Philadelphia Won’t Take Homes From Forfeiture Plaintiffs

Philadelphia prosecutors say they're no longer looking to take homes away from two residents whose lawsuit alleges the city illegally seizes $6 million worth of property annually to help fund operations.

The district attorney's office agreed Thursday to drop civil forfeiture proceedings involving Doila Welch and Greek immigrant Christos Sourovelis.

"I'm so excited," said homeowner Markela Sourovelis. "I'm very happy."

Prosecutors forced Sourovelis and his wife out of their Somerton home for a week in May after their son, who had no ownership stake in their $300,000 home, was charged in a $40 drug-possession case.

Lawyers for the family say they'll continue leading the class-action challenging the city's civil forfeiture practices. Practices they say involve treated citizens like their personal ATMs -- using their power to take cash, cars and homes, sometimes before residents have been charged with a crime.

Civil forfeitures can occur without convictions based on a "preponderance of the evidence" standard — basically, a 51 percent finding.

District Attorney Seth Williams' office said it uses the law appropriately to address nuisance properties and protect law-abiding neighbors.

Critics disagree, however, saying that Philadelphia uses property seizure more than other big cities and that officials rely too much on the generated income.

"We feel that this happens to too many people for no reason," said Sourovelis.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us