OAKLAND (KRON)—KRON4 News is learning more about Derick Ion Almena the operator of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse that burned in Oakland Friday night killing dozens of victims.
Almena was charged in January 2015 for a felony and a misdemeanor of receiving stolen property. The Alameda County Court Office revealed Monday that Almena pleaded guilty to those charges. Almena spent two days in the Alameda County Jail and has been on probation for 36 months.
Former tenants of the building say Derick Ion Almena was the operator of the Satya Yuga collective known as the “Ghost Ship”.
Neighbors and occupants of the building said he had illegally carved it into rented living and studio space for artists. On Monday, prosecutors watched over the scene to preserve evidence as bodies were pulled from the blackened ruins. The cause of the fire is under investigation, and no one has been charged.
Almena, 46, has lived in California since at least 1990, mostly in Los Angeles, where public records show he was evicted from a North Hollywood apartment in Los Angeles in 1993.
Relatives and colleagues of the leader of the Oakland artists’ colony where dozens died in a fire over the weekend say he saw himself as a kind of guru craved having followers but cared little for their well-being.
Acquaintances painted a devastating portrait of Almena and his longtime partner, Micah Allison.
They say that Almena ignored complaints about unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the building, that the couple used methamphetamine and other drugs and that they lost custody of their three children for several months.
“Honestly, I don’t think he is capable of feeling any kind of remorse or guilt,” said Allison’s father, Michael Allison of Portland, Oregon. “I’ve never seen him ever really care about anyone else.”
He described the couple as users of methamphetamine, heroin and crack and said their three young children were taken away from them by social service authorities for several months beginning last year. The youngsters were found hungry, infested with lice and ill-clothed, he said.
Michael Allison recalled Almena and Micah once bowling over with laughter when they told of a fire-breather accidentally setting himself on fire at one of their many parties at the building, which was widely known as the Ghost Ship.
Almena “surrounds himself with people who are going to treat him like he’s some sort of guru,” said Danielle Boudreaux, who said she was a friend of the couple for eight years. “He enjoyed having minions around to do his tasks for him and help build this great — he thinks he’s building this artistic empire.”
Oakland planning officials opened an investigation last month after repeated complaints from neighbors who said trash was piling up and people were illegally living in the building zoned as a warehouse. An inspector who went to the premises couldn’t get inside, said Darin Ranelletti, of the Oakland Planning Department.
The city had not confirmed people lived there, but a former resident said she had been lured in part by reasonable rents in a region beset with a housing shortage and exorbitant leases driven by the tech boom.
Online records listed the building’s owner as Nar Siu Chor. The Associated Press could not locate a telephone number for her Saturday. Efforts to reach her at other Oakland addresses associated with her were not successful.
A man identified as Derick Ion posted a Facebook message early Saturday, saying, “Everything I worked so hard for is gone. Blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound.” He drew rebukes online from others who said he was warned the building was unsafe.
Oakland building inspectors had opened an investigation into the warehouse last month. Acquaintances and local authorities described repeatedly confronting Almena about what they saw as unsafe and unsanitary conditions for his children and others living there.
Noel Gallo, a city councilman living a block from the warehouse, said Almena essentially told authorities to “mind their own business.”
“He had an attitude,” Gallo said. “A big attitude.”