Police use anti-drug law to shut house City padlock law forces owner out for one year.

April 30, 1991|By Raymond L. Sanchez | Raymond L. Sanchez,Evening Sun Staff

Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods smiled broadly as he hung up a sign proclaiming that the house on East 30th Street, which has been linked to drug trafficking, was being closed under the city's 1986 padlock law.

It was the first time the city had successfully used the padlock law, police said.

But the owner of the home at 719 E. 30th, Rita Curreri, 40, promises to come back. Curreri, who has pleaded guilty to cocaine possession charges, must leave the residence for one year beginning May 13. She was placed on two years' probation.

"I'll back 12:01 a.m. a year later," Curreri said yesterday. She said she will stay with her boyfriend until then.

The padlock law affects buildings linked to drug sales, gambling, prostitution or trafficking in stolen property.

Under the law, buildings where two arrests for any of those offenses resulted in convictions within a 24-month period would be deemed a "public nuisance."

Thereafter, any arrest on the same charge at that location allows the police commissioner, after a hearing, to order the premises padlocked for up to a year.

That was the case at the home Curreri has owned for 15 years in one of the city's drug-free zones. Police spokeswoman Arlene Jenkins said investigators have arrested people for drug violations at Curreri's home since 1985. In the last two years, Jenkins said, Curreri, her 18-year-old son and a nephew have been arrested and convicted on drug charges.

Jenkins says the law enables police to disrupt drug sales in those buildings. The law, which was amended in 1989, originally required two convictions in a 12-month period.

"It certainly disrupts the drug activity," she says. "It also makes it inconvenient in that the stash house [for drugs] is no longer there. In other words, they have to find a whole new system."

Curreri said she was angry and embarrassed. She said she has already been punished -- her son and nephew are serving prison terms and she is on two years' probation. She called the padlocking an "unnecessary spectacle."

"A police captain told some of his officers to stop giggling," Curreri said. "I mean, look, on Thursday they told me to leave by May 13. Fine. But for me to walk outside and see the street blocked with people and reporters. People were laughing. It made me feel like 2 cents."

"Everybody is using drugs," Curreri added. "Everybody is selling drugs. Why pick on 719? I told them they're selling them under your noses. It's like they're concentrating on my home."

During the police action, Irving H. Phillips Jr., an Evening Sun photographer assigned to the event, was slightly injured about 2:15 p.m. when Curreri's 16-year-old daughter left the residence shouting obscenities, got into a car and struck Phillips as she drove away.

Jenkins said two other locations were padlocked by police yesterday: one at 1611 Retreat St. because the owner has a history of convictions for renting rooms for prostitution, and another at 1922 W. Franklin St., which Jenkins said was used for drug trafficking.

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