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The Joker and the Thief


Gas-Guzzler Thief: If you can afford to drive a super-sized luxury Caddy SUV, do you care about the cost of filling the guzzler’s tank? And if you do, do you take the risk of siphoning gas, stealing it like a street punk? Maybe so, because Santa Barbara attorney Jim Heinrich told me how he “came face-to-face with how hard the gas crunch must be hitting some of our citizens.”

On the Beat

As Jim left his office at Seed Mackall, 1332 Anacapa St., at about 10 a.m., heading to the post office, he got to his building’s parking garage and “saw a man kind of scurry from the corner and rush to his vehicle,” said Heinrich. “I didn’t think much of it until I got a little closer and saw a giant plastic jug and a long hose sticking out of my parking neighbor’s vehicle. By the time it clicked that this dude was actually siphoning my co-worker’s gas from his car, the thief was making his getaway. I chased the car and managed to get a cell phone pic of the car leaving the lot.

Now in and of itself,” he continued, “this is not a huge deal. Crime, like certain other things, happens. What I could not get over, and what had me chuckling the better part of the day, was that this guy got into, and made his escape, in-of all things-a giant black Escalade! I guess homeowners might not have been the only ones to overreach in their purchases recently.” Jim reported the incident to police, “but they are busy more frequently these days,” and he doubted much would come of it.

So Barney,” Jim warned, “make sure to spread the word to be on the lookout for a dark, curly-haired guy driving a black Escalade : His high-end ride hides a darker side.” (I’m omitting the partial license plate until I know more.-BB)

The thief may have targeted the parked car because it was a Chevy Tahoe with a huge gas tank. “You should have seen the size of the container this guy had left behind,” Jim said. “Probably held 15-20 gallons.”

As for the Escalade, one Web site claims it is “For the person who wants a BIG, BAD, king-of-the-road luxury SUV with BLING.”

Could Mr. Siphoner have been a car thief without gas money to get out of town? “[I] wondered about that, but then it didn’t make sense,” Jim said. “Either you steal the car and go, or you take another with gas. Just can’t imagine the guy stealing this Escalade and then taking the time/risk to pull the siphon mission. Or if he was trying to steal my co-worker’s car, why siphon the gas first?”

Dario Pini’s Problems: Dario Pini is the kind of guy who gives good landlords a bad name. For decades, the City of Santa Barbara has been nailing him for a laundry list of code violations in his rental units. Once he even preferred to spend a sentence in jail instead of in one of his own substandard units. Is this how a multimillionaire wants to spend his time?

Now I’m finding that his dubious fame has spread far and wide, from Santa Maria to Port Hueneme and even Las Vegas. “It’s a management issue,” Pini’s attorney, Larry Powell, explained. “Dario Pini has lots of properties. He does the best he can.”

In Pini’s latest fuss in Ventura County, he’s agreed to a $75,000 settlement over bed taxes at his long-troubled Port Hueneme Surfside Motel, the Ventura County Star reported. That settles a city suit for $123,000 filed last year for unpaid bed taxes since 2001.

Port Hueneme also got suspicious about Pini paying bed taxes on only 8 percent of his rooms at the Surfside because the other 92 percent of the rooms were supposedly long-term rentals exempt from the taxes, the Star said. But officials noticed that the motel’s parking lot was often full, indicating a higher occupancy rate of customers coming and going than receipts showed. Pini settled, agreeing to limit 5 percent of his units to long-term tenants. That’s been taken care of, Powell said. Because of so many immigrants staying there, “It was an accounting nightmare.”

A June 2004 inspection found violations in nearly every room of the Surfside, including inoperable smoke detectors, leaking sinks, running toilets, rotted ceilings, and cockroaches galore.

In Las Vegas in 2005, officials fined Pini $1,300 for maintaining a “disposal site” without a permit at his Days Inn. In Santa Maria, he’s had a history of health and safety violations at a 150-unit apartment building, including a sewage spill this year that ran across the sidewalk, into the gutter, and down Jones Street.

In June, criminal charges were filed against him after Santa Barbara housing inspectors found work done at 529 W. Carrillo St.-without permits-that exposed plumbing, leaking pipes, and holes in the front wall. Powell said all permits have been applied for and corrections to fix the problems were being made.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 965-5205. He also writes online columns at independent.com on Tuesdays and Fridays.

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