The owner of a North Side drug den must sell the house within 30 days to a buyer who will live there while fixing it up, or the city can demolish it, an Allegheny County judge ordered Thursday.
The decision by Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman gave owner Michael Bucaro, 45, a slight reprieve from a May order requiring him to have the property at 901 Constance St. torn down or face jail time.
Cashman rendered his decision as lawyers for the city went to court to ask him to enforce the order because Bucaro tried to sell the property to a construction company and use proceeds from the sale to pay $7,000 in lawyer’s fees and a $10,000 fine.
Assistant City Solicitor Stephanie Eggar said Bucaro and his lawyer, Michael Foglia, were trying to usurp the judge’s order by attempting to sell the property without notifying the buyer about the demolition order.
Foglia said he was “quite shocked and really affronted” by Eggar’s accusation.
He said he approached the city with a sales agreement in an attempt to come to a resolution without demolition, because razing the house would negatively affect two nearby properties.
Foglia said he planned to seek the judge’s approval.
“We were trying to do it by consent,” he said. “We’re not trying to avoid the situation here.”
Foglia said he hopes to find a buyer and close on a deal before the judge’s deadline. The next hearing is Dec. 22.
Bucaro’s property was among the city’s most visited by police since 2009. According to court records, officers went to the house 59 times between January 2009 and December. They found 101 stamp bags of heroin, 15 needles, a crack pipe and crack cocaine during seven searches.
Bucaro, who spent 90 days in jail for failing to comply with the judge’s orders to evict tenants, board up the house, make repairs and pay the fine, said nothing during the hearing. Cashman had a sheriff’s deputy place Bucaro in handcuffs and hold him in custody through lunch. He was released at the end of the hearing.
The hearing took a sideways turn when David Dean, Bucaro’s real estate agent, showed Cashman an Oct. 2 email from Matthew Barron, Mayor Bill Peduto’s policy manager, who wrote that several city departments — at the mayor’s direction — had convinced the judge and District Attorney’s Office to withdraw the demolition order and force Bucaro to sell the property.
Cashman brought Barron into court to ask him which judge he spoke with and how he arrived at some of the information in his email.
Barron acknowledged that he had not spoken to a judge. He said someone in the city Planning Department saw the house was listed for sale and assumed the parties struck an accord. “I was operating on the information I was given,” Barron told the judge.
Councilwoman Darlene Harris said she is disappointed with Cashman’s decision. Neighbors in the North Side generally don’t like vacant lots, Harris said, but would make an exception in this case.
“This is one property that would be better off (torn) down,” she said.
Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927.