I-Team investigates background of Ghost Ship founder Derick Almena

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The ABC7 News I-Team is getting a clearer picture of Ghost Ship warehouse founder Derick Almena through his dealings with people to whom he rented, and his issues with law enforcement.

The I-Team researched Almena's court records, and has talked on and off the record to people who know him. Some praise him and others had violent confrontations with him.

Derick Ion Almena held a Day-of-the-Dead show at Cloud 9, an art space in Berkeley four years ago. The man who shot the video tells me, Almena was not a performer himself, but the organizer of many events and a poet and photographer. After all those people died in the warehouse Almena rented and ran as an art collective, the spotlight was on him for what he built, and for the conditions inside.

EXCLUSIVE: Ghost Ship founder's close associates talk to I-Team

ABC7's Lilian Kim was the first to get Almena to address what happened.

"They're my children, they're my friends, they're my family, they're my loves, they're my future, what else do I have to say?" said Almena.

Some of his friends are revealing more about Almena and the Ghost Ship warehouse. One former tenant provided video showing a bathroom with hot water powered by a propane tank, temporary wiring flowing through the building, and walls partially dismantled.

"If you're choosing to live in a space like that, you're not choosing it based on safety. You're choosing it based on the people, you're choosing it based on the community," said former tenant Libby Physh.

PHOTOS: A look inside the Oakland Ghost Ship collective warehouse

Physh tells the I-Team, after the fire, she contacted the sheriff's office and drew a map of the building's layout to help the recovery effort. People lived in trailers parked inside the first floor, and in small areas throughout the warehouse, as many as 18-20 people at a time, according to Physh.

"Eighteen people living all together, there's going to be not altercations, but arguments," said Physh.

TIMELINE: Complaints against Ghost Ship warehouse since 2014

Court records confirm some of those confrontations.

- January 2015, Almena was arrested at the warehouse on possession of stolen property -- his former landlord's travel trailer. He was on probation at the time of this weekend's fire.

- December of last year, he was arrested in LA county for petty theft. Police pulled him over for driving with an expired registration, but found license plates from a stolen vehicle. The DA dropped the case.

Mug shot of Derick Almena in Glendale, California taken in December, 2015.

- January of this year, after an argument with a party promoter and his friend, the men filed for restraining orders against Almena, saying they both suffered injuries. But, the men did not appear in court and the restraining orders were denied.

Almena paid $4,500 a month to rent the warehouse, and would then charge tenants $500 to $1,500 for rent -- as many as 20 people at a time. Almena balks at suggestions that he was in it for the money, as some of his former tenants and employees tell us.

PHOTOS: Some of the victims of the tragic Oakland Ghost Ship fire

RELATED: Oakland fire helpline, information for families

If you are trying to locate a loved one, or need information call 510-382-3000.

Click here for all ABC7 News stories, videos, and photos from the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.
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