When Congressman Dana Tyrone Rohrabacher moved into a four-bedroom, four-bathroom, million-dollar Costa Mesa rental home on April Fool's Day 2010, the immaculate, 6,300-square-foot property could have been featured in a glossy real-estate magazine. Built in 1948, the two-story, Orange Avenue home had been updated in recent years for comfort and style. The carpeting was new, appliances worked and walls were spotless. Thriving flowers, plants and grass adorned the idyllic back yard less than 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
But it's now understandable why Orange County's senior, career politician secretly changed the locks and refused to allow homeowner Robert Polyniak inside for annual inspections. When he moved out in August 2012, Rohrabacher left behind a shockingly horrific pigsty, a dump worse than a college fraternity house of unhygienic slobs unfamiliar with the most basic tools of cleaning. Darlene Whitsell, Polyniak's longtime girlfriend, entered the home shortly after the congressman's departure and wept at the scene.
"It was disgusting," she said. "It was unbelievable. Who lives like that?"
Massive black stains and muck covered the carpet throughout the home. Sticky grime encased damaged, rusted appliances. Denied water, once-thriving outside plants and grass dried up and died. Blinds were cracked. Black dirt ruined the appearance of once-sparkling tile floors. Walls inexplicably contained odd holes, nail polish, wax and some smelly substance that may have been feces.
Every toilet seat in the house was broken. The ceilings showed smoke damage. Light switches had been cracked. Clumps of hair and remnants of what may have been balloons or some other rubbery material clogged sinks. Cracks scarred doors. Thick, solidified grease rendered the air-suction vent above the kitchen stove useless. Bathroom towel bars were missing, and vanities suffered water damage.
A second-floor suite used by Dana's wife, Rhonda, as her bedroom contained a huge, mysterious, lubricant-like stain—something you might expect on the floor of a Hollywood sex club—that had seeped through thick carpet and padding to tarnish a hardwood floor. The dishwasher wasn't functioning. A wooden chair in the back yard had been crushed, and phone lines were strangely severed. An overflowing tub cracked a ceiling with water damage.
And, no joke, white maggots squirmed underneath a kitchen stove that may not have ever been cleaned during Rohrabacher's $3,350-per-month occupancy, which was secured, in part, with character references from fellow OC congressmen Ed Royce, John Campbell and Ken Calvert.
Paid invoices show the widespread damage totaled more than $25,800, according to records reviewed by the Weekly. Polyniak deducted the $6,700 security deposit and sent the congressman a bill for the remainder. But Rohrabacher—66 years old and known even in friendly Republican circles for miserly inclinations even though his family's known income easily tops $250,000 annually before counting lucrative congressional benefits—steadfastly ignored seven of his ex-landlord's polite communications.
In August, a year after he, his wife and their triplets left the disaster and stiffed Polyniak out of a week of due rent, the congressman hired a lawyer, Devon R. Lucas, to file a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court. According to the complaint, Rohrabacher, who skipped all military service when he was eligible to fight in Vietnam and nowadays hails himself "a patriot," thinks he and his wife are the victims in the dispute. He wants Polyniak—a soft-spoken construction subcontractor who honorably served in the U.S. Marines—to pay him $20,000 for not refunding his security deposit in a timely manner.
With a scheduled April 2014 court-management conference, the case doesn't look close to a respectable resolution. Lucas has sent Polyniak more than 50 hostile letters, a tactic apparently designed to win a default by handing the ex-landlord ever-increasing legal bills. What expenses Rohrabacher is incurring, if any, in the battle are unknown. Lucas, who lists his law-office address as a Costa Mesa mail drop, did not respond to inquiries about whether he is providing the congressman free or discounted services.
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In September, Polyniak filed a cross-complaint in court. That lawsuit alleges in part that the Rohrabachers "failed to perform their obligations under the lease and have breached the terms and conditions of the lease in numerous, material ways." Among the breaches: The congressman—who'd quietly bought a $1 million home in another part of Costa Mesa—refused to provide a forwarding address for an extended period of time.
Behind the scenes, there has also allegedly been a not-so-subtle threat from Rohrabacher's camp that the 13-term congressman (who first ran for office in 1988 while championing the imperative of term limits) will use his political weight and personal relationship with Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to prompt a criminal probe as another intimidation tactic against Polyniak and Whitsell.
No public record indicates Rackauckas has taken sides in the civil dispute.
"When Rohrabacher moved in, we thought, 'Wow, a congressman. This is great. What could go wrong?'" recalled Whitsell. "We're normal, everyday people, and this [situation] has become really scary."