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An attorney from Beverly Hills has been accused of squatting – or illegally living in a foreclosed home – in California's Inland Empire region, which is plagued with squatters.
Authorities have found more than 60 squatters in the Inland Empire over the past couple of years. They weren't expecting an attorney who fights to protect the neighborhood to be one of them.
“All I want to say is I’m completely innocent of all charges. I do not want to make any statements,” said Joseph Sclafani. “These are completely unbelievable accusations.”
As a bankruptcy and property attorney, Sclafani helps prevent squatters and vandals from entering neighborhoods. But last year, according to the Riverside District Attorney’s office, he himself broke into a home, lived there illegally for a month and when police told him to get out, he personally trashed the house.
“I’m just tired of it,” said Rob Gilbert, president of the local homeowners’ association. Gilbert claims he watched Sclafani wreak havoc in the home. Walls in the home were smeared with feces and toilets were filled with quick cement.
“I see his car there. I show up what’s going on he’s breaking this countertop with a pipe. He yells at me, tells me he’s going to kill me, that he’s member of the Italian mafia,” Gilbert said.
Sclafani vehemently denied those claims, adding that evidence revealed later in court will prove he’s innocent.
Squatting has plagued the Inland Empire, where one contractor who fixes up trashed homes says nearly all of his work is done.
“A lot of calls from the IE. At least a hundred homes a month,” said Eric Barnes, a contractor.
Councilman Jess Molina has proposed a city ordinance to prevent these problems and the witness in this case says he’s witnessed many more instances.
“I’ve caught gang bangers in the neighborhood, from LA. Chop shops in the neighborhood. I take my job very seriously to protect my neighborhood,” Gilbert said.
Sclafani faces more than three years in prison if convicted. His first court appearance is in January.