The eccentric creator of a Mojave Desert compound of whimsical buildings known as Phonehenge West was jailed Friday for failing to obey an order to cut electricity and keep guests out of the illegal structures.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Daviann Mitchell put off Kim Fahey's sentencing for code violations, but ordered him held in lieu of $75,000 bail for disobeying a previous order.
Mitchell said Fahey's "blatant refusal" to demolish the structures and disconnect electricity put his family, the community and first-responders at risk because the buildings pose a significant fire hazard. The judge had allowed Fahey to remain free pending sentencing on the condition that he follow the order.
"I did not want to put Mr. Fahey in custody. I wanted to work with Mr. Fahey. I gave him an opportunity," Mitchell said. "I don't think he has taken the public risk to heart. He has chosen to do nothing."
The case has turned into something of a fight-the-system cause celebre with more than 29,000 fans of a "Save Phonehenge West" Facebook page.
"He's like Simon Rodia, who built the Watts Towers. This is folk art," said Bill Guild, one of a handful of supporters who came to court Friday, referring to the Italian builder of the famed towers fashioned out of scrap materials in South Los Angeles. "It seems a bit punitive to me."
Fahey, wearing overalls and his long snow-white hair in a ponytail, told the court he has not had enough time to tear down the buildings after his conviction last month on a dozen misdemeanor building code violations.
The 59-year-old retired phone company technician said he has removed about 70 doors and windows from one of the illegal structures, a 70-foot tower, but noted he does not have a crane to pull down the entire edifice.
He added that he's not an electrician and doesn't know how to disconnect the power.
People living in three of the buildings were told to move out as the judge ordered, he said, but "they come back when I'm asleep. What can I do? They have nowhere to go."
He disputed the judge's premise that his self-built structures, which are largely made of scrounged materials, posed a fire risk.
"I've lived there 30 years, and we've never even had a barbecue fire," he said before sheriff's deputies led him to a jail cell.
Fahey's sentencing on the building code violations was rescheduled to July 22. He could face several years in prison unless he removes his buildings. The judge said he can re-erect the structures as long as he obtains proper permits.
If he complies with the judge's order, he should get off with no more than a fine and community service, said his attorney Jerry Lennon.
Pat Fahey, Fahey's wife, said her husband is planning to appeal the convictions. If the appeal fails, county officials have the authority to tear down Phonehenge. She said the family was anticipating that Fahey might be jailed.
"It's just very difficult to stay upbeat," she said. "But we've had wonderful support from the community."
Deputy District Attorney Patrick David Campbell dismissed three remaining violations that the jury last month could not reach a decision on.
Fahey began building the village 25 years ago on his 1.7-acre property in the arid scrublands of northern Los Angeles County when he needed more room for his 10 children.
Among the 13 structures is a replica of a 16th century Viking house that he built for one of his daughters and a mobile home remodeled to look like an antique railroad car.
The centerpiece is a 70-foot tower with stained-glass windows and stunning views of the San Gabriel Mountains.
None of the structures have building permits, and officials largely ignored the illegal building until five years ago, when they started cracking down.
Noah Fahey, the couple's 26-year-old son who lives on the property, said he and his brothers plan to raise the money to bail out their father.
"He wants to face this," Noah Fahey said. "It's just sad."
Hoag reported from Lancaster; Rogers reported from Acton.