The New Crips

An ex-drug dealer and burglar leads a wheelchair posse terrorizing Southern California businesses. Would you believe he has the law on his side?

March 1993: Arrested for burglary; pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a substance abuse program but failed to comply with the court order; was re-arrested and sent to jail for 180 days.

April 1993: Arrested for driving under the influence of a controlled substance and with a revoked license; pleaded no contest; received a one-year jail sentence with all but 10 days suspended and an order "not to indulge in the use of intoxicants or visit any places where intoxicants are sold."

May 1993: Arrested for failing to appear on a theft charge; pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Gunther: "Just trying to make the world a better place." Photo by Jennie Warren
Gunther: "Just trying to make the world a better place." Photo by Jennie Warren
Veteran Anaheim fortune teller Dempsey Todorovich avoided greasing Gunther's palm. Photo by Russ Roca
Veteran Anaheim fortune teller Dempsey Todorovich avoided greasing Gunther's palm. Photo by Russ Roca

June 1993: Arrested for walking in the street under the influence of a controlled substance; pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

June 1994: Arrested for burglary; pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

Dec. 1994: Arrested and jailed in Washoe County, Nevada for "knowingly using a Schedule 1 controlled substance, namely a central nervous system stimulant by injection."

March 1995: Arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and two other battery counts after beating a man in Taft; pleaded guilty to the assault and received 10 days in jail; later failed to pay restitution to the victim and was re-arrested, placed on three years' probation and ordered not "to become involved in any more acts of violence or aggression."

Aug. 1996: Arrested and jailed for 10 days for driving with a revoked license.

Any hint of that criminal record was missing during a June 2005 deposition involving his ADA lawsuit against an Anaheim Jack in the Box franchise. Gunther claimed, "In 1987, I broke my back." Four years earlier with Fresno County prosecutors, transcripts show he said he broke his back in 1989. Though his own hefty rap sheet seemingly contradicts the assertion, Gunther maintains that he spent most of the 1990s "paralyzed from the waist down."

It gets more suspicious. Gunther's next crisis involved his Harley motorcycle, not often the ride of choice for a paralyzed man. But he claims he was riding on Highway 99 near Bakersfield in September 1996 when "an old woman driving 90 miles per hour rear-ended me." (Or was the accident in December 1997? He's used both dates.) California Highway Patrol officers in Kern County searched their records for 1996 and 1997 and couldn't find a record of the incident.

Gunther said his memory is vivid.

"I saw blue sky and then hit the pavement," he told the Weekly. "I was dragged about 55 yards."

It was this accident that Gunther says tore the skin off his right leg, shoulder and buttocks; damaged his knee; broke eight teeth; and put him in his current state: "I can't stand and I can't walk. . . . When I move, it's extremely painful."

In interviews, Gunther has claimed the accident put him in the hospital for "six months"—but records show that within a month of the "near death" collision, he was mobile enough to move to Nevada and begin a $7-per-hour job at a drug-rehab facility.

In March 2000, four years after the motorcycle accident, Anaheim doctor Jhinho Kim examined Gunther and, according to records, noted "he does not have leg pain these days." The doctor's biggest concern was Gunther's weight problem, according to the report: "I advised him to join a health spa that has a swimming pool and swim every day as a back exercise." He also advised him on "the importance of aggressive weight control . . . I do not think extensive back surgery would do much better for him."

Gunther—six feet tall and 235 pounds—resisted the doctor's advice to work out. In a 2001 Fresno court hearing regarding the deadbeat dad issue, he explained why: "I can't [work out or work] due to my mental disorders." The motorcycle accident left him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as "insomnia, excessive worry, preoccupation with danger, hyper-vigilance, intrusive and frequent recollections and nightmares," he said.

Yet in May 2000, another Orange County doctor, Archana Shende, said Gunther wasn't paralyzed, but that he "should not stand and/or walk for more than two hours or sit for more than four hours," Shende wrote after an examination.

Said Fresno County prosecutor James Falkowski in August 2000, "Mr. Gunther's injuries are grossly exaggerated, if not outright fraud."

Quick story: Daniel J. Dewit is a lawyer with an office in Santa Ana. On July 12, 2004, he met with Gunther, then his client. During the meeting, Gunther—in his wheelchair—asked to use the employees' bathroom. Dewit gave him the key and when Gunther returned "about 10 or 15 minutes later," the meeting resumed without incident. Eight months later, Dewit received a notice from Mehrban. Gunther was suing him for alleged ADA access violations that prevented him from using the bathroom at the earlier meeting. He wanted $12,000.

"We were blown away," Dewit said. "There had been no sign of distress when Gunther returned from the bathroom."

Dewit and his office manager had another observation: Gunther was "able to get up from his wheelchair without great difficulty or discomfort," according to a court record. But also this: during the three previous meetings from June 2002 to April 2004 they had watched Gunther walk into their office.

Nevertheless, Gunther walked away with cash. To avoid exorbitant court costs and legal fees, Dewit said the property owner of his building settled out of court for $5,000.

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