Spitzer Lawsuit Seeks To Rid Utica's Westside Of Drug Activity

Attorney General Spitzer today filed suit against two Utica-area landlords, a former tenant, and several individuals with drug-related convictions in an effort to end repeated drug and criminal activity in residential neighborhoods.

This action, the first of its kind in the Mohawk Valley, is a continuation of the Attorney General's previously announced "Clean Sweep" drug-house initiative, a cooperative venture with local law enforcement to force landlords of properties known for repeated drug activity to clear out drug dealers.

The law suit employs a legal strategy that has been implemented in Albany and Newburgh to put an end to persistent drug activity and hold landlords who tolerate drug dealers on their properties accountable. Today's action, filed in State Supreme Court, Oneida County, targets a duplex building located at 909 Warren Street, in the city's Westside neighborhood, that has long been a concern of local officials and community activists due to frequent drug-related activity. Since 1999, the building has been the site of numerous arrests involving marijuana and cocaine trafficking that resulted in narcotics convictions of at least eight people.

"Known drug houses must be swept clean from our neighborhoods," said Spitzer. "Dealers cannot wrestle a neighborhood from a community, run roughshod over residents, and brazenly peddle drugs. Landlords need to make sure that tenants repeatedly convicted of committing such serious crimes on the premises are evicted at once. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye on criminal activity. Today's action complements traditional law enforcement to benefit neighborhoods harmed by these crimes."

Utica Mayor Timothy J. Julian said: "This action on the part of the State Attorney General's office is a much needed and greatly appreciated assist in our community's ongoing efforts to rid our neighborhoods of drugs and drug-related crimes. Pressure must be brought to bear on property owners, particularly absentee landlords, to live up to their responsibilities as good citizens and good neighbors; to forego monetary gain at the expense of 'quality of life' in this community. We thank Attorney General Spitzer for this initiative and look forward to continued support from his office in our fight to take back our streets."

Oneida County District Attorney Michael A. Arcuri said: "We are very fortunate to have an Attorney General like Spitzer. He not only talks about helping our community, he actually gets involved with helping us rid our city of drug dealers."

The legal action names two local landlords, Salvatore J. Purpura, Jr, 30, of Frankfort; and James Lang, 34, of Utica, who are the previous and current owners, respectively, of the house. Also named in the suit as a result of connections to drug activity at the Warren Street property are: Richard Lindsey, Jr., 25; Jacob M. Minor, 20, a one-time tenant; and Robert Williams II, 22; all of Utica. Also named is Wayne Johnson, 19, currently an inmate at Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility.

Purpura owned the building from September 1998 until January of this year when he sold it to Lang.

For several years, Purpura has rented out residential properties and currently owns rental properties at 713 Spring Street and 1570-72 Seymour. Each of these buildings has a long history of state and municipal housing code violations. The Spring Street property and another previously owned by Purpura, 1405 Neilson, have also been the subject of drug investigations and arrests.

Lang, the new owner, was convicted in 1998 for Criminal Sale of Marijuana at a nearby house. Within a month of Lang's purchase of 909 Warren, the property was the site of a felony drug arrest. After that arrest the building was unoccupied until several weeks ago when new tenants, without any apparent connection to the previous illegal activities, moved into the first floor apartment. The second floor apartment remains vacant.

The lawsuit aims to keep the building drug free. "Landlords cannot be permitted to allow property to deteriorate so as to invite drug activity," said Attorney General Spitzer. "Based on the crimes already committed, and the housing code violations, we can and should put an end to a downward spiral in this neighborhood."

HomeOwnership Center Community Director Gene Allen said: "We feel there is more to a neighborhood than bricks and mortar. As the sponsor of the Association of Block Coalitions and Utica's Weed and Seed Initiative, we are extremely pleased with Attorney General Spitzer's announcement. One of the main complaints we hear in the neighborhoods is about absentee landlords who rent to anyone, just so they can get their money. Often, these landlords are renting to drug dealers and other criminals, with no regard as to how it is affecting the rest of the neighbors."

Spitzer's lawsuit seeks a court order preventing Lindsey, Minor, Williams, and Johnson from coming within 200 feet of 909 Warren. The Attorney General also asks the court to order Purpura and Lang to take immediate action against tenants who allow drugs to be dealt on their properties, provide detailed accounting of monies received and disbursed in relation to the properties, and comply immediately with City of Utica Department of Code Enforcement provisions that they have 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 lawsuit, Spitzer was joined by Utica Mayor Julian, Oneida County District Attorney Arcuri, and Gene Allen, of the HomeOwnership Center. The Attorney General's Office worked with the Utica Police Department and the City Department of Codes Enforcement.

The case was handled by the Attorney General's Utica Regional Office under the direction of Joel Marmelstein, Assistant Attorney General In-Charge, and Assistant Attorney General Brian Stettin.

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