Philadelphia Couple Has Home Seized After Son's Heroin Bust

By McCarton Ackerman 09/05/14

Police knew Christos and Markella Sourovelis committed no crime, but they seized their house anyway.

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A hard-working Philadelphia couple had their house seized due to their son’s drug bust, even though the parents have never been charged with a crime.

Yianni Sourovelis, 22, was booked on drug charges last January after police arrested him for possessing $40 worth of heroin and later accused him of selling drugs out of the home. But six weeks later, police and prosecutors came armed with a lawsuit and seized the house of Christos and Markella Sourovelis. Although they accepted that the married couple committed no wrongdoing, authorities used a civil forfeiture law to seize the home since it was tied to illegal drugs.

"It discourages crime and it takes the ill-gotten gains away from the bad people. It’s a good law. It works,” said CNN legal analyst and consumer attorney Brian Kabateck. “That doesn't mean that it doesn't sometimes have issues that need to be corrected. The system constantly has to change."

The Sourvelis’ were forced to sleep on the couch of a family member for over a week before facing a prosecutor from the DA’s office and convincing them to let them back into the house. But after their son pleaded no contest to the drug charges, they could only be let back in on the guarantee their son was banned from the house.

"To me I'm home, but I feel violated at this point,” said Markella. “I'm doing things in my house, but I wonder if it’s always going to be my house. Are they going to take it one day like that?"

Philadelphia is one of the most aggressive cities in the world when it comes to civil forfeitures. In the last decade, the city has seized 1,000 houses, 3,300 vehicles, and $44 million in cash. The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office said that in the last three years, around $7 million from these forfeitures went straight to the salaries for the Philadelphia District Attorney's office and the city police department.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.