Police raid South Side neighborhood

By Peter H. Milliken



Multiple law-enforcement agencies converged again on a South Side neighborhood, this time using search warrants and seizing vehicles.

Authorities said the vehicles had fictitious license plates or vehicle identification numbers that had been tampered with.

Among the participating agencies in the anti-blight effort on Oak Hill Avenue were the city police, health, building and zoning departments and prosecutor’s office, the Mahoning County sheriff’s and dog warden’s offices, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Tuesday’s effort was a follow-up to an April 8 inspection in which authorities viewed the land parcels externally from the streets.

After that inspection, Brenda Williams, the city’s chief building official, sent certified letters of violation to owners of 56 parcels in the neighborhood, ordering them to clean up rubbish, junk and debris and remove inoperable vehicles.

About one-third of the letters were undeliverable and returned to city hall, and city officials obtained search warrants from Municipal Judge Robert Milich for 30 of the parcels.

City Prosecutor Jay Macejko said the warrants were executed in yards, but authorities were not entering buildings. “The ultimate goal is to clean up every one of these parcels,” Macejko said.

“The city’s working hard to clean up this area in response to complaints,” Williams said. “It’s long overdue, and we’re pretty excited to be finally having an impact here,” she added.

During the inspection, Oak Hill was closed to traffic in both directions between Garfield and Myrtle avenues as numerous vehicles were seized and towed from a trucking business at 1210 Oak Hill Ave., which is owned by Hasper Leggett.

One vehicle seized there was a scrap-metal-laden pickup truck with four flat tires and a rear license-plate sticker that expired in August 2007.

VIN numbers had been tampered with on some vehicles in the compound where Leggett operates his business, and authorities seized from that location a van with a fictitious license plate that belongs to a different vehicle, Macejko said. Tampering with a VIN number is a felony, Macejko said.

Leggett, however, said he knew nothing about any tampering with VIN numbers.

“I’m not bothering anybody, and I’ve got the yard cleaned up,’’ Leggett said. “I’m trying to make a living here.”

Leggett was cited in the April inspection for having four unlicensed dogs in the compound, but Leggett said, and Macejko confirmed, he obtained licenses for all four and secured the dogs indoors when inspectors arrived Tuesday.

The Ohio EPA was on the scene to check on underground fuel-storage tanks at the long-closed Hi-Speed gasoline station and on various sites containing scrap tire accumulations, where mosquitoes could breed in standing water and toxic smoke would spew from any fire. EPA officials also checked on fuel-oil tanks and 55-gallon drums, Williams said.

The warrants were executed in the shadow of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church.

“It probably should have happened 10 years ago,” the Rev. Edward Noga, church pastor, said of Tuesday’s effort. “It’s a nice gift,” Father Noga said of the crackdown on neighborhood blight as the church celebrated its 100th birthday. “It’s long overdue.”

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