Man in court over 'illegal' lot

Claims land is his due to squatter's rights
August 13, 2008 4:15:32 PM PDT
A man who ran an allegedly illegal and lucrative business in Brooklyn for more than a decade was in court Wednesday. Police say 47-year-old Darren Miller ran a parking lot and storage facility on land that he didn't own.The junkyard is filled with numerous trucks, more than 550 cars, 1,000 tires and all sorts of hazardous waste.

Authorities say Miller was making roughly $168,000 a year off of the business, allowing people to store their property there.

The four-acre area is located on Erskine Street in East New York. Police say Miller had neither ownership of the property nor a permit to handle the environmental hazards associated with such a business.

"It's not really complicated," Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said. "You are not permitted to take property which is not yours, whether it's personal property or the city. Unless you have any claim of lawful possession, you have no right to do it.

Miller was charged with criminal trespass, illegal vehicle dismantling and violating an environmental conservation law.

Truckers, car owners and those who store things there are just beginning to retrieve their property Wednesday.

"Thank God that the city gave us two days to get it out," vehicle owner Elder Stallworth said. "You know, give us enough time to get it all out. Two days, that's good. But what about the people who don't know about it? They're going to lose a lot."

Ryann Benn doesn't want to lose his Mercedes, his Lexus or his 10-ton lift from his auto business.

"I was referred to this yard and I thought it was an appropriate place to store these vehicles," he said. "But unfortunately, now I see it's not the place to be."

Investigators are pursuing both criminal and civil charges against Miller, who claims he was within legal means due to squatter's rights because he was there for more than 10 years.

His lawyer, Vincent Gerard, calls the Hynes' actions overly aggressive. Citing Miller's rights as a squatter and insisting that his client has been using the property with no interference from government, Gerard says Miller and the city had been fighting over the matter in civil court for years, until now.

"He's just a guy in business, trying to make a buck," Gerard said. "And the city has now turned civil action into a criminal action, which is absolutely unconscionable and wrong."

Miller was reportedly charging the vehicle owners $200 to $300 a month to store their vehicles.


STORY BY: Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager


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