OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - For more than two and a half years, the owners of the Oakland warehouse where 36 people died have come under harsh criticism by the victims’ families and defense attorneys who argue the Ng family bears some responsibility.
Only two defendants – Derick Almena and Max Harris – are facing criminal charges in connection with the warehouse party and fire that caused three dozen people to perish.
KTVU is the only news agency that has confronted the building owners including the elusive mother, Chor Ng, who’s listed on the property records.
Following the tragedy, Chor Ng lawyered up and hired a crisis management team. She was also set to receive a $3 million insurance payout after the fire, according to records obtained by 2 Investigates. Chor has never spoken publically and refused to speak when asked about her knowledge of the building or responsibility surrounding the fire.
“Why aren’t they defendants in this case?” Almena’s attorney Tony Serra asked. “Why weren’t they arrest and of course the answer is that our clients are being made scapegoats.”
Defense attorneys for Ghost Ship master tenant Almena and creative director Harris demanded a citizens’ arrest ahead of trial calling for Chor, her daughter Eva, and son Kai to face criminal charges for the tragedy on December 2, 2016.
“The Ng family is a family of people who put saving money and making money over the protection of lives,” Harris’ attorney Curtis Briggs said.
The judge ultimately rejected the motion for a citizen’s arrest in April, however, it didn’t stop the defense attorneys from serving subpoenas to the Ngs and forcing them into court before the jury was seated. In fact, Eva and Kai made their first and only court appearance in April when 2 Investigates again questioned them but received no response.
However, when called to the stand, both brother and sister pleaded the fifth amendment right against self-incrimination.
Records show Eva signed her name as the landlord in the 2013 lease agreement with Almena. Emails from Almena, obtained by 2 Investigates, show Kai was told of ongoing electrical issues months before the deadly fire.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has never criminally charged them. Prosecutors would have to file criminal charges by December, when the statute of limitations runs out, but so far there is no indication the district attorney plans to do that and no comments have been made publically on the subject since last year.
“What they’ve done is they’ve allowed those people to flee,” Briggs said. “In essence they’ve allowed those people to hide behind a team of attorneys and law firms so that they can’t be reached…so that we can’t bring them into trial.”
Chor Ng has stayed low profile and in court lawyers once explained she had left the country for China but 2 Investigates found she’s back in Oakland as of late March and refused to answer her door last week.
Oakland city councilman Noel Gallo who represents the Fruitvale District where the dilapidated Ghost Ship sits said in the year following the fire that he’s surprised she’s still walking free.
“The one who’s ultimately responsible is the property owner,” he said. “She knew exactly what was going on in this building.”
Records show code violation notices were sent to Chor Ng for “hazardous conditions” and “life-threatening safety” over the years, however, the city never followed up. Records show that an inspection was scheduled for in late 2016 but according to the city planning department, the inspector was not able to gain access to the property for unknown reasons. A follow up inspection was never scheduled or completed according to department notes.
In an invoice obtained by 2 Investigates, the Ngs were made aware of an electrical fire two years before the tragedy but emails between Almena and Kai show he refused to upgrade or repair the electrical system.
“Both Kai Ng and Eva Ng violated their duties,” Harris’ attorney Tyler Smith said. “These things, if they hadn’t been done – if they had followed what they were lawfully required to do – would have prevented the Ghost Ship fire from happening.”
Defense attorneys explained the Ngs will now not have to testify at trial. They claim to have enough witnesses to give the jury a full picture of who else should bear responsibility and believe Almena will better explain the Ngs negligence.
Civil attorneys are planning on deposing the Ngs after the statute of limitations runs out this December which keeps them from pleading the fifth amendment. That trial is not expected to start until next year.
The Ngs attorneys did not want to comment for this story as the criminal trial is still underway.