Prosecutors target alleged drug house
By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The county prosecutor’s office has filed for a civil injunction against the owners and tenants of a house near the Hilo Municipal Golf Course, alleging that drug activities by the house’s tenants are a nuisance.
The defendants named in the injunction are: Corazon Barrios, Delia Blanco, Isidro Saribay and Jose Saribay, owners of the home at 368 West Kawailani St.; Bank of America, which holds a mortgage on the property; and Dalene Moreira, Kevin Murota, Tisha Thompson, Michael Blanco, Alicia Schweitzer-Mercado, Nadie Camacho and John Cuellar, whom prosecutors say are the tenants; plus any unknown individuals staying there.
Deputy Prosecutor Mitch Roth said the aim of the action is to “get ‘em out,” referring to the property’s tenants.
The complaint for “abatement of nuisance” was filed Friday in Hilo Circuit Court. The filing cites sections of Hawaii Revised Statutes that “permit closure of premises where drug offenses repeatedly occur.” No hearing has been set, Roth said.
Search warrants were served on the house Oct. 21, 2011, and March 9, 2012. Among the items confiscated by police in the first raid was 13.8 grams of crystal methamphetamine, or “ice,” according to court records.
Last month’s bust netted 5.3 grams of meth, a small amount of marijuana and numerous items of drug paraphernalia.
“We looked at the situation; it still appears to be a problem,” Roth said. “Apparently it’s still going on, so we looked at doing our nuisance abatement action.”
If a preponderance of evidence shows repeated drug offenses are occurring at a property, a judge can eject its occupants without arrest or conviction on criminal charges.
Roth, who is a candidate for county prosecutor, called the nuisance abatement law “an effective approach to dealing with crime.”
Commentary contained in the law states: “The Legislature emphasized that this amendment is not intended to be applied to innocent landlords whose property may be inadvertently involved in drug offenses.” Roth said that the landlords have tried, without success, to evict the tenants.
“From what we’ve seen, they’ve made efforts to evict them,” he said. “It’s my understanding they’re not receiving rent for the property. However, they didn’t take the step of getting an attorney out there to go through the procedure (of eviction). So they’ve basically been letting them stay there.”
Although the landlords are named as defendants, prosecutors aren’t attempting to seize the property, Roth said.
The Tribune-Herald attempted, unsuccessfully, to contact the property’s owners on Monday afternoon.
Roth said the nuisance abatement law has been used at least twice before on the Big Island. On Jan. 31, 2001, Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura ejected 17 people from a rooming house at 76 Kilauea Ave. in Hilo.
“When we did it over there, crime in downtown Hilo dropped dramatically,” Roth said.
On June 17, 2003, Nakamura issued an injunction banning Iuka Akui from Pahoa for a year except for the hours between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., when he was allowed into the village to shop and do laundry.
Akui was also barred from the rock wall between Luquin’s Mexican Restaurant and the Young Buddhist Association Hall, where drug dealing was said to be rampant at that time.
“Today, Pahoa is a much safer place than it was back then,” Roth said.
Roth said that forfeiture proceedings have also been brought against Moreira and Murota involving cash, a vehicle and assorted electronic gear.
Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune- herald.com.