GREENPOINT — A municipal wireless internet kiosk that went up on Manhattan Avenue in late July has become an electronic concierge for a neighborhood "drug den," allowing people to schedule drug purchases and warn each other about approaching police, locals say.
Drug users can be seen and heard at the LinkNYC terminal, located on Manhattan between Huron and India streets, arranging meet ups then disappear into a building known to be a drug spot around the corner and reappear after visibly drugged out, business owners and residents said.
"It is a crime magnet. It is creating and enabling it." said Heather Letzkus who has a birds-eye view of the kiosk from her apartment window above and has overheard countless meet ups, and watched callers return to linger at the kiosk visibly drugged out.
The kiosk is located about half a block from 177 Huron St. a house that's been on the radar of local authorities for months, according to Councilman Stephen Levin's office.
"It seems to be a drug den of some kind," said Ben Solotaire, a staffer at Levin's office.
Police have logged eight complaints since March at 177 Huron St, records show. They've made five arrests at the address for criminal possession of controlled substance, assault, strangulation, menacing, records show.
Most recently, Emil Slevin, 54, whose family owns the house according to property records, was cuffed on Sept. 9 for pouring acid on another man, prosecutors said.
Slevin was being held on Rikers Island on $5,000 which he hadn't posted and was due back in court on Oct. 12. His Legal Aid Attorney declined to comment on the charges immediately.
Arlene Mocko, 47, who was arrested there in March for drug possession, was re-arrested on Aug. 25 after she pushed into Letzkus' building demanding to use the bathroom, Letzkus said. Mocko had been making a loud call at the wireless kiosk warning the person on the other line about a police car on the block before the incident, Letzkus said.
Police found Mocko with a crack pipe with cocaine in it, prosecutors said. She's now facing trespassing, drug possession and harassment charges. She was released on her own recognizance and is due back in court on Oct. 19.
Mocko, who couldn't be reached for comment immediately is raising $5,000 on GoFundMe to buy a car and leave the city and describes struggling with addiction.
Levin's office has received several complaints about other LinkNYC kiosks along Manhattan Avenue residents have said become flashpoints for loitering, loud behavior, catcalling, and arranging drug deals, Solotaire said.
Since their July installation, the LinkNYC kiosks are the latest flashpoint along Manhattan Avenue, where citywide and nationwide issues of homelessness and opioid addition have manifested themselves on a very local level.
Clay Street nearby has two homeless shelters, and the director has voiced concerns about how easy access to heroin in the area has caused residents who hadn't used in years to relapse.
Business owners along the block worry that the kiosks have brought with them a host of unintended consequences.
"It's becoming a physical mess to clean up," said Adam Saucy, the owner of Odd Fox Coffee said daily he has to sweep up, "McDonald's meals, bottles, cans, paper, bags...half-eaten turned over pizza."
"If I had it my way this thing would be gone," he said, declining to give his age.
“I do understand the public good of having these things,” Saucy said, but he added, "it’s causing problems that I don’t think people anticipated or were very prepared to deal with.”
Record Grouch co-owner Brian Gempp wrote they often hear loud arguments between people waiting to use the kiosk and keeps customers from browsing their records out front.
Since LinkNYC kiosks were debuted in Manhattan neighborhoods starting in early 2016, Manhattan residents have complained the kiosks were being used as a place for people to post up and drink and use drugs or organize drug deals.
LinkNYC was forced to disable the wireless browsing capabilities in September of 2016 after numerous complaints about people using them to watch pornography. Loitering complaints dropped by 96 percent after that, according to LinkNYC spokeswoman Ruth Fasoldt.
"In Greenpoint alone, there were more than 163,000 wi-fi sessions in August and Link has worked with local businesses to offer affordable advertising on the Links’ 55-inch digital displays,” Fasoldt said.
"Anyone who sees illegal activity on their street should call 911," she added.
In early 2016 more than 1,000 kiosks have been installed across the city with thousands more coming, the company said.