The likelihood that Beverly Hills voters will support incumbent George Gascón for Los Angeles County district attorney in next month’s primary almost certainly has declined since last October. Squatters have been illegally occupying a $4.6 million Beverly Hills mansion, earning about $30,000 per month renting rooms to others and charging admission to parties held nearly every night.
The estate, which is just down the street from where Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James is building a new home, was seized by the state as a forfeited asset from its owner, a surgeon who apparently has left the country, fleeing criminal charges for insurance fraud. The home is listed for sale, and the state is responsible for maintaining the home during this period, which includes paying for regular landscaping, home maintenance, pool service, and utilities. The proceeds from the sale will be used for restitution in a criminal case involving the home’s owner that is being prosecuted by Gascón.
The property’s listing agent and neighbors have tried to have the squatters evicted, but this has been delayed, as the squatters have shown police fake leases and driver licenses that indicate they indeed live there. One document showed an annual lease for $25,000, which is closer to monthly rent. When asked about the absurdly low rental payment, the squatter claimed that “it is an amazing deal” offered to him by an individual who now seems to have disappeared. With the eviction process on the slow track, neighbors then asked the court administrator to turn off the utilities. But Gascón’s office declined, stating that “squatters have rights, too.”
But the squatters don’t have rights. They are trespassers. California law defines trespassing as (i) entering private property, (ii) intending to interfere with the property owner’s rights, and (iii) interfering with those rights, all of which apply in this case. It is likely that vandalism charges would also apply, seeing as how the property is now trashed, and drug trafficking and prostitution charges also could be possible, given the amount of drug paraphernalia and used condoms that litter the property and neighborhood. And the amount of commercial activity taking place should interest California’s Franchise Tax Board and the IRS.
Failing to prosecute criminals and apply the law has been a common criticism of Gascón, who will be facing 11 other candidates in next month’s primary. If no candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote, which is likely, the top two candidates will advance to November’s general election.
Gascón was appointed as San Francisco district attorney by then San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom in 2010, even though Gascon had never worked as a lawyer. He was elected in 2020 as LA’s DA as a progressive candidate, receiving support from Newsom, Kamala Harris, George Soros, and Bernie Sanders. But his popularity waned quickly, reflecting voter concerns about him being soft on crime and a lack of morale within the DA’s office.
Since 2019, the rate of violent crimes—which is the number of homicides, murders, and robberies divided by the population—has increased 11.7 percent, and the nonviolent crime rate has increased substantially, including a 42 percent rise in personal crimes and theft between 2021 and 2023.
Retail theft has been a particular problem in California, which has led to well-publicized closings of grocery stores, drug stores, and even shopping malls. Some stores that remain open no longer display of high-value items out in the open but now place them in locked display cases. The rise in retail theft has been blamed on California’s Proposition 47, which was coauthored by Gascón. This bill reduced certain nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, including shoplifting, theft, larceny, receiving stolen goods, forgery, and fraud, provided that the value of these crimes was under $950.
Proposition 47 passed with nearly 60 percent approval in 2014, with the expectation that it would reduce the number of small-time criminals serving long, expensive prison sentences. But the law has also upended retail trade in many California cities, particularly in poor neighborhoods where just one store’s closing can substantially impact residents, particularly the elderly and disabled. Since these thefts are misdemeanors, they are much less likely to result in an arrest, in part because DA offices will not prosecute these crimes, which effectively incentivizes retail theft.
Many Californians have turned on Proposition 47, though Newsom, Gascón, and California attorney general Rob Bonta continue to support it. Newsom and Bonta emphasize prosecuting retail theft conducted by “organized crime,” but it makes no difference to retail store owners, who have slim profit margins in the best of circumstances, whether those who steal from them are part of a gang or not.
Gascón’s office has been beset by problems and complaints from his prosecutors, among whom five from his office are running against him in the primary. Many prosecutors have quit since he became DA, leading to a shortage of 200 prosecutors in the office and a 10,000-case backlog last year.
One of those who quit the office remarked, “We are hated by all the victims because of lack of prosecution and low sentences because of his policies. Gascón is so focused on justice for black and brown defendants, but the victims and their families are also black and brown. Where is the justice for them?”
The Los Angeles Association of Assistant District Attorneys wrote a 2022 opinion titled “Gascón Derails Quality of Life for Angelenos,” in which they stated, “Gascón simultaneously swore an oath to uphold the laws of California and issued a policy that his office would not prosecute 13 misdemeanor crimes.”
Gascón is likely at the end of his run, as it is not only those in Beverly Hills who will not be voting for him. Only 14 percent of those polled indicated they would support him.
In Los Angeles, illegal squatters may have rights. But almost certainly, not for much longer.