State continues to take action against homes, businesses tied to criminal activity

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Unity Lane

The state continues to take action on nuisance properties that included a strip mall business in Middletown.

867 N. Broad Street, Middletown was the site of The Water Lily, a massage parlor tied to prostitution.

It was formerly owned by Da Zhong Wang, who is the subject of an ongoing civil racketeering complaint involving prostitution. Wang sold the property to Michael De Maria of Galloway, NJ, who subsequently employed a tenant/successor in interest who was charged with prostitution and may be a victim of human trafficking.

Ultimately the massage parlor was shut down by the owners of the strip mall, who were notified of the activities in question through a certified nuisance abatement letter from DOJ earlier this year. De Maria’s lease has been terminated.

Recently, a house that police and prosecutors said was part of what was described as an open-air drug market in southern Kent County was recently shut down and the residents evicted after a court declared it to be a “criminal nuisance property.”

The investigation and action on the property on Unity Lane near Greenwood was part of a focus by a team of attorneys and investigators at the Department of Justice partnering with state and local law enforcement to target such properties.

The property at 118 Unity Lane is part of an area near Greenwood known as “The Hole” that has been a location for drug transactions for some time. The dirt road that leads to it has been dug up so that police vehicle or other vehicles had to slow down upon entering the road, allowing criminal suspects to flee the area through the woods that surround it.

A Delaware State Police investigation in conjunction with DOJ investigators monitored a number of drug transactions in the area.

The order banned several people from the property and declared the property be shut down for a period of two years.

On August 4, DOJ investigators, DSP troopers and members of the Kent County Governor’s Task Force escorted occupants out of 118 Unity Lane and barricaded the house, posting a sign that declared it to be a criminal nuisance property.

“One or two properties with criminal activity can bring down an entire neighborhood and cause innocent residents in the area to live their lives in fear,” Attorney General Matt Denn said. “That’s why our office has worked so hard over the last year to target such properties. I commend the troopers, lawyers and investigators who worked to close this property in The Hole, and who have impacted other properties as well through our focused efforts.”

Other properties targeted in recent months by DOJ and police under the law that allows action on criminal nuisance properties include:

1107 Washington Street, New Castle: This case involved a residence in New Castle which was known for illicit drug use and prostitution. The police were called to the location numerous times for events ranging from fugitives fleeing into the residence to receipt and storage of stolen property, to the overdose death of a dog. A final nuisance abatement order was obtained through default judgment in November 2016. Thereafter, police and prosecutors alleged the homeowner, Sarah Hinrichs, continued to permit prostitution to occur on the property. Hinrichs and Nicole Culley were arrested at the property for acts of prostitution in January 2017. A civil contempt order was sought and obtained against Hinrichs on April 20, 2017, barring her from the premises. The property was ultimately sold to new owners.

A final nuisance abatement order was obtained through default judgment in November 2016. Thereafter, police and prosecutors alleged the homeowner, Sarah Hinrichs, continued to permit prostitution to occur on the property. Hinrichs and Nicole Culley were arrested at the property for acts of prostitution in January 2017. A civil contempt order was sought and obtained against Hinrichs on April 20, 2017, barring her from the premises. The property was ultimately sold to new owners.

16 Defoe Circle, Newark:This property was the site of drug and gun activity and over 50 police calls in the past four years. In March 2016, occupants Thomas Epperson and Frank Lare were arrested for various drug charges relating to their possession of 291 bags of heroin, and a January 2017 administrative search found Thomas Epperson and Allen Stevens in possession of heroin, marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

Nora Epperson had been arrested for drug violations numerous times, and Thomas Epperson took responsibility for what had been happening at the property. The Eppersons entered a consent order August 15, 2017 with DOJ stipulating that Thomas Epperson would not have contact with the property or the area surrounding it.

121 E. Lockwood Street, Middletown:This property was the alleged site of drug dealing and gun activity. After numerous undercover drug purchases, Middletown Police Department recovered 2,028 bags of heroin, a handgun, and a shotgun from the property. Michael Thomas admitted to selling heroin and was arrested as a result of the incidents. Property owners George Young and Rose Young entered into a consent agreement on June 28, 2017 with the state forbidding Thomas from having contact with the property.

2614 Thatcher Street, Wilmington:This property was the site of drug dealing. After numerous community complaints, Wilmington Police Department executed a search warrant and recovered 79 oxycodone pills and over $2,000. Occupant Jamila Speight pled guilty to drug dealing in September 2016 and was previously charged with drug dealing in 2009. DOJ obtained a default judgment on June 2017 against Speight preventing her from entering the property and the surrounding area and required her to pay a $500 civil penalty. Additionally, a sign will be placed on the property declaring it a criminal nuisance.

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