HomeNewsSomerton couple does not sign forfeiture agreement

Somerton couple does not sign forfeiture agreement

The District Attorney’s office last week said a Somerton couple wouldn’t have to worry about losing their home if they would sign an agreement that would end forfeiture proceedings against their Ferndale Street property. The couple’s lawyer, however, said they wouldn’t sign.

In May, the DA’s office told the the couple their home would be taken from them be-cause of their son’s March drug ar-rest. That pro-cess is called for-feit-ure.

An assistant district attorney said Christos and Markela Sourovelis were told they could end their problems with the DA’s office on Aug. 12, the day they joined a federal class action suit aimed at getting the city’s forfeiture process declared unconstitutional. The Northeast Times published a story about the suit and the couple’s account of their case on Aug. 20.

Assistant District Attorney Beth Grossman, chief of the DA’s Public Nuisance Task Force, said the couple had to guarantee they would make reasonable efforts to prevent drug sales from their home.

“They could have reviewed the proposed settlement,” Grossman said last week. “We could have gone before the judge and that would have been end of it … The matter would have been withdrawn.”

But the couple’s lawyer said her clients have no reason to sign that agreement with the DA and several reasons not to. For example, they would lose their right to a trial, said Darpana Sh-eth, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a Virginia nonprofit, which is representing the Sourovelises.

The Sourovelises told the Times last month that they had no idea their son, Yianni, had sold drugs, were not involved and that no drug sales had been done from their home. They said police in March found heroin worth about $40 in a bathroom when they came to their house on the 12000 block of Ferndale Street to arrest their son, and that police threatened to shoot their pet pit bull.

In May, after their son already had entered a diversionary court program and had been in a drug rehabilitation program, the couple said representatives of the DA’s office told them their home was being seized and that they had to leave. To get back in a week later, Christos said, they had to sign an agreement that their son could not live in their Ferndale Street home. They agreed, but said they wanted to get their son back in their home so they could help with his recovery.

Assistant District Attorney Daren Waite said he had met with the Sourovelises. “They were unsure of the process, and I explained the process to them,” he said.

Last week, Grossman said the DA’s office was OK with the son moving back, but the couple had to sign the agreement for that to happen. Each case has to be looked at separately, she said, adding, “We are happy to settle this one.”

The Sourovelises “just have to take reasonable steps to make sure drug dealing doesn’t take place in the home,” Grossman said.

Sheth said the DA’s office wants more than just that. She provided the Times with a copy of the agreement, and Waite said that the copy was of the document the couple was asked to sign.

In the document, the DA’s office stated that, if the case goes to trial, it would have proven the couple’s home was being used “to commit and/or facilitate violations of the Controlled Substance Act, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act of 1972.” The agreement has a clause that states that Christos didn’t know about or consent to violations of that law.

Some of the agreement included clauses that state Christos, who “has full authority to sign on behalf of the property,” gives up a right to trial, to present evidence and to cross examine witnesses.

Another clause states the DA’s office could refile its forfeiture petition if there are any future violations of the Controlled Substance Act.

Grossman said that some of the details Markela Sourovelis recounted of her son’s arrest in an August Times article were not accurate.

She said police who came to the Ferndale Street home in March were delayed entering the property by the couple’s pet pit bull and that officers could hear a toilet being repeatedly flushed as they asked Mrs. Sourovelis to lock up the dog in another room. The small amount of heroin officers found on the property was in a toilet, she said.

According to the police report of Yianni’s arrest, he ran at police when they burst into a bathroom and that he had to be subdued.

Yianni now lives with one of the couple’s other children.

The Sourovelises joined a suit filed Aug. 12 in fed-er-al court to stop Philadelphia’s whole for-feit-ure pro-cess.

Ac-cord-ing to a press re-lease from the In-sti-tute for Justice, civil for-feit-ure brings in rev-en-ue equal to al-most 20 per-cent of the DA’s annual budget and the city spends al-most 40 per-cent of the money for-feit-ure brings in on salar-ies, in-clud-ing the salar-ies of the “very po-lice and prosecutors do-ing the seiz-ing.”

The class ac-tion suit, Sheth said, is filed on behalf of all the property owners who are involved in forfeiture in Philly — or might be in the fu-ture. Monetary damages are not being sought. ••

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