Urbana man fined $146,400 over neglected houses

Urbana man fined $146,400 over neglected houses

URBANA — A Champaign County judge Tuesday imposed tens of thousands of dollars in fines on an Urbana man whose properties in an upscale south Urbana subdivision were neglected for years.

Judge Brian McPheters ordered property owner Henri Merkelo to pay $146,400 in fines for houses he allowed to deteriorate at 3304 and 3306 S. Pine Circle in the Yankee Ridge subdivision, which is south of Windsor Road and east of Race Street.

The fines were the minimum of $100 per day for each of the two properties for the 732 days that he was in violation of the county's nuisance ordinance between September 2012 and September 2014.

The county began legal proceedings to force Merkelo to clean up the two properties in 2014.

Assistant's State's Attorney Jacob Croegaert said both houses, especially the one at 3304 S. Pine, had long been neglected and deteriorating, resulting in neighbors complaining to the county even prior to 2000.

"Over the years since then, the County (and the City of Urbana, in regard to other properties owned by Mr. Merkelo in incorporated Urbana) filed property-code enforcement cases against Mr. Merkelo, but were consistently unable to locate him to bring him into court. That was the status with these most recent cases until Mr. Merkelo finally had an attorney appear in court for him in 2015, and appeared in person later in the case," Croegaert said. "Mr. Merkelo admitted in 2015 that the properties had been abandoned and open to intrusion. At that time, he and the county reached an agreement that no fines would be imposed if both houses were fixed up and ready to live in by the end of 2016."

Merkelo, 78, a former University of Illinois professor of electrical engineering who said he also has a home in Florida, missed the 2016 deadline and another attempted agreement earlier this year.

Those failures prompted Croegaert to seek the fines that McPheters ultimately imposed Tuesday.

Merkelo appeared in court Tuesday with his attorney, Brian Schurter of Urbana.

He has 60 days to pay. If he doesn't, the county may foreclose on his properties and sell them to collect its judgment.

Croegaert said both houses are now mostly complete on the outside; inside, 3306 Pine Circle is nearly finished, but 3304 still has considerable work to be done.

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