LAWRENCEVILLE -- A Gwinnett judge on Thursday fined JPMorgan Chase Bank $9,000 for the condition of a former meth lab where three children died last year, a home that one Lilburn community calls the bane of their neighborhood.
Gwinnett Recorder's Court Chief Judge Michael Greene ordered the bank to pay the fines for nine separate ordinance violations. The ruling was not contested by the bank, which owns the home but has not completed foreclosure proceedings.
A majority of the fines can be lifted if the bank complies with cleanup requirements in 30 days, court officials said.
The neighborhood off Five Forks Trickum Road was jolted Feb. 17 last year when three children -- ages 18 months to 4 years -- died from injuries suffered in a flash fire at the 1197 Spring Mill Drive home.
Authorities said the home played host to a lab run by methamphetamine traffickers with ties to drug cartels. They pulled 10 pounds of meth from the "super lab" and nearly $200,000 from its walls.
After a year, some neighbors were calling for the 1983 two-story, recently appraised at $191,000, to be torn down.
Don Kiefaber, a Realtor who lives down the street, said in addition to boarded-up windows and an unkempt yard, the property is home to feral cats. The stigma associated with the home, coupled with its condition, is a drain on neighborhood property values, he said.
Neighbors have been cutting the grass and had even removed a felled tree from the home's roof. Two weeks ago, someone else showed up to cut the grass and gather trash in the backyard, Kiefaber said.
JP Morgan Chase Bank spokesman Greg Hassell said the bank has hired a company that's made repairs, cleaned up the yard and sealed doors and windows. Whether the bank will restore or bulldoze the home has yet to be determined, Hassell said.
"We're working closely with Gwinnett code enforcement to ensure this is taken care of as quickly as possible," Hassell said.
Records show JPMorgan Chase Bank had been cited nine times since the fire.
Ordinance violations involved broken windows, stairs, tall weeds and grass, open storage and the fact that the structure is burned. When the company failed to appear in Gwinnett Recorder's Court at two previous hearings, the case was set for trial in absentia Thursday.
The children's 23-year-old mother, Neibi Brito, remains at the Gwinnett County Jail on murder charges, along with an alleged accomplice; a third suspect charged with murder, Ivan Gonzalez, fled the scene and remains at large.
Kiefaber, a grandfather, said memories of the kids who died haunt him each time he pulls into his neighborhood.
"It's been a bad situation for everybody," he said. "Knowing what happened there, I don't see anybody wanting to live on that corner, let alone that house."