Northampton Housing Authority’s Shame
More Criminal Activity at Salvo House
By Mike Kirby
Some people are just staying put in their rooms and coming out as little as possible. The people who have options are getting out. But the feelings are there and they come out. Shaving cream smeared on Tina Wiebl’s door at apartment 721, and hostile silences.
There's a big stain in the carpet in front of Weibel’s apartment that's not coming out. Housing Authority maintenance guys have been up there a couple of times with a steam cleaner working on it, and they threw in the towel. The carpet may have to be replaced. Some people said that it was some kind of accident that happened during the big police raid on April Fool’s day, no joke for beleaguered Salvo residents, many of them elderly. To me it looks like a chemical burn.
Tina's ex-husband, Al Weibel, who lives at apartment 415, called the police when a package containing small rocks and cocaine done up to look like flour was left outside of apartment 414. Living in 414 is Richard Bontempi, who posted $100 bail for Weibel and got her out of jail.
Bontempi is a big sweet kind of guy in his 60s who pushes a well-equipped walker around and more or less lives in the lobby of Salvo House, watching people come and go. He considers himself Tina's friend. She may be grateful to Bontempi, but she's not showing it much: a tenant overheard a shouting match at her door. She keeps the chain on when she talks with him, and he yells about how ungrateful she is after he bailed her out and all, and then he slinks back down to the lobby and sits down again, looking wounded.
I sat down near him and traded pleasantries. I didn't know exactly where to start with him except maybe shout at him for being a fool. But that's how it is, often the better you understand the people and the events, the less there is to say. The lights are on, but no one is at home. If he'd lived in Michael's House on State Street, or in Tobin Manor in Florence no one would probably have a harsh word for him. But he's in Salvo House and in Salvo you get to meet bad company. You see drugs, you see all these characters going in and out and there's even cut-rate sex available in certain apartments. Anything you want, except maybe peace and quiet.
If you read the Gazette article you might think there's more to this criminal Tina Weibel than there is. Jon Hite, director of the Northampton Housing Authority which manages Salvo House, leads you to believe that he has had to hire off-duty cops just because of her. If you walk downtown, you might have passed Tina Weibel near the old Lizotte’ store, begging for money with a sign that she is hungry and homeless. She is slight and haggard and looks tired and hopeless and older than her 41 years. Usually she's wearing this old tweed top coat that has seen better days. I've given her money.
Homeless she's not, hungry she is, for drugs. When she gets enough money together from you and me, then she goes around the corner and takes the PVTA bus down to Holyoke and goes out into Veterans Field there and scores some cocaine. One of the tenants who I know happened to be on the bus with her one morning and saw the routine, Tina returning with a paper bag full of crack.
It wasn't a sophisticated operation in apartment 721. Non-tenant Angel Rodriguez (aka “Ace”) cut the drug into bags in the bedroom and slept there; Tina slept on the couch, would open the door for the clients, and after the buy was made in the bedroom, she would tell buyers that this was her apartment, she was the house, and she got a cut. She was the hostess.
Judge Michael Goggins set bail and Atty. John Drake represented Weibel. I went out to find out why bail was just $100 when the bail sheet said that she had a past default on bail, past convictions on drug charges and larcenies, and was facing a long mandatory sentence. I ran into Drake at the clerk's office, and he couldn't shed any light on why bail was set so low, couldn't remember if there had been negotiations with the judge or the district attorney. He does a lot of defense work, but there was a canny cautiousness about Drake, and so far Judge Goggins hasn't called me to explain his reasoning.
Going through the paperwork at the court, you see why police morale is so low. Just the application for the search warrant ran to 16 pages of narrative. A six-month investigation, God knows how many meetings and strategy sessions, and the judge bails her out for $100 and she is back home, alone with her habit, ready for another day of panhandling, if she has to, to survive.
All Jon Hite can offer us and Salvo House tenants in the way of hope is that Tina Weibel won't be able to make her rent this month on the first, and he can evict her for non-payment.
One woman, who was a social worker and has lived in the building for many years, says it's the daily squalor that gets her down. To her knowledge all the people who have come in the the apartments over the years who had habits and addictions have relapsed. Maybe they said they were going into treatment, and maybe they went to meetings for awhile, but sooner or later they were drinking and drugging.
Salvo House has 192 units and is too big a complex to be managed without full-time on-site staff.
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