SAN JOSE -- The last defendant in what prosecutors called "one of the craziest" cases of elder abuse they've encountered pleaded no contest to six felony counts for her role in running a squalid group home for mentally disabled adults.
Kathy Le, 42, faces up to four years in prison when she is sentenced next month along with her mother, Jennifer Ngo, 63, and brother, Charles Nguyen, 25. Le's 27-year-old sister, Margaret Ngo, who prosecutors said had a lesser role in the operation, was sentenced last year to time served. Family patriarch George Nguyen died from a heart condition while in custody last year. Le entered her plea Thursday, nearly two months after other family members.
They were accused of running a nightmarish operation within an upscale Evergreen Valley home, where 13 men and women with schizophrenia and other mental disorders lived in a filthy group home along with scores of small dogs. Police discovered the site May 31 after hearing complaints that residents were being held against their will.
"The whole case started because two disabled adult siblings lived at the house, and one passed away under questionable circumstances," said prosecutor Charles Huang of the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. "Family members wanted the other brother to be at the funeral, and made arrangements for him to attend, but when he didn't show up they got concerned."
When relatives went to the house, "they were basically told that nobody by that name lives there," Huang said. "But when police called, they found that individual there along with 12 others."
Investigators said victims talked of being secreted away from the outside world, let out of shared bedrooms only to eat and use the bathroom and having medicine withheld as punishment for infractions as slight as spilling a glass of water. The refrigerator door was locked, and residents looked severely neglected, according to Huang. They were not allowed to bathe and clothes went unwashed until just before a monthly visit to a doctor, and the bathroom was not stocked with toilet paper.
He added that evidence indicated some of the victims were beaten.
Huang said the elder family members ran the day-to-day operations at the home, while their children participated in various degrees. He said they believe Charles Nguyen was more directly involved -- and more violent -- than his siblings, and Le's role was in a financial capacity.
"She was the one who would get the clients and take their money," he said.
Victims told investigators that along with being treated poorly, they had their Social Security checks taken from them.
Huang said that after authorities removed the victims from the Cortona Drive home, three were taken back the next day -- at least one by Le who posed as the victim's niece.
Reached via email, Le's attorney Sam Polverino said "I do not think it is (in) anyone's best interest for me to comment."
In December, the elder Ngo pleaded no contest to 16 felony counts of adult-dependent abuse while her son pleaded to six counts of abuse and Margaret Ngo pleaded to a single felony count. The three also pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor counts -- one of resisting arrest and two of animal neglect.
Huang said that in deciding to accept the pleas, they took into account the mental disabilities of the victims and decided to "save them from additional trauma."
"What was so frustrating about this case, and why everyone worked so hard on it is that this is very truly representative of a part of the community that cannot help themselves," he said. "Some of them don't even know they were being abused."
Huang said the victims are all now in licensed care homes or with their families and doing well. He said they're gaining weight and "are no longer afraid to leave the threshold of their rooms."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.