An alleged drug dealer and his cronies have hijacked a Bronx home and the squatters are now terrorizing a once-quiet area with dope deals, prostitution, loud music and harassment of anyone who walks past their front porch, neighbors claim.
“I don’t go to that corner. I’m scared,” said one terrified resident who didn’t want to be named. “They do everything over there. They sell drugs, they do prostitution.”
The run-down, shingled, two-story colonial at 3059 Valentine Ave. in Jerome Park, near the NY Botanical Garden, was vacant until October, when the squatters allegedly broke in and settled in, even re-starting Con Ed service before the property manager noticed, sources and court records say.
Life in the once peaceful community has been hell ever since, residents told The Post.
The half dozen or so squatters set up shop on the trash-strewn porch at all hours, smoking, cat-calling and insulting pedestrians, blasting music from a large amplifier, and drag-racing motorcycles up and down the streets all night, sources said.
Prostitutes, apparently strung out on drugs, hang around in front, and one neighbor claims to have seen a drug deal going down at dawn.
“They’ve created a lot of havoc on our block since they got here,” said the frightened resident. “I suspect they’re dealing drugs. I know they throw parties. They harass people. I’ve been harassed. I’ve been threatened.”
The resident says they witnessed what they suspect are drug deals at all hours of day and night, with packages being passed from the house to vehicles waiting outside.
“They bother people walking by,” another local told The Post of the squatters. “I tell people don’t show them any fear. If you don’t show fear they won’t bother you. But I have family down at the precinct; I give them a call and the police show right up.”
Nine 911 calls regarding to the address have been recorded in recent months, and one resulted in an arrest of a man on a slew of cocaine charges, the NYPD said. Another incident was a domestic dispute involving a firearm, according to cops, who have issued 29 parking tickets to cars in front of the house.
Locals have also called the city’s 311 hotline at least 16 times complaining of noise and other issues, and the property, which still features the awning of the small business that used to operate there, has wracked up at least a dozen violations from the city Sanitation Department for failing to keep the place and sidewalks clean, records show.
Sources say the apparent ringleader of the brazen group is Frank “The Tank” Castillo, 29, who boasts a lengthy rap sheet of nine prior arrests since 2010, including charges of gang assault, robbery, and weapon possession.
Castillo was nabbed at the home on April 14 and charged with eight counts of possession and sale of crack cocaine, the NYPD said. He was also arrested in November for selling marijuana and is currently on parole for assault.
Castillo and another man, Johnny Gonzalez, started living in the home “under no lease and without permission,” ignoring the owner’s pleas to leave, according to court records.
The freeloaders, seen at the home by The Post this week, may even be renting to others, identified as anonymous “underoccupants” in Bronx Housing Court papers.
Owner Seam Re LLC had snagged the large corner lot, which features two detached garages, in September for $990,000, records show. But property manager Rajive Maret hadn’t even had a chance to scope out the nearly 1,500-square-foot house before Castillo and his crew swooped in, Maret’s lawyer said.
“The frustrating part is, it’s not like my client owned the building and said, ‘I’m gonna give these guys a lease, they seem great,’” said Seam Re LLC’s lawyer, Melissa Levin, of Horing, Welikson, Rosen & Digrugilliers. “They broke into the building at a time when it was vacant, at a time when my client hadn’t yet taken over. … Now they’re causing all these issues and disturbances and unfortunately, with the pandemic, we can’t even get them out.”
Complaints about the squatters have flooded the 52nd Precinct, which is working with the Bronx District Attorney’s office to address the community’s concerns, the NYPD told The Post.
But the police are handcuffed: by the time the break-in at Valentine Avenue was reported, the squatters had already been living there more than a month, and used the Con Ed account to establish proof of residency, according to a source.
Once a person has “squatted,” or lived in a home without permission for more than 30 days, the situation becomes a civil matter, even if the occupant has no lease or legal authority to be there, legal experts say.
“If somebody’s been there more than 30 days the police cannot remove them,” leaving a landlord no choice but to go to housing court, veteran Bronx attorney Frank Loverro told The Post.
But with an historic backlog of cases clogging courts after a months-long pandemic shutdown, and new rules from Albany making evictions much harder to secure, squatters are enjoying unprecedented freedom to do as they please, knowing it could take years to be ousted.
“I would predict to you having seen what’s going on right now, that this case doesn’t have a chance to get in court before Labor Day and that would be lucky,” Loverro said. “It’s a completely new situation and it’s not going to come up for another 100 years, but this is how it is right now.”
New pandemic-inspired rules from Albany forced Seam Re LLC to give the squatters a COVID-19 Hardship Declaration form, records show. The form allows anyone facing an eviction to claim financial difficulties, without having to prove it, and delays cases for months at a time, attorneys said.
“We’re almost going on seven months now, we don’t even have a court date on this because of the pandemic. It’s not as if they’re tenants and have rights. But the legislature and the governor didn’t carve out any exception for squatters who don’t have rights,” Levin said.