Criminals use abandoned homes to stash weapons

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CLEVELAND (AP) - Boarded-up and abandoned homes have become places for criminals to stash weapons, make drugs and organize crimes, police said.

The foreclosure crisis has hit Cleveland hard with thousands of properties abandoned. The vacant, abandoned properties are safe sites for would-be criminals to leave their goods and avoid being caught with them.

"People are simply taking advantage of what's there," said Judy Martin, founder of Survivors/Victims of Tragedy in Cleveland. "Anyone can get into a vacant home, no matter how well it is boarded up."

Robbers in Tremont hid a shotgun in the foundation of an abandoned home last fall, police said.

"It was the 'community gun,"' said Cleveland police Lt. Thomas Stacho. "They said it was there for when someone had to 'hit a lick,' or commit a robbery."

Officials don't have definite numbers on how common the problem is. They point to similar situation elsewhere. In Pittsburgh, police found 30 guns from abandoned homes in a gang-heavy neighborhood; a month later, police in Trenton, N.J., found more weapons in boarded-up houses.

"We have guys who will hide weapons that they used in crimes in abandoned homes; it happens," said John Hageman, an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Philadelphia.

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In Summit County, police have found boarded-up homes used as methamphetamine labs.

"These homes are a breeding ground for crime," said Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera. In recent years, the department also has investigated slayings and a rape at abandoned homes.

Cleveland has thousands of vacant and abandoned properties that are damaging neighborhoods and bringing down property values. In January, the city joined lawsuit against 21 large financial institutions, citing the public nuisance created by swaths of empty homes.

"These are eyesores and places that people can use to conceal items that they strip from houses, or their drugs or their guns," said Brian Davis, director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. "No one checks on the houses, and they're lost in a bureaucratic shell game of who has to take care of them."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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