House Is Seized, Sealed As Site Of Open Drug Sales

Posted: June 29, 1989

In what they called a major escalation in the war on drugs, law enforcement officials yesterday seized and sealed a South Philadelphia house that they said had been the scene of nearly constant drug sales and numerous arrests.

Using a new state law that expands the power of police to confiscate the property of drug dealers, Philadelphia police and district attorney's deputies loaded all the possessions from the Point Breeze house into a 24-foot van and then boarded up the doors and cemented the windows.

"It's a win for the community," said Capt. Arthur Berry of the 17th Police District, whose headquarters building is about 100 yards from the two- story rowhouse at the southwest corner of 20th and Titan Streets. "It's a win."

The raid began at 7 a.m. when armed stake-out police and county deputies used a sledgehammer to break down the front door and evict five adults and two small children. There was no resistance, and no one was arrested or charged.

Soon after the occupants were led away, a moving van pulled up, and movers

went to work emptying the house of furniture. Utility workers shut off the house's gas, electricity and water.

While they did, a six-man crew from the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections sealed shut the doors and windows with sheetrock, stucco and two- by-fours.

"It's our house," police Inspector Edward McLaughlin, commander of the South Philadelphia division, said with satisfaction.

District Attorney Ronald D. Castille said it was the first time that Philadelphia authorities had sealed a house that was occupied and that had a valid owner while it was being used as an alleged drug mart. Previous houses sealed by L&I had been abandoned and were serving primarily as places for drug users to congregate.

Police Commissioner Willie L. Williams said yesterday's action was meant as a warning to other drug dealers in the city: "We're saying you better close up on your own or leave Philadelphia, because we're coming at you tomorrow and next week," Williams declared. "We're going to stop this in South Philadelphia, in West Philadelphia, in North Philadelphia, in the Northeast, in Society Hill."

Law enforcement officials and representatives of citizens' groups said they had watched with frustration for at least five years as a drug ring operated a highly profitable enterprise at the site with seeming impunity. The District Attorney's Office said it estimated the ring's profits at $1.3 million a year.

Local law officials identified the owner of the house as Clarence Carr, 67, of the 2000 block of Reed Street. The sources said that Carr and others are part of a 25-member ring that owns 22 houses in and around the Point Breeze section.

Several of the houses are used to store drugs or hide drug proceeds, officials said. The house that was closed was described by officials as a ''supermarket," where heroin, cocaine and a combination of liquid codeine and pills known as "pancakes and syrup" had attracted 18-hour-a-day business.

Assistant District Attorney Richard W. Goldberg said lines often stretched down the street as customers were admitted in ones and twos to swallow codeine syrup at a "bar" inside. He likened the operation to a codeine "speak- easy."

Officials said several of the ring's houses show signs of expensive rehabilitation and are expensively furnished. They said the key houses in their investigation, including the one closed yesterday, had different residents at different times.

Officials said that the ring has previously shrugged off frequent arrests, time and again casually making bail and quickly returning to business.

Goldberg said that authorities had made seven narcotics seizures at the house in the last 11 months. The red-brick corner rowhouse was a frequent target of citizen anti-drug marches.

"We've been watching drugs being dealt in this house for five years," said Herman Wrice, an organizer of the Philadelphia Anti-Drug Coalition, a network of 31 neighborhood anti-drug groups whose white-helmeted members marched past the house 12 times since last summer.

Authorities made 10 narcotics arrests at the house in 1988 and four this year, Goldberg said. In December, authorities searched several of the ring's houses and seized 214 vials of crack, 424 packets of powdered cocaine, several gallon jugs of codeine, 6,000 pills, $69,000 in cash, some handguns and a shotgun, Goldberg said.

On Friday, district attorneys' deputies, state attorney general's agents and city police raided six of the houses, seizing five automobiles, freezing $160,000 from bank accounts and arresting three people on possession and delivery charges.

Yet by Saturday morning, drug sales had resumed at the house closed yesterday, Goldberg said. On Wednesday, a district attorney's detective, working undercover, bought codeine and Valium inside the house, Goldberg said.

The law that permitted authorities to take possession of the house went into effect on July 1, 1988, as an amendment to the Pennsylvania Controlled Substance Forfeiture Act. The law permits the district attorney to take over properties used in drug deals without a formal court hearing beforehand. All that is needed is a judge's order based on evidence presented by the district attorney.

"The old ways just weren't working," Castille said. Forfeiture, he said, ''is an economic attack. If you take the profits out of it, there will be no reason to sell the stuff anymore."

Castille and Williams said that if the drug business simply moves to another location, more arrests and seizures of property will be in store. ''This is like throwing dynamite at a bunch of rats," Castille said. "You see where they run off to. If they start up again, we'll be back."

Authorities spent about eight hours yesterday seizing and sealing the house. Besides the cost in man-hours, there were about $5,000 in other expenses, Goldberg said. Castille said drug money taken through the Forfeiture Act would be used to defray the cost.

The operation drew crowds of neighbors, including members of the Carr family, who jeered at police. Maynetta Carr Yeiser, 37, one of those arrested on drug charges on Friday, watched as the house was sealed and complained, "I feel they're taking the constitutional rights away from you."

The raid also attracted about a dozen members of the Philadelphia Anti-Drug Coalition, who began sweeping garbage off the streets and sidewalks around the house after it was seized.

"Clean places bring good things," said Rose Payne of the Divine Truth Anti-Drug Coalition, one of the citizen groups in the anti-drug campaign. ''Dirt brings what was here."

The sight of brooms on the long-neglected sidewalk inspired Teresa McCormick, a resident of the 1200 block of South 20th Street, to get her own broom and sweep the sidewalk in front of her rowhouse. She said she was happy - and amazed - that so much action was taken against the corner house just down the street from hers.

"We've been sitting here disgusted for 10 years," said McCormick, 32. ''I'm so glad they're kicking them out. It's been a long time coming.

"I have two small children," she said. "I wouldn't let them come out playing. There was shooting up and down the street. You can't come out and sit on your steps because the addicts and the dealers are there. It's like they took over the neighborhood.

"I'm glad it's over," McCormick said. Then she added, "Not over - but the beginning of the end."

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