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Residents help Sheraden oust tenants who deal drugs

| Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 7:55 p.m.

Gary Neely can't say for sure whether a task force formed to combat drugs by evicting tenants in the narcotics trade made the difference, but he believes the problem has decreased where he lives in Sheraden.

“There's still people dealing drugs, but it's definitely a lot better than it used to be,” said Neely 55, of Sherwood Street in the West End neighborhood.

Neely credits Pittsburgh police, who increased patrols, and residents who stepped up to report criminal activity. Yet he doesn't discount the task force's role.

“Having a way to kick the dealers out certainly can't hurt,” he said.

Formed in March 2010 and made public a year later, the city-county Nuisance Property Task Force has worked with landlords to evict nearly 175 people arrested in drug-dealing and other criminal activity, said Kevin McCarthy, an Allegheny County assistant district attorney who coordinates its activities.

In addition to city police and the District Attorney's Office, Pittsburgh's law department and Bureau of Building Inspection placed members on the task force.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, whose district includes Sheraden, said one Bergman Street home where drug-dealing tenants were evicted is less than a block from Neely's home.

“Bergman is a very nice street, but it was plagued by a home where a lot of drug arrests occurred,” said Kail-Smith, who chairs City Council's Public Safety Committee. “The task force was a great tool to get those people out.”

Residents who live in public housing or private housing in which the rent is paid with public funds can face eviction if they are convicted of drug or gun violations, said Chuck Roher, a spokesman for the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh.

Evicting criminals from a property can bolster people's confidence in a neighborhood, said Public Safety Director Michael Huss. It's frustrating for neighbors and police “to see a known drug dealer get arrested and then return to the property when they are released from jail to await trial,” he said.

Landlords support the effort, Huss said.

“They've told us they're happy to have a way to evict these people, because in addition to selling drugs out of the properties they own, they are often bad tenants,” he said.

Some houses where dealing occurs are properties about which neighbors complain for other reasons, Huss said — overgrown grass and weeds, junk piles and rundown conditions.

When police arrest a dealer, the task force sends a letter to the property owner setting a 10-day deadline to begin eviction proceedings, McCarthy said. Most landlords do not hesitate to act, he said.

The task force is looking into whether it can take steps to close an Oakland pizza shop where a family member of the owner was arrested on drug charges. Police last month charged Fadi Marwan Aboud, 35, with multiple drug counts.

Investigators searched Larry & Carol's Pizza Shop on Semple Street and Aboud's Downtown apartment. They recovered more than a pound of cocaine, two pounds of marijuana and dozens of prescription narcotics. Police said Aboud sold drugs from the pizzeria.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said shutting down the business would send a strong message of intolerance for dealing.

“It's not acceptable for a business to broadcast good intentions to a neighborhood while ... using that business as a front for criminal activity,' he said.

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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