Drug House Lawsuit Seeks To Evict Dealers, Clean Up Neighborhood

Attorney General Spitzer today filed suit against the leaders of a Capital Region drug network, an Albany landlord, and her marijuana-dealing tenant as part of a statewide effort to end repeated drug and criminal activity in residential neighborhoods.

This action is the first under the Attorney General’s previously announced "drug-house" initiative, which is a cooperative venture with local law enforcement to target sites identified for notorious and repeated drug activity.

This case, dubbed a "Clean Sweep" suit, is expected to serve as a springboard for additional cases across the state. Today’s action, filed in State Supreme Court in Albany, targets a duplex at 64 Alexander Street, in the city’s South End neighborhood that has long been a concern of local officials and community activists due to frequent drug-related activity. Between 1995 and 1999, the building was the site of dozens of arrests for marijuana and controlled substances, which have resulted in more than 20 criminal convictions.

"Known drug houses must be swept clean from our neighborhoods," said Spitzer. "Drug dealers cannot be permitted to plant a flag in a neighborhood, claim it as their turf, and proclaim that they are open for business. And, landlords have a responsibility to be aware of their tenants’ actions; tenants repeatedly convicted of drug dealing or other serious crimes committed on the premises should be evicted at once. Turning a blind eye toward rampant criminal activity is not tolerable."

Albany Mayor Gerald D. Jennings said, "Attorney General Spitzer is putting the weight of his office behind our local efforts to rid neighborhoods of drug houses. It’s the kind of help we need to take effective action against landlords and tenants that want to infect our residential communities with illegal drug activity and crime. I look forward to continued collaboration with the Attorney General’s office in getting the legislation to give our police departments and our courts the tools they need to rid our communities of these criminals."

The suit names four brothers: Charles Robinson; Edward Robinson, Jr.; Mark Robinson; and Stevie Robinson; whom police identify as central figures in a well-established Capital Region drug network. Also named in the suit are landlord Deborah L. Landy, of 318 First Street; and an intermittent tenant of the Alexander Street property, James Farmer. Farmer is an associate of the Robinson brothers, according to police.

Landy has owned the house, which has repeatedly been the site of a high level of drug activity, since 1992. Farmer has been convicted four times in the last two years of drug offenses committed on the premises. In a 1998 incident, 96 bags of marijuana were seized, and a 1999 conviction stemmed from the possession of illegal substances at the house. In both 1998 and 1999, Farmer was arrested following incidents in which he was observed selling illegal drugs at Landy’s property.

Last year, Landy’s property became a target of the Albany Police Department’s "Weed and Seed" program. Through regular patrols and surveillance the Department succeeded in halting the flagrant, round-the clock drug dealing that had plagued the neighborhood. But signs of drug activity have recently returned to the property which shares a residential block with a church, and is near a school. Within the last two weeks, surveillance by the Attorney General’s Investigation Bureau reveals that Charles Robinson, and a vehicle believed by Albany P.D. to be operated by Stevie Robinson have been observed at the Landy property.

"The Albany Police Department has made great strides in reducing drug activity in this neighborhood. However, we know that drug dealers are beginning to congregate at this property once again," said Spitzer. "Today’s action allows traditional law enforcement to be complemented by a creative civil approach. Based on the crimes these individuals have already committed, we can force them out now."

Chief of Albany Police Department John C. Nielsen said, "This is another important step in the Albany Police Department’s continued effort to combat the drug trade in our neighborhoods. We now have an effective tool for not only removing tenants who choose to participate in the drug trade, but also making landlords responsible for renting their properties to drug dealers. I commend Attorney General Spitzer’s action today and look forward to working with his office to rid our neighborhoods of drug houses."

Spitzer’s case asks the court to order the Robinson brothers and Farmer to vacate and remain at least 200 feet away from the Landy property at all times. Landy also is compeled to take immediate action against any future tenant who deals drugs from any property she may own. She also is required to to immediately comply with Albany Housing Code provisions she has persistently ignored. Failure to comply would result in contempt of court charges.

The case has been brought as a "special proceeding" -- allowing for an expedited resolution -- under existing provisions of the State’s Real Property and Executive Law.

At a news conference announcing the suit, Spitzer was joined by Mayor Jennings, and Chief Nielsen. The Attorney General’s Office worked jointly with the Albany Police Department and the City’s Corporation Counsel to develop the case.

Spitzer also announced that he is proposing legislation that would enhance the ability of landlords, tenants, and law enforcement agencies to prevent the operation of illegal businesses in residential dwellings. The legislation would establish a legal presumption of the existence of an illegal business at a location where there have been two drug sale convictions within one year.

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