Northeast Times

The price of recovery

Police say the conditions around the SoarCorp Recovery Center have grown intolerable.

  • Local eyesore: SoarCorp Recovery Center methadone clinic has been open at 9150 Marshall St. for almost seven years. Narcotics officers have arrested at least eight people in the area since the start of July, while trash has been allowed to accumulate outside. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Local eyesore: SoarCorp Recovery Center methadone clinic has been open at 9150 Marshall St. for almost seven years. Narcotics officers have arrested at least eight people in the area since the start of July, while trash has been allowed to accumulate outside.

Po­lice have been pay­ing very close at­ten­tion to a North­east Phil­adelphia drug ad­dic­tion treat­ment fa­cil­ity re­cently, but it’s not the meth­adone clin­ic you might think it is.

The Heal­ing Way clin­ic in Holmes­burg, which opened con­tro­ver­sially about a month ago at 7900 Frank­ford Ave., hasn’t yet be­come the nuis­ance that loc­al folks have long feared it would. And the North­East Treat­ment Cen­ters fa­cil­ity at 7520 State Road cer­tainly isn’t the prob­lem, either. It hasn’t even opened yet.

Ac­tu­ally, con­di­tions around the Soar­Corp Re­cov­ery Cen­ter at 9150 Mar­shall St. have grown in­tol­er­able in re­cent months, po­lice say. Ac­cord­ing to state li­cens­ing re­cords, the for-profit clin­ic has been open for al­most sev­en years. This sum­mer, po­lice have stopped hun­dreds of people in the shop­ping cen­ter sur­round­ing the clin­ic for a vari­ety of vi­ol­a­tions ran­ging from re­l­at­ively minor of­fenses such as loiter­ing to more ser­i­ous crimes like shoplift­ing and break­ing in­to parked cars. In ad­di­tion, nar­cot­ics of­ficers have ar­res­ted at least eight people in the area since the start of Ju­ly for selling drugs il­leg­ally, in­clud­ing marijuana, co­caine and pre­scrip­tion pills.

Soar has not been im­plic­ated in any vi­ol­a­tions of the law or form­ally linked to any al­leged law­break­ers. In fact, po­lice don’t track wheth­er ped­es­tri­ans and mo­tor­ists they stop for in­vest­ig­a­tion are cli­ents of the fa­cil­ity. Yet, cops fa­mil­i­ar with the site con­tend that the clin­ic is a mag­net for dis­order in the area of Roosevelt Boulevard and Welsh Road. People vis­it­ing the clin­ic routinely linger around and in­side nearby busi­nesses, while some­times dis­turb­ing or ac­cost­ing oth­er pat­rons, sev­er­al po­lice sources say. Some of the loiter­ers ap­pear to be high. The clin­ic park­ing lot has be­come an eye­sore, too, with thou­sands of ci­gar­ette butts, pa­pers and oth­er debris lit­ter­ing the en­trance and cov­er­ing the sprawl­ing as­phalt per­petu­ally.

“If I was there with my young kids, I’d be leery of the people I’m sur­roun­ded by,” Lt. Robert Mul­doon of the Po­lice De­part­ment’s Nar­cot­ics Field Unit said. “Yeah, the people have prob­lems. But they don’t all come there, get treated and leave. Some of them hang out there all day long. (Some) have that stare about them, a blank stare and they’re wan­der­ing around aim­lessly.”

••

The Times con­tac­ted Soar ask­ing to dis­cuss prob­lems at the Mar­shall Street site, which has no ac­tu­al ac­cess to Mar­shall Street. In­stead, vis­it­ors must ac­cess the prop­erty through the North­east Shop­ping Cen­ter, passing vari­ous shops, res­taur­ants, banks, a pub­lic lib­rary and a ca­reer train­ing academy, among oth­er ten­ants, to reach the med­ic­al build­ing that it oc­cu­pies.

The com­pany re­spon­ded only by is­su­ing a single-para­graph state­ment via email ref­er­en­cing its ef­forts to help people over­come ad­dic­tion, to sup­port the com­munity and to be a “good neigh­bor.” The state­ment was not at­trib­uted to any com­pany of­fi­cial, but rather the “Man­age­ment.”

The North­east Times’ own ob­ser­va­tions seem to sup­port po­lice of­ficers’ claims. On one Thursday, Ju­ly 31, a re­port­er ar­rived at the clin­ic at 11 a.m. and with­in about 90 minutes saw many of the same activ­it­ies that of­ficers say they see routinely.

One wo­man who ap­peared to be in her 20s was hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time keep­ing her feet while stand­ing alone on a side­walk in front of the clin­ic. She was waver­ing from side to side in an ap­par­ent semi­con­scious state and seemed fix­ated on suck­ing her fin­gers.

About 20 oth­er people were scattered out­side the clin­ic in small groups, mostly smoking and speak­ing with one an­oth­er. Two men walked to a parked car and re­moved a tick­et from the wind­shield to in­spect it. One of the men pho­to­graphed the cita­tion with his cell phone, then placed it back un­der the wiper.

A man stood be­hind a Dodge Dur­ango with the tail­gate open and in­vited oth­ers to view ob­jects in­side the vehicle. Sev­er­al people ap­proached the man in­ter­mit­tently, be­fore the man closed the tail­gate and a wo­man entered the driver’s seat. She drove the truck to an­oth­er part of the park­ing lot, where she tossed a hand-held Wal­greens shop­ping crate onto a pile of trash on the ground next to a Dump­ster. The wo­man then began to sift through the pile, which in­cluded an of­fice chair, a rolled-up rug and a plastic stor­age con­tain­er.

Mean­while, oth­er people con­tin­ued to mingle, some hug­ging each oth­er, oth­ers yelling across the lot. A private se­cur­ity guard ex­ited the clin­ic, but did not ap­pear to ask any­one to enter the fa­cil­ity, to dis­perse or to oth­er­wise change their be­ha­vi­ors. At one point, the se­cur­ity guard stood near the main en­trance and smoked a ci­gar­ette in front of a “no smoking with­in 50 feet” sign.

After about an hour, the re­port­er went to a Dunkin’ Donuts at the op­pos­ite end of the shop­ping cen­ter park­ing lot fa­cing Welsh Road. Ac­cord­ing to po­lice sources, cli­ents of the clin­ic routinely gath­er at the shop or a nearby Bur­ger King be­fore and after vis­it­ing the clin­ic. The re­port­er entered the dough­nut shop at about noon, ap­proached the front counter and saw a man pa­cing slowly around the din­ing area. The cash­ier asked the man if he in­ten­ded to buy any­thing. The man said, “no.” The cash­ier ordered him to leave the shop.

Mo­ments later, the man with the Dur­ango from the front of the clin­ic showed up out­side the dough­nut shop. Car­ry­ing a shop­ping bag, he spoke with a wo­man who was sit­ting in the driver’s seat of a car. They ap­peared to con­duct a trans­ac­tion. Then the man ap­proached an­oth­er wo­man on a side­walk next to the shop and ini­ti­ated a con­ver­sa­tion with her. Two uni­formed po­lice of­ficers stopped the man and ques­tioned him. With­in minutes, the of­ficers had placed the man in­to a patrol car and were in­spect­ing the con­tents of his bag and a back­pack.

A po­lice source later told the Times that the man was caught selling non­nar­cot­ic items that had been stolen that morn­ing from a Wal­greens on Frank­ford Av­en­ue in Up­per Holmes­burg. The store’s sur­veil­lance cam­er­as re­cor­ded the man in the store, but the store de­clined to file a com­plaint about the al­leged theft. Po­lice booked the man any­way be­cause he also was wanted on a bench war­rant for an un­re­lated crim­in­al case. Po­lice did not ar­rest the wo­man he was with.

••

Crime in gen­er­al is more con­cen­trated near the clin­ic than oth­er areas of the 8th dis­trict, po­lice say. Ac­cord­ing to dis­trict su­per­visors, former Capt. Len Ditch­kof­sky first ordered ex­tra cops in the area late last year in re­sponse to pub­lic com­plaints and crime rates in the area. The patrols have be­come more fre­quent this sum­mer.

“We’ve no­ticed an up­tick in shoplift­ing around there and in thefts from autos in the sur­round­ing areas,” said Sgt. Mike Colello.

The fo­cus area stretches from Roosevelt Boulevard to Blue Grass Road and from Welsh Road to Grant Av­en­ue, ac­cord­ing to Sgt. Mike Dougherty.

“We have our tac­tic­al of­ficers as­signed there be­cause of the rate of crime that’s been go­ing up and the com­plaints,” Dougherty said.

Ac­cord­ing to a po­lice source, in a re­cent one-month span, patrol cops stopped al­most 100 people for in­vest­ig­a­tion in the area and ar­res­ted or is­sued cita­tions to about half of them. Many sub­jects were wanted for fail­ing to show up for court or for fail­ing to pay pre­vi­ous tick­ets. Oth­ers were driv­ing vehicles without a li­cense or re­gis­tra­tion.

Po­lice ar­res­ted one man for steal­ing met­al from air con­di­tion­ing units in the neigh­bor­hood and dis­covered he was a cli­ent of the clin­ic, Colello said. In an Aug. 11 case, po­lice is­sued a sum­mons to a man for block­ing the en­trance to the Dunkin’ Donuts. The man showed up at Night Court in the dis­trict on Aug. 22 to fight the sum­mary charge. He ar­gued that he had just bought some cof­fee and was catch­ing a smoke while wait­ing for a con­tract­or to pick him up for a con­struc­tion job.

Mu­ni­cip­al Court Judge Ger­ard Kos­in­ski asked the de­fend­ant what time he starts work. The man said any­time between 7 and 10 a.m. Kos­in­ski, not­ing that the vi­ol­a­tion oc­curred at 10:37 a.m., found the man guilty.

“We’re do­ing ped­es­tri­an stops and ask­ing why people are hanging out­side stores,” Dougherty said. “They’re al­lowed in­to stores, but you see the same people out there every day pan­hand­ling and you can’t do that, both­er­ing people and ask­ing for money.”

In the mean­time, nar­cot­ics of­ficers are work­ing un­der­cov­er to com­bat il­li­cit drug sales in the park­ing lot. Ac­cord­ing to Mul­doon, po­lice have used sur­veil­lance and con­fid­en­tial in­form­ants to bust at least eight al­leged drug deal­ers since Ju­ly 3.

That first day, they locked up a man from Levit­town who al­legedly sold a small amount of Xanax to a wo­man in the lot near the Star Ca­reer Academy. Also that day, po­lice fol­lowed a wo­man from the clin­ic to the Bur­ger King on Welsh Road and saw her make trans­ac­tions with sev­er­al people. Of­ficers stopped the Kens­ing­ton res­id­ent, who al­legedly had 158 pre­scrip­tion pills.

About a week later, nar­cot­ics of­ficers ar­res­ted one man on Welsh Road and an­oth­er in front of Paddy Whacks pub after see­ing them do an al­leged drug deal. Po­lice found co­caine on both men, one from Bell’s Corner and the oth­er from Ben­s­alem.

On Ju­ly 28, of­ficers ar­res­ted a Ta­cony man and a home­less man after an al­leged marijuana deal out­side of Dunkin’ Donuts. One day later, a con­fid­en­tial in­form­ant al­legedly bought 10 Xanax pills from a Kens­ing­ton wo­man.

On Aug. 20, a con­fid­en­tial in­form­ant al­legedly bought six Xanax pills from a Frank­ford man in the park­ing lot between the dough­nut shop and the clin­ic, so po­lice made an­oth­er ar­rest.

Mul­doon said that the il­leg­al drug activ­ity seems to grav­it­ate to­ward the meth­adone clin­ic. On Aug. 20, for ex­ample, an in­form­ant went to the dough­nut shop to try to buy drugs and met two dif­fer­ent people. In both in­stances, the oth­er per­son led the in­form­ant to­ward the clin­ic, where he was dir­ec­ted to someone else who had pills for sale.

“It’s not like they’re work­ing to­geth­er, but every­body seems to know every­body,” Mul­doon said.

Des­pite the re­cent en­force­ment ef­forts, nar­cot­ics in­vest­ig­at­ors haven’t seen much change in activ­ity.

“Not at all,” Mul­doon said. “The people up there are like ob­li­vi­ous to their sur­round­ings. It’s like they’re in their own little world.” ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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