By Lynda Carson
The owner of Oakland’s residential low-income Menlo Hotel has been arrested, and is in an Oakland jail facing 10 years in prison, on suspicion of hiring someone to burn down the residential hotel, according to officials with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In addition to being charged with a federal felony and facing 10 years in prison, Menlo Hotel owner Richard Earl Singer also faces a $125,000 fine, after being charged with one count of solicitation of arson.
Federal officials say that Richard Singer wanted the hotel totally burned down on Jan. 15, to collect a maximum allowable insurance payment, and agreed to pay $65,000 to someone for burning down the residential low-income hotel.
Additionally, federal officials say that two people came forward to expose the arson scam, one of them being a former employee of the current management company running the hotel, known as RMD Services.
In a January 19, call to RMD Services, an employee who only identified himself as Steven, said, “RMD Services had nothing to do with the hiring of any one to burn down the Menlo Hotel, and Ryan Nathan, the owner of RMD Services is not available for comment at the moment.”
Ryan Nathan and RMD Services served the residents of the Menlo Hotel “30 Day Notices” to vacate the property as recent as December 15, 2010, and demanded that the residents move out of their residential housing by January 15, 2011, the same day that federal officials now state that the building owner Richard Singer wanted the building set ablaze, and burned down.
Currently, there are around 15 households or more still residing in the Menlo Hotel, and attorney Andrew Wolff is representing a minimum of 20 past and current residents of the hotel, in on-going litigation with RMD Services.
During a call to the office of Oakland City Attorney John Russo, spokesman Alex Katz stated that John Russo was not available, when I tried to get a comment from the City Attorney about the situation at the Menlo Hotel, and the exposed arson scam. Additionally, City Attorney spokesman Alex Katz was not aware of the situation at the Menlo Hotel at that moment, and asked me to fill him in on what has occurred.
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 damming. Its 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.” The Post published articles in November 2009 exposing code violations by Singer.
Richard Singer is scheduled to appear in Oakland’s U.S. District Court, on Thursday, January 20.
Lynda Carson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org