City Goes After Owners of Buildings that House Drug Operations
The drug trade subsists through a network-- dealers, buyers, producers, stash houses, wholesalers, transporters, and so on. Eliminate a single branch, and the network will slow for a bit but then soon regenerate, with a new buyer or dealer filling vacuum. For law enforcement officials, the size of the dent in a drug operation depends on the number of branches they can take out.
Undercover buy-bust operations led to the charges.
So, here in New York, authorities are going after the infrastructure: police arrest the dealers, and then the city goes after their landlords.
Yesterday, the city filed two separate civil complaints against the owners of Bronx apartment buildings that held stash houses. If the city gets its way, the owners-- listed only as, respectively, 1881 Walton Realty LLC and 164 Realty LLC-- will lose the properties.
The lawsuits, filed in New York Supreme Court in the Bronx, makes the case that each building should be classified as a public nuisance, which gives the sheriff's office the right to seize the property and put it up for sale. The city cites a section of the Administrative Code that states that a building becomes a public nuisance when three or more drug violations occur there within a year.
That standard, the city notes, was certainly met, thanks to a handful of NYPD buy-bust operations.
Twice in January, police sent a confidential informant to cop drugs in the 164 Realty building, which is a few blocks north of Yankee Stadium. On January 8 and 12, the CI bought crack cocaine in an apartment inside the building.
In each case, "the seller appeared to have enticed a 'business as usual' attitude in the [building] conducting these drug sales in the open view of others present," the complaint notes. "Thus, it cannot be denied that the [building] constitutes a serious public nuisance."
The third strike came later that month, when officers got a search warrant, busted through the door of apartment 2K, and found a zip-lock bag of weed, six tin folders of powdered cocaine, and seven zip-lock bags of crack cocaine. Three people were arrested.
Similar story for the 1881 Walton Realty building, which sits in the Mt. Hope neighborhood. Cops sent a confidential informant for two separate undercover buys in March. In early April, with a search warrant in hand, the cops raided the place and spotted 106 envelopes of heroine, 45 zip-lock bags of weed, and 13 zip-lock bags of cocaine. Again, three people were arrested.
The way the law works, the city can hold the property owner accountable whether or not he plays a direct role in the drug operation-- "see no evil, hear no evil" is no defense. The landlord simply has to have intentionally "permitted, promoted, condoned or acquiesced in the use of [a portion of the property] for illegal activity."
So the property owners, the city alleges, broke the law by "knowingly conducting or maintaining the subject premise as a place where persons gather for the purposes of" selling drugs.
One could argue, of course, that the city itself has maintained such properties for decades.
Send story tips to the author, Albert Samaha