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Rundown properties get Garfield man sent to jail

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The house at 244 Dunseith St. in Oakland sits in disrepair on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014.

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By Bob Bauder

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 11:39 p.m.

A district judge tossed a Garfield man in jail on Wednesday morning for failure to pay more than $100,000 in delinquent fines resulting from Pittsburgh building code violations.

Eli J. Wasserman, 31, said he intended to fix his properties in West Oakland, Hazelwood and Garfield but ran into financial problems in 2009 during the recession.

The city's Bureau of Building Inspection said it's been “chasing” Wasserman ever since.

“I believe that Judge (Eugene) Ricciardi, who puts on big fines, finally must have gotten fed up and had him arrested,” said Mary Fleming, deputy chief of the bureau. “I'm amazed they got him.”

She said the city issues about 8,000 code violations each year, and 75 percent to 80 percent are resolved before they land in court.

Wasserman had code violations dating to 2009, ranging from garbage strewn about properties to unsafe structural conditions and overgrown weeds and grass at homes at 244 Dunseith St., West Oakland; 5280 Second Ave., Hazelwood; and his residence at 5506 Black St., Garfield.

Ricciardi fined him $100,090 for violations at the vacant Oakland house. He owed $5,210 in outstanding fines for the other two properties at two other city magistrate offices, according to court records.

Neighbors and the civic group Oakland Planning and Development Corp. said they've been complaining for years about the Oakland property.

“They finally found him,” said Irene Gee, who lives next door to Wasserman's Dunseith Street house. “It's a fire hazard. The porch is gone. It's just a mess.”

State Constables Christian Constantini and Michael D. Lowman nabbed Wasserman Wednesday morning on Ricciardi's orders when he left a hearing on an unrelated case that was dismissed.

Wasserman said he didn't purposely avoid notices from the court. He said he didn't receive them.

“I do intend to fix them up, absolutely,” he said as he was being led to jail. “There just wasn't enough money to (fix them) after 2009. I'm not trying to make Pittsburgh less beautiful.”

Wanda Wilson, executive director of Oakland Planning and Development, said the organization has a list of the worst 10 properties in the neighborhood and is pursuing owners through the city and courts.

“He should sell the property as opposed to keeping it in that bad condition,” Wilson said of Wasserman.

Ricciardi said his main objective is to improve derelict properties. He said he would be willing to reduce the fine if Wasserman fixes up the Oakland house.

“I would entertain reducing the fine for community service if he makes a good effort and he mitigates the violations,” the judge said after sending Wasserman to jail on $2,500 collateral bond.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or




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