Vermont Drug-Related Forfeiture Leads to Renewal of Homes, Neighborhood

The federal seizure of three rental homes in Rutland, Vermont that were used by drug traffickers provided a legal remedy to deal with a complicit absentee landlord and has led to an innovative public-private partnership to restore the homes and rehabilitate the neighborhood.

Video Transcript

Michael Moran: My grandson that lives here, he got where he wouldn't even go outside for almost two years. Even in the summer. And we have a pool out back.

But no. Every once in a while, we’d find syringes thrown over from next door. Or people cutting through down here. We’d find syringes on my side lot.

It was just, you know, they didn't care.

And then he’d go out with me or he’d go out with his mother for a few minutes.

But that majorly was it.

Come home from school, straight in the house.

Title slide: Michael Moran and his family have lived on park Avenue in Rutland, Vermont for 26 years.

Special Agent Chris Destito: We went to the landlord and said, “Hey listen, you’ve got people that are involved in illegal activity in your rental facilities. You need to address it.”

From what we were able to glean from interviews of various different people, he was aware of what was going on and was doing nothing to stop it.

As long as he was getting paid he didn't really care.

Title slide: Like cities across the U.S., Rutland has had to contend with a dramatic spike in heroin and opioid abuse.

Title slide: For years, three rental homes on Park Avenue were the cities epicenter of drug activity.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Perella: Every one of these three multi-family residential units had at least one drug dealer staying in them.

If the owner doesn't know anything about what’s going on and acted reasonably, then that property would not be subject to forfeiture.

In this case, if you look at the facts to see whether or not the landlord took reasonable but safe steps to rid the residences or the rental properties of drug dealings.

And here we concluded that he did not.

And the civil forfeiture statute was really the most appropriate legal remedy—if not the only legal remedy—we had.

Title slide: The civil forfeiture ultimately returned the Park Avenue homes to the city of Rutland, where a local non-profit will restore and sell them at affordable prices.

Former Rutland Mayor Chris Louras: The difference with this project and the difference with this program here in Rutland, working with our federal partners, is that they recognized what we were doing here locally in Rutland, and wanted to be a part of that community transformation.

So instead of just seizing properties and selling them, they were transferred to a housing partner of the community, within the community, to provide home-ownership opportunities and—I can't say it enough—to transform the community.

It wouldn't have happened without the federal partners being invested in seeing our community succeed.

Project manager: …the partition wall that has the double doors in it, the double doors are pretty historic….

Yeah, oh, they’re beautiful.

NeighborWorks of Western Vermont Executive Director Ludy Biddle: So, with this project we’re able to save these three homes. They all have historic value.

They all have a history of being kind of family-oriented community. And our hope is to bring them back to just exactly that.

We will repair these homes and sell them to families to live, I hope, happy lives in this neighborhood again.

Louras: The transformation is palpable. You can feel it on the street, in this neighborhood, and in this community.

We’ve got a brand-new park that wasn’t there before when we razed a blighted and vacant property and created more of a sense of space for the homeowners that have been suffering for the last five years, especially through the opiate epidemic. 

Perella: The neighbors were exceedingly happy with the result here. There’s a lot of families in the neighborhood. The neighbors themselves had, during the height of drug dealing, had put signs out in front: no drug dealing allowed here. And they are very pleased.

So, all the benefits of this forfeiture went to making this community safer and more family-friendly and where kids can bike and play on the street and not worry about needles in the street or drug deals going down.

The forfeiture laws allow the United States to take action.

Destito: It’s an effective tool for us to, one, get the landlords to be a little more aware of what’s happening in their units and maybe not allow it.

And two, those properties are going to be used for something productive—something positive, something really positive.

Louras: The FBI, ATF, Marshals, U.S. attorney, the feds can absolutely play a role. And it’s not just a role of support. It’s an active role.

Biddle: It’s a wonderful conclusion for these homes.

Moran: We fought and fought and fought. And this is where we’re at today. The houses have been seized. They’ve been sold. We got what we wanted, I guess.

I see things getting better. And this is a nice neighborhood. It really is.

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