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Ruling Expected Monday in Cherry Orchard Case

The bench trial of Cherry Orchard Village landlords Bernard and Eduardo Ramos continued Friday afternoon in Champaign County Court.

The Ramoses are accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings on the property, located right outside of Rantoul. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.

The landlords have pledged to take responsibility for the property, promising to have the six apartment buildings that are in violation of the county's health ordinance re-opened by this summer.

There is typically an uptick in occupancy at the apartment complex during the warmer months due to an influx of migrant workers to the area. A 2007 migrant camp license application for the property reports there are at least 48 family rental units at Cherry Orchard.

Champaign County prosecutor Christina Papavasiliou is pushing for an injunction that would prevent people from living in the apartment buildings until the sewage problems are fixed.

"The injunction would be a cautionary measure," Papavasiliou explained during Friday's hearing. "It would do no harm to the defendants."

The prosecution is seeking $550 in restitution for expenses incurred by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District on this case.

Though occupancy at the property is unknown, public health officials estimate at least eight single men continue to live there and have noted several cars parked outside apartment buildings. Papavasiliou said she wants the Ramoses to be fined for making the property available to tenants during the ongoing violation, but she said she is not sure that count will hold up in court.

"It's just so hard to prove that people were living there," she said. "Because these are all migrant workers...I just didn't get a hold of anyone willing to come forward."

Earlier in the week, Bernard said he and his father should not get blamed for the sewage and septic issue since the Bank of Rantoul owned the property when state health inspectors first noticed a problem in 2007.

"We got blamed for things other people did," Bernard said. "If anything was done to the property, we have nothing to do with it."

The property is currently owned by Bernard's sister, Evelyn.

Bernard and Eduardo could each face a one-time fine of $1,000 for attempting to repair the septic systems without proper permits and licenses. Taking the stand Friday and acting as his own attorney, Eduardo defended his actions and the actions of his son, Bernard, for trying to fix the property in 2007 when they first noticed sewage seeping from a septic system.

"I do not own any license," Eduardo admitted. "When we have a case of an emergency like that, we can't just wait and proceed. Every good citizen should take care of the people around us."

Papavasiliou stated that the Ramoses could have caused more damage by trying to fix the property without proper training.

During the trial, the Ramoses have tried to distance themselves as managers and owners of Cherry Orchard. Papavasiliou said under the law, they are obligated to maintain the property, which she said they have neglected to do.

"The defendants have based a large part of their testimony that they're not owners of the property," Papavasiliou said. "There's no grandfather clause for septic systems, regardless of how they found the property when they became owners."

The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County, and have faced hundreds of code violations. Several of these properties, including Cherry Orchard, have been under foreclosure, according to the Champaign County Recorder's Office.

The Ramoses ignored a request for comment after Friday's hearing. In a 2009 interview with CU-CitizenAccess.org, Bernard Ramos said city housing inspectors have targeted him because he is Hispanic and rents to illegal immigrants. He said his financial problems were due to the decline in the economy and unemployment, which affected his tenants' ability to pay rent.

Presiding Judge John Kennedy said he will issue a ruling Monday, April 18 at 11:00 AM.

(Photo courtesy of Julie Pryde)