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Wealthy Menlo Hotel owner charged with arson scam is back in court

January 31, 2011

by Lynda Carson

This photo, taken Dec. 30, 2008, was posted to flickr with a description of the Menlo Hotel as “one of Oakland’s premier residential hotels.” – Photo: ©James Wacht
Oakland – The wealthy Tiburon owner of Oakland’s low-income residential Menlo Hotel has been arrested and is facing 10 years in prison on suspicion of hiring someone to burn down the hotel, according to officials with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In addition to being charged with a federal felony, Menlo Hotel owner Richard Earl Singer also faces a $125,000 fine after being charged with one count of solicitation of arson. Singer’s next scheduled court appearance is Feb. 24 in Courtroom 4 at 1301 Clay St. in Oakland.

Federal officials say that Richard Singer wanted the hotel totally burned down on Jan. 15 to collect the maximum insurance payment and agreed to pay someone $65,000 to destroy the hotel, which remains occupied despite a recent spate of evictions. They say that two people came forward to expose the arson scam, one of them a former employee of the current management company running the hotel, known as RMD Services.

In a Jan. 19 call to RMD Services, however, an employee who identified himself only as Steven said, “RMD Services had nothing to do with the hiring of anyone to burn down the Menlo Hotel, and Ryan Nathan, the owner of RMD Services, is not available for comment at the moment.”

Nathan and RMD Services had served the residents of the Menlo Hotel 30-day notices to vacate the property on Dec. 15, 2010, demanding that the residents move out of their homes by Jan. 15, 2011, the same day that federal officials now say building owner Richard Singer wanted the building set ablaze and burned down.

A few households still reside in the Menlo Hotel, and attorney Andrew Wolff is representing at least 20 past and current residents in on-going litigation against RMD Services.

Despite the arrest of Richard Singer, evictions at the Menlo Hotel have continued.

In a new development, it appears that Oakland City Attorney John Russo may get involved and file an injunction against RMD Services in an effort to stop the illegal evictions that are in violation of Oakland’s rent law known as Measure EE.

Attorney Andrew Wolff said: “I heard the news about the scam to burn down the hotel, and it was absolutely shocking and obscene. The longer I have been involved in litigation with Mr. Singer, the more my expectations have been lowered of him. At this point, I am not surprised by what happened and that he was arrested for trying to hire someone to burn down the building.

“My initial feeling was shock, but in time I feel that I am not surprised. I feel the charges are very damning. It’s unbelievable what is going on there, and I am very concerned for the safety of the residents of the Menlo Hotel.”

Oakland Post editor and owner Paul Cobb said, “I would like to see some kind of system set up like an Amber Alert to alert local agencies, tenants and tenant groups of bad landlords and buildings at risk of arson fire from landlords trying to collect on their insurance policies, such as in cases like this.”

Tenants of the Menlo Hotel have been involved in a lawsuit against RMD Services over a lack of elevator service, bad plumbing, poor heating, roach and bedbug infestations and other problems at the low-income residential hotel. The hotel is managed and operated by RMD for Richard Singer.

Ryan Nathan is the founder of RMD Services 1, LLC; RMD Services II, LLC; and Second Chance Housing, a service provider that Nathan claims has nonprofit status as a 501(c)(3) charity organization, the organization’s EIN number being 83-0491483.

Among other properties, RMD Services 1, LLC, is currently managing and maintaining the Menlo Hotel and Ridge Hotel in Oakland for the Prize Group, LLC, a corporation owned by Richard Singer with an office in San Francisco. Richard Singer also owns the Hotel Des Arts and Olympic Hotel in San Francisco and other properties.

According to records, 70-80 residents of the Ridge Hotel have also filed suit against RMD Services for poor housing conditions at that residential hotel.

Richard Singer appeared in Oakland’s U.S. District Court on Thursday, Jan. 20, for a detention hearing on the one count of solicitation of arson, a federal felony. He was released from jail on bail that evening after he surrendered his passport and posted a $700,000 bond secured by his property.

An additional $500,000 unsecured bond was posted by his wife, Patricia Singer, and his mother, Gloria Singer, as co-signers, on Jan. 20, also as part of his bail.

Singer is a wealthy man who resides in the hills of Tiburon on Mark Terrace in a four-bedroom home worth $2.1 million, with a swimming pool in the backyard.

He had made news earlier this month when the FBI reported that a conversation between Singer and the whistleblower who revealed the arson scheme had been recorded. Singer “was recorded telling the informant Jan. 10 that the Hotel Menlo had no burglar alarms or fire escapes; discussing access to the roof and basement; and suggesting that firefighters might be slower to arrive if they received several false alarms first. In the final phone call Jan. 13, Singer and the informant agreed the arson would be committed Saturday,” according to the Oakland Tribune.

More evidence of Singer’s disdain for the safety and comfort of his tenants is described by former tenant Wade McAllister: “I have lived at the Menlo Hotel for around three years, am 51 years old and am the initiator of the lawsuit against the Menlo Hotel for the problems with the elevator, bedbugs, cockroaches and many other problems there. I was served an illegal eviction notice lately and moved from the hotel on Dec. 31 after being in fear of losing my life.

“There were still around 15 occupied rooms at the Menlo when I moved out. I feel that this has been a retaliatory action against me, because I am the initial person who started the lawsuit that eventually involved around 40 other tenants at the hotel. I am filing a complaint against Richard Singer with the Oakland Police Department for trying to place our lives at risk and want to sue Mr. Singer for $80 million. I have been so frightened that I am having trouble sleeping at night. I want to teach Mr. Singer a lesson, that he cannot treat people the way he has treated us at the Menlo Hotel.”

The 30-day notices Singer had issued Dec. 15 were illegal. Under Oakland’s Measure EE, landlords are required to submit eviction notices to the Rent Adjustment Program within 10 days and inform the tenants in the notices to contact the Rent Adjustment Program for more information. RMD Services failed to meet those local requirements.

Even though the residents of the Menlo Hotel had been served 30-day notices nearly a month earlier, ABC News Channel 7 reported on Jan. 14 that an employee of RMD Services claimed no one was being evicted and that reports to the contrary were merely “bad PR” due to a misunderstanding.

Nevertheless, many tenants, including Wade McAllister, who had earlier filed suit, fled the hotel in fear even before learning of the arson scheme, and the others sought legal representation with the Eviction Defense Center in an effort to save their homes.

“I can’t understand how someone could be devious enough to try to trick these tenants out of their housing and put them on the street,” said local attorney Andrew Wolff prior to the revelation of Singer’s plans to burn down the hotel. “No one should be allowed to treat these residents in such an abusive manner. I believe that RMD Services is trying to intimidate and frighten the residents out of the hotel in such a way as to avoid paying for legally required relocation costs, in the event that renovations take place.”

“We are not sure, but we believe that there may have been as many as 100 residents at the Menlo Hotel frightened into believing they need to move out, and it’s not fair the way the management has abused the residents there, many of whom are mentally ill or disabled. From what the tenants at the Menlo Hotel are now saying, rumors are spreading around the building that RMD Services has not paid their utility bills during the past three years, and tenants are now afraid of losing their heat, water and electricity,” said Wolff earlier in January.

With news of the arson scam, the tenants now know that Singer’s plans were far more life threatening than insect infestations, the loss of utilities and illegal eviction notices.

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com.

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