Alderman owned Maywood ‘drug house’
BY ROBERT HERGUTH AND DANE PLACKO Better Government Association October 23, 2012 6:24PM
A three-flat in Maywood, formerly owned by Chicago Ald. Jason Ervin, has been site of numerous calls for police, who have said the property is a drug house.
Updated: November 25, 2012 11:46AM
For Ald. Jason Ervin, who represents a large swath of Chicago’s troubled West Side, drug activity in the area hits particularly close to home.
That’s because until recently, Ervin owned what police and others portray as a “drug house” in nearby Maywood.
During the decade or so that Ervin owned the three-flat at 1600 W. Madison in the Near West suburb, police were called to the property or the immediate vicinity roughly 150 times, often for drug-related incidents, but also for gunshots, assaults, trespassing and thefts, among other matters, according to records from the Village of Maywood.
Not all incidents were substantiated or resulted in arrests, and some troubles occurred just outside the building, on public property.
But enough problems were tied directly to the Madison building that it gained a reputation as a drug and gang hotspot, according to interviews as well as records obtained by the Better Government Association and Fox Chicago.
While Ervin takes issue with the characterization of his building as a “drug house,” he acknowledged a legion of problems, from tenants he was forced to evict, to vandalism and drug activity.
“Would I make the same investment today?” he said in a recent interview. “No way.”
Ervin said he bought the building to make money — he rented out the apartments — when he was younger and starting to dabble in real estate.
Cook County records show Ervin and his now-former wife purchased it in 2001 for $175,000 from Henderson Yarbrough, who later was elected mayor of Maywood and hired Ervin as village manager — a job that made him responsible for municipal departments including police and code enforcement. Ervin left the post in 2011 when he was appointed by then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to serve as 28th Ward alderman.
Eventually, the economics of owning the property changed, in part because of soaring property taxes, and Ervin ended up losing thousands of dollars a year, he said.
Ervin stopped paying the mortgage in early 2009 and, later in the year, Wells Fargo filed a foreclosure action against the Ervins.
Ervin said he hasn’t considered himself the owner of the building for several years. However, county records show the legal transfer of the three-flat to Wells Fargo occurred in early 2012. The building is now for sale.
Since Ervin bought the building, police records paint a chilling portrait.
Of the 150 or so police service calls from 2001 through 2011, roughly 30 were categorized as drug calls, while other reports ran the gamut: criminal trespass, fight in progress, domestic battery, shots fired, loitering, open alcohol and criminal sexual abuse.
Former Maywood police Sgt. Dwayne Wheeler, who once ran the department’s narcotics unit, said Ervin’s building was constant trouble. Officers routinely responded to calls, made arrests and investigated drug sales, Wheeler said.
“We would do undercover buys at that property,” he said. “It was regarded as an eyesore and a drug house.”
Maywood Police Chief Tim Curry personally made drug arrests at the building but said Ervin’s three-flat wasn’t unique. “All of the buildings on that block were drug houses” at one time or another, Curry said.
Neighbors said it’s been a well-known hot spot, with one local, Robbie Adams, saying “there was a lot of riotous living here, drug selling, it’s just ran down — in the early ’80s, it was a beautiful place.”
Ervin described the neighborhood as “an established heroin market” and said drug selling in the area predates him.
He also said he did what he could to clean up the three-unit building, at one time evicting a relative who was living there and causing problems. Criminal activity isn’t “something we condoned or supported,” Ervin said.
In the end, owning the building “proved to be a bigger challenge than [we anticipated.] . . . At some point you have to make a decision that makes sense and move forward, and it was time to move on.”
Robert Herguth works for the Better Government Association. Dane Placko is with Fox Chicago.