CRIME New Castle takes aim at drug houses

The U.S. attorney and city officials met with south side residents Monday.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- City officials, in cooperation with a U.S. attorney, are preparing to notify about a dozen landlords that their properties have been identified as drug houses.
If those landowners refuse to help the city clean up the situation, they could face federal prosecution and risk having their properties seized, Mayor Wayne Alexander said Wednesday.
The mayor said he has asked the city's narcotics bureau to compile a list of properties police have identified as havens for illegal drug activity. Most of the sites are on the city's south side.
He said letters will be mailed to those property owners early next week informing them of a federal law that holds them liable for illegal drug transactions taking place on properties they own.
The law was passed in 1986 and amended in 2003 to allow properties being used as drug houses to be seized.
"Once we notify them by mail, we'll try to set up meetings with the landlords to talk about solving the problem," he said. "These crimes have to stop. We'll try to work with the landowners. But if they're not responsive, we are prepared to pursue prosecution and, if necessary, seize their properties."
Neighborhood plea
On Monday, a group of residents from the south side met with the mayor and urged him to do something about crime in their neighborhood. On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, accompanied by the mayor, city police and several federal agents, spent about 45 minutes walking around the south side.
Alexander said he had requested a visit from Buchanan several weeks ago. Buchanan, who is based in Pittsburgh, initially met privately with city officials to discuss a plan of action for New Castle that would assist the city in its fight against drug-related crimes.
She said she intends to help by enforcing the law, which is used as part of a federal drug eradication program. When implemented, the law could result in the owners of known drug houses being charged with felonies if they refuse to cooperate with officials.
For her part, Buchanan promised to sign the letters being mailed to landlords. In return, she is asking residents to notify police of any suspicious activities they see, especially those involving possible drug deals.
Direct from Detroit
Once a property is identified as a drug house -- through police reports and complaints -- property owners receive written notice that illegal activities are taking place.
Those property owners are given a deadline to clean up the situation. They are given suggestions on how to handle problem tenants and how to get rid of the situation.
If the situation is not corrected, their properties can be seized. A landlord may be charged with a felony and prosecuted. Maximum penalties are 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. A maximum civil monetary penalty of $250,000 may also be applied.
Alexander said city officials believe many of the problems are arising because of an increasing number of drug dealers coming into the city from Detroit. Police think individuals from Detroit are responsible for a shooting that took place on the south side Saturday night.
"It's a straight drive for them taking Route 80 from Detroit to New Castle," Alexander said.
"And we've been led to believe much of the attraction is because New Castle doesn't have a major drug cartel like other cities. These [drug dealers] can come here and they don't have to worry about stepping on someone else's territory. But it's going to stop. We're committed to that."

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