the only opposition to the Marihuana Tax Act came from the American Medical Association, which thought cannabis cultivation and consumption should remain legal but be regulated.

"The AMA stood alone in opposing it because they believed there was no real evidence it was harmful and they believed it would impede further studies," Abrams said. "And they were right about that."

In 1942, cannabis was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia. It wasn't until 1986 that the FDA approved Marinol, a synthetic concentrate of the ingredient THC. Many patients dislike Marinol because it takes longer to enter the bloodstream and is more potent when it does.

"People don't know what it is about," said Gerardo Servin, a 20-year-old Glendale man who uses marijuana for an anxiety disorder. "They just think people are medicinal cannabis users because they want to smoke pot. Every day people look at me and they judge me."

While some of the estimated 150,000 cannabis patients statewide have their prescriptions written by a family physician, like Servin did, many travel hundreds of miles to visit one of the self-proclaimed pot docs.

Many of these 35 physicians, who are listed on the Web site of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, specialize in cannabis-related cases.

Referrals can be found on other Web sites, too. has an advertisement at the top of every page that lists a phone number and reads: "Medical Marijuana Recommendations." The 877 number connects to the West Hollywood office of Dr. James Eisenberg, who declined interview requests.

During the past decade, the California Medical Board has disciplined four physicians for prescribing marijuana without a thorough examination. Eisenberg was not among those disciplined.

Once the prescription has been written, patients choose their co-op.

They are called co-operatives because, by law, the dispensary can only have a half-pound of marijuana in stock for every patient on its rolls.

Many of these places resemble "drug dens," said Linden, the attorney who has helped open dispensaries.

"It has started to turn around. The places I'm working with now are more professional," he said, echoing a common refrain of the six co-ops visited.

"When you walk in, it should be the same thing as walking into a doctor's office. That's how it should feel. It should be professional."


One of the San Fernando Valley's newest medical marijuana dispensaries sits in a black stucco building, adjacent to the Xposed full nude club.

Racy business cards for the club and next-door bar, The Wet Spot, are stationed throughout the inside of Collective Caregivers pharmacy, which opened in Canoga Park in late March.

Inside is "Taylor," a tall brunette with red and blonde highlights, a nose ring and a deep tan. On a recent day, she was wearing a black Korn T-shirt knotted to reveal six inches of midriff, a belly-button ring and a butterfly tattoo on the small of her back.

Once a patient has been cleared, Taylor, who doesn't "do last names," presses a button that unlocks the pharmacy door.

They enter a temperate room with two jewelry-display cases, an ATM and a safe with 4-inch-thick steel. The dispensary sells smokeable leaves and candy edibles: Peanut Butter Cup, Cannabis Cookie and sugar-free milk chocolate candy bars. Marijuana buds come in 20 varieties, such as Tidal Wave, Train Wreck, Organic Grapefruit Haze.

The $10 candy bars, labeled "Keep out of the reach of children," have several grams of fat and half a gram of marijuana.

The leaves are grown across the state, said Brad Barnes, who identified himself as the general contractor, and cost $15 to $30 a gram.

Collective Caregivers is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., about three hours later than any other dispensary in the Valley.

Barnes insists the co-op is just for those who qualify under state law.

"You can't just say, `I want to get some bud today' and walk in here," Barnes said. "This is a medical office. It doesn't look like you are walking into a 1970s head shop: There are no beads on the wall, no orange shag carpet."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ditch the car?

Michael Bernheim’s solution to soaring gas prices will cost you $1,000.

It has four wheels, weighs 52 pounds and is covered in grip tape. It’s a 40-inch-long skateboard that runs on electricity and has a top speed of 22 MPH. It’ll take you 14 miles before its batteries need to be recharged. “Refueling” takes three hours, but it only costs about 20 cents.

“You don’t have to have insurance; it’s nonpolluting; it’s portable. And you can carry chicks on it,” said Bernheim, co-owner of California Motors Co.

On the niche company’s website, which is on the free and popular networking site,, Bernheim is marketing the electric-powered skateboard as a practical alternative to high gasoline prices.

The average price for a gallon of unleaded fuel in Los Angeles has mushroomed 53 cents during the past six weeks. Feeling the pinch at the pump has become cliché. Many Americans are seeking gimmicks, buying gadgets and simply gabbing amid their quest to afford the unbudgeted expenses.

In fact, there are many things that do increase fuel efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends drivers avoid quick acceleration and braking, properly inflate tire levels and drive at or below the speed limit, among many driving and maintenance advice.

But veer wide of what John Millett of the EPA calls “bogus contraptions” – gizmos that can be added to the fuel line or air filter. In 30 years, EPA tests have only found one that improved gas mileage, and that technology has since been incorporated into most vehicles.

As for the Fuel Genie, Platinum Gas Saver and Tornado Fuel Savers, “Don’t waste your money,” Consumer Reports said in November. “They don’t work.”

A motorized skateboard could help someone struggling with gasoline prices, said Carol Thorp, a spokeswoman for the Automobile Club of Southern California. “But given the commutes of most people, is riding a motorized skateboard a rational answer?”

It is for Bernheim, who uses his board to get to the grocery store, the library, the movie theater. If a business doesn’t want him lugging the board through their shop, he checks it like a bag.

Sometimes he skates the 10 miles from his Santa Monica house to Beverly Hills, where he is the marketing director for The Balance Disorders Institute of Los Angeles. While he works, the board’s batteries recharge.

Growing up in Burbank in the 1960s and ‘70s, Bernheim was an avid skater. He still looks the part: slate gray Pumas, light jeans, a plain, blue T-shirt, large Ray-Ban sunglasses and shoulder-length, wavy red hair.

As a teen, he rigged a board with a four-stroke lawnmower engine and another with a two-stroke weedwhacker engine. They proved cacophonous and precarious.

Two years ago, he and two partners decided to build their own skateboard engine and power it with two twelve-volt batteries. The engine purrs yet is powerful enough to climb Coldwater Canyon in Studio City, as Bernheim demonstrated Monday. The throttle and brakes are controlled by a remote plastic handle.

California Motors has sold 72 boards nationwide to people like Katie Hall, 20.

Several times a week, Hall drives from her home in Burbank to Cal Poly Pomona, where she uses her motorized skateboard to get around the hilly campus.

Obviously Hall couldn’t trade in her car for her skateboard with that 70-mile roundtrip commute. But what about using her board to get around Burbank?

“I'll ride it up and down my streets and stuff,” Hall said. “But I wouldn't use it for a different form of transportation if I was going to the mall or something because where am I going to park it?”

Monday, April 17, 2006

Pass the Matzo

From: Los Angeles Daily News

Michael Deering ate the bitter herbs, broke the matzo and partook in the Seder meal as Passover began Wednesday evening.

For more than 3,000 years, Jews have celebrated Passover to remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

But Deering is a lifelong Catholic - and he's among a growing number of Christians who attend Seders to connect with their religious roots and to draw parallels to their deliverance from sin.

"Any Christian who doesn't know our Jewish roots is an incomplete Christian," said Deering, 55, of Granada Hills.

"The Passover is more of the Exodus story; that was the birth of the modern Jewish nation," said Deering, one of more than 200 people at a Seder at St. John Eudes Catholic Church in Chatsworth. "Jesus was tied into it through being the sacrificial lamb to wash away our sins."

The Seder began with the "mother" of each table lighting a candle that represents the spiritual joy of God's promise to the Israelites. Monsignor Peter Nugent explained to the goys what each object on the Seder plate represented - the bitter herbs of slavery, the nuts and apples of hard work, the unleavened bread of people on the run, among other items.

They filled their glasses with wine and after Nugent sang in Hebrew, they drank the first spirits of deliverance. Three more sips followed.

"Each of us, each generation, is a beneficiary of God's power of salvation," the people said in unison. "For this reason we raise our cup."

The two-hour Seder could have been celebrated in a synagogue just as easily.

"As an educational tool to learn about Judaism, that is great," said Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, associate dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism. "Being able to see it for what it is as a Seder, not creating something that isn't Jewish out of it."

The divergence from Jewish tradition, obviously, is made with the inclusion of Jesus.

The Last Supper of Christ and the Apostles was itself during Passover, at which Jesus gave the bread and the wine new meaning to his followers.

"You really can't understand the Communion if you don't understand the Pesach (Passover)," said Mark Brewer, senior pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, a 2,300-member congregation that sits above Encino on Mulholland Drive.

Communion, or what Catholics call the Eucharist, is the remembrance of Christ through eating his body (bread) and drinking his blood (wine or grape juice).

Brewer said Passover is heavy with Christian symbolism: the striped matzo representing the scourges of Jesus; Father, Son and Holy Spirit seen in the three matzos; the sacrificial lamb that spared the Jews' firstborn from the Angel of Death.

"We understand the Passover through the eyes of Jesus," Brewer said.

That's why most of Bel Air Presbyterian's congregants are participating in Seders with their Bible studies. The text provided by the church was written by two members with Jewish heritage.

Glendean Thompson is accustomed to attending Jewish Seders. On Friday - Good Friday - she will host her first.

"It has so much meaning for a Christian," said Thompson, a Woodland Hills psychotherapist who leads a small Bible study. "Christianity is a Jewish faith."

Other groups, like Betsy Cramer's, are trading the gefilte fish and unleavened bread for food a bit more American.

"We're calling it a fake Seder dinner," Cramer, 26, of Sherman Oaks said of their trip Tuesday night to Hamburger Hamlet, where they read through materials provided by Bel Air Presbyterian.

"We certainly revere our Jewish friends, but we didn't think we had to go fully out to embrace the tradition," Cramer said. "Plus, all of us are so gentile. We were like, 'Where do you get a rack of lamb?"'

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Is This a Good Investment?

From: Los Angeles Daily News

Tens of thousands of hopeful real-estate moguls entered the Convention Center on Saturday with money on their minds.

They were drawn to the two-day Real Estate Wealth Expo by iconic investors like Rob "Rich Dad" Kiyosaki, Donald Trump and Magic Johnson.

Many wanted to know how to make their first million, and the program covers assured them, in block red letters, "THIS WEEKEND CAN MAKE YOU A MILLIONAIRE!"

"You do not have to have money. You don't have to have good credit. You don't have to have a job. All you need is the knowledge to put a deal together," Reggie Brooks told students in a session he taught on investing in abandoned properties.

A high school dropout, Brooks was living in South L.A. and making $36,000 a year at Pacific Bell when he attended a Learning Annex real-estate class taught by Albert Lowry. Eighteen years on, he's still buying abandoned properties. He believes he is transforming community eyesores while making a pretty penny.

Attendants were over and over reminded of such success stories: middle-aged men and women who had left steady jobs and, following a speaker's tips, had struck paydirt investing in real estate.

But, at a time when the once-blistering housing market is cooling, others warn that flipping properties isn't going to carry the profit it recently did, particularly in California.

"Wealth doesn't happen overnight," Vince Malta, president of the California Association of Realtors, said in an interview Friday. "This is a market that is well balanced. It is great for the homebuyer. It is not great for the investor who is looking to hold on for a short period of time."

The expo, which runs through 8 p.m. today and costs from $179 to $499, began in 2004 as millions of Americans found themselves trying to capitalize on a soaring housing market. Organizers anticipate 55,000 visitors, enough to fill the Staples Center next door almost three times.

"What a turnout! This is fantastic!" Hall of Fame basketball star and urban investor Earvin "Magic" Johnson said as he spoke to a 23,000-seat auditorium half-full of people. "I wish the Lakers got this many people."

Johnson told people to dream and be patient. He was rejected by the first 10 investors he approached about opening franchises of Starbucks, 24 Hour Fitness and TGI Fridays. The 11th shared his vision - and helped launch a $700 million empire.

"If I had stopped," he said, "I wouldn't be here today."

The Learning Annex spent $2.5 million to have Donald Trump promote the expo on freeway billboards, full-page newspaper ads and TV spots.

"If you're a first-time buyer or a serious investor, this event will change your life," Trump said in a commercial during March Madness.

The well-known real-estate mogul, whose return to fame has been fomented by the popularity of the reality-TV show "The Apprentice," will be paid $1.5 million to share his wisdom for one hour tonight.

Kiyosaki, author of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" and object of a cultish following, also will speak today."Chase has read all his books," John Boulter of Orange County said about his 14-year-old son, who said the expo will help him become a millionaire.

"If I start (investing) now, I can probably do it by the time I'm 25," Chase said.

Everybody is selling something. Keynotes and seminars were just the beginning. The truly apt pupil was inspired to spend several hundred dollars on additional training materials.

"Compare that to a Harvard MBA," Brooks said, referring how much cheaper it would be to spend $895 on his program. "One little abandoned property can make you so much money and you don't have to have a big student loan."

A Grief Preserved

From: Los Angeles Daily News

Despite its five bedrooms and view of the Pacific, this sprawling hilltop home feels like a prison to Dr. Xavier Caro.

It is here that his then-wife, Cora, lost in their loveless marriage, ended three young lives and shattered his.

Now he's trapped in the Santa Rosa Valley north of Thousand Oaks by pride and a court order.

After Cora was convicted of murdering three of their four sons and sentenced to death, the trial judge ruled that her share of the couple's affluence should be used to pay for the two public defenders who represented her. Ventura County billed her $307,000.

But Dr. Caro, a prominent Northridge rheumatologist, has fought the county, arguing that the woman he divorced forfeited her wealth when she destroyed their family.

And so he stays in his house - their house - to prevent the county from enforcing its lien against the property.

"There are no words," Caro said recently over coffee in his kitchen. "There are no experiences that compare. Only a parent who has lost a child can empathize. To have that act triple is even more painful.

"To have the perpetrator be someone who is so close to you and to have accusations that you were the cause be aired in public is even more painful.

"Having the county ask you to pay the tab for that humiliation is just beyond words."

The house is tastefully furnished with an antique piano and a gorgeous leather chess table. Chess, photography and Caro's medical practice keep his mind busy.

He lives here with Gabriel, the only son who survived the 1999 shootings, and the belle he plans to marry in June.

But now he has to decide if he will subject his fiancee to living in a beautiful home with monstrous memories or if he'll sell the residence and risk losing the money.

The Caros' assets are still tied up in family court. California's community-property laws entitle Socorro "Cora" Caro to half, but her ex-husband won a $45 million wrongful-death suit against her. A judge is deciding who will get what.

Technically, the county is trying to collect from Cora Caro. A judge prevented her from spending $500,000 on a private attorney because Xavier Caro had filed for divorce after the boys' deaths.

The Public Defender's Office spent 3,350 hours defending her. One of their arguments was that Dr. Caro killed his kids and framed his wife.

"I don't mean to be tunnel-visioned," Public Defender Ken Clayman said recently. "But the county spent a fortune on her defense and deserves to be reimbursed for it."

The laws are clear, Clayman said: Half of what was theirs is hers.

"My sense is Cora isn't entitled to anything," counters Xavier Caro. "That is where the moral argument trumps technical argument."

Caro is a small, fit man, with a confident air, gray hair and tanned skin. He was the family breadwinner; she was his office manager.

Cora helped balance his profession, but early on she made his personal life a soap opera, he says.

She was prone to violent eruptions - both at home and at work - and she eventually drove him into the arms of another woman.

On the night of Nov. 22, 1999, they had a typical fight. Cora blew up, Xavier stormed out.

He returned home three hours later, climbed the stairs to the second floor and found his wife face down. She had shot herself in the head.

"Are there children in the house?" the 911 operator asked him.

He hadn't thought about it. The house had been so quiet, Cora so still. He found Joey first, and then ran to the room Michael and Christopher shared. Each had been shot.

"Michael was still alive, but he was in his last moments," Caro recalled. "When I picked him up, his skull came off in my hand."

Only Gabriel, then just 13 months old, was unharmed.

Sheriff's deputies and paramedics arrived and found Caro's wife breathing.

She recovered and stood trial in 2002. She was convicted and sentenced to death, which she is awaiting at the California Correctional Facility for Women in Chowchilla.

Xavier Caro quickly filed for divorce and sued for the wrongful death of Xavier "Joey" Jr., 11; Michael, 8; and Christopher, 5. The suit was stayed, pending the conclusion of the murder trial.

Before Caro won the largest judgment ever issued in Ventura County, the Public Defender's Office filed a motion to be paid for its work.

"What she did, as horrible an act as it was, doesn't affect her property rights," said Matthew Smith, an attorney for Ventura County. "No one is asking him to pay for her lawyers.

"What we are asking is that she pay for her lawyers."

The county won its judgment first and placed a lien on the Santa Rosa Valley home and the couple's vacation cabin in Northern California.

The bill, with interest, has grown to about $410,000.

Dr. Caro and Prisoner No. 13 are legally divorced.

Caro won't sell the house until Judge John R. Smiley divides their assets. If he sold first, the equity from the house would be locked in an escrow account, which is what happened when the city of Waterford enacted eminent domain on his vacation property two years ago.

The Santa Rosa Valley house has been described in news accounts as a mansion.

It was this man's mansion, but by Southern California standards it was simply a beautiful abode - 4,800 square feet that overlook the exclusive and expensive valley, where a street sign greets drivers and cautions "Children and Horses at Play."

The Caros paid $672,500 for it in 1993. It came with privacy, sweeping canyon vistas and a picturesque view of the Channel Islands framed by the valley walls.

"It's a very lovely neighborhood. We don't have any trouble here," Darlene Dickinson, who lived nearby, told the Daily News after the murders.

Not until four years later could Xavier Caro sleep here. He spent six months in a hotel and then rented a house in Westlake Village.

He was trying to escape the horrors, but he couldn't stop the flashbacks - the silence of a still house, Cora's bloody handprint on the wall, the boys' bodies neatly tucked in their beds and resting on bloody pillows.

Caro, 58, and Gabriel, now 7, continue to receive counseling each week. "The Boy," as Caro refers to his surviving son, was diagnosed with anxiety caused by early separation from his family.

His father often shares stories of his brothers but hasn't yet told Gabriel what happened to them.

"He feels his brothers are still around," Caro said. "Sometimes he tells me he talks to them."

Their pictures remain throughout the house, which Caro almost lost in July 2003 when Ventura County scheduled it for auction. But once the county learned Caro and his son had returned earlier that year, it decided not to move for eviction and called off the sale.

They've been stalemated since, with the county offering undisclosed settlements and the doctor holding out on principle.

"It doesn't look like I am going to prevail against the county," Caro said. "But I personally feel this is so morally wrong I have to say something."

Along the road to recovery, Caro met Ruby Monje. She moved in and brought her daughter.

Stephanie, 7, and Gabriel share the bedroom where Michael and Christopher slept. Joey's room has been turned into a study and game room.

Caro wants more children and he believes Monje, who is in her late 20s, will be a good mother. He's at peace with the house and could stay there indefinitely. But she's not.

"It would be healthy for all of us to move to another home and start anew," Monje said.

"We want a stable environment where our children are going to be happy and safe."