Liquor license may be in jeopardy for convenience store

Liquor license may be in jeopardy for convenience store

URBANA — Urbana city officials are looking to suspend or revoke the liquor license of an east Urbana convenience store in the wake of the arrests of its owner and another employee for allegedly selling drug paraphernalia from the store.

"It decreases the value of life in that area," Urbana police Lt. Bob Fitzgerald said of the alleged illegal activity at the Home Run Food Mart, 1509 E. Washington St., U.

"With all of South Lierman, the crime and drugs and other problems are getting out of hand. We've worked with the apartment owners and community groups to take away the stigma associated with the South Lierman Avenue area," he said.

And now police are turning their attention to the sale of drug paraphernalia from the popular neighborhood gathering spot, admitting that it is just one small part of the larger problems of the crime-riddled area.

Ramzi Alsaqri, 49, who listed an address in the 2300 block of Ironwood Circle, Champaign, was arrested shortly after 8 a.m. Thursday at the store for unlawful sale of drug paraphernalia.

Police also have a warrant for the arrest of his brother, Jameel Alsaqri, 48, of Champaign, who's believed to be out of the country because of a death in his family.

The Illinois Liquor Control Commission lists Ramzi Alsaqri as the president and 100 percent owner of the Diah Corp., which runs Home Run Food and Liquor, and Jameel Alsaqri as the secretary of the corporation with no ownership interest.

Fitzgerald said Alsaqri's arrest and that of employee Mohammed Mahmoud, 27, of the 2400 block of High View Court, Champaign, came after an almost month-long investigation into the alleged sale of items used to smoke crack cocaine.

Police went to the business shortly after its 7:30 a.m. opening Thursday to carry out the search, which had been authorized Tuesday by a Champaign County judge.

When they arrested Alsaqri, they also presented him with an order suspending liquor sales for seven days. A hearing before Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Smyth, acting as the liquor commissioner while Mayor Laurel Prussing is away, is scheduled for Tuesday.

Acting Urbana City Attorney Curt Borman said the purpose of the hearing is to see if Alsaqri's Class C package liquor license, which cost him $4,755 in the last fiscal year, should be suspended or revoked.

Fitzgerald said Alsaqri was ordered to remove all liquor from the store before he could reopen to sell other merchandise.

As police were searching, Mahmoud arrived for work and was arrested.

The state's attorney's office had sought the arrest warrants on Wednesday. The men were expected to appear in court Friday. The charge is a Class 4 felony carrying penalties ranging from probation to one to three years in prison upon conviction.

"We recovered a lot of evidence that shows they are putting together 'brown bags,' which contain Chore Boy, a glass pipe and a lighter," Fitzgerald said, referencing a brand of scouring pads.

Sold separately, the items are legal, but when sold together, they appear to meet the statutory definition of drug paraphernalia, Fitzgerald explained.

In the application for the search warrant for the business, police said sources equipped with hidden video cameras asked clerks for a "brown bag" and would be handed a bag containing a piece of copper or stainless-steel scouring pad, a decorative glass tube with a flower inside, and a lighter for $5. The cash register did not record those sales, according to the application.

Champaign police Sgt. Tom Walker, a 19-year veteran of drug investigations, explained that a user will put a small rock of crack cocaine inside a piece of glass tubing along with a Chore Boy or Brillo pad, which acts as a filter.

"You heat the rock and it turns to liquid. You're sucking in the vapor from melting the rock. The Brillo provides a filter and I assume decreases the temperature. ... Plus, the vapor attaches to the Brillo. If the user can't get another piece of crack, he can heat the Brillo for another hit. That's why they save Brillo. You go in a crack house and there's Brillo everywhere," explained Walker.

Fitzgerald said as officers searched the store they could find no Chore Boy products in the aisles for sale, bolstering their contention that the item was being sold for an illegal purpose.

They also took an undetermined amount of cash and a shotgun from the business, but the gun was taken for safekeeping only.

"It's not linked to any crimes," Fitzgerald said, adding that Ramzi Alsaqri has a firearm owner's identification card and the gun will be returned to him when he presents the card to police.

Fitzgerald said the Home Run, which is one of the only places within several blocks where residents can buy food, doesn't have that many calls for service, but there are scores of them in the immediate area.

"A year ago, I put together a security plan (for Home Run)," Fitzgerald said. "We're not getting calls there per se, but things happen around there that are related."

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sameeker wrote on June 08, 2012 at 8:06 am

"They also took an undetermined amount of cash and a shotgun from the business, but the gun was taken for safekeeping only".

Of course they took the money. They are bigger criminals then the perps.

rsp wrote on June 08, 2012 at 5:06 pm

You know about logging things into evidence, right? Or are you hoping to get sued for slander?

killerut wrote on June 08, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Cops are corrupt.  That's all there is too it.  Anyone with that much power is going to abuse it. 

Utowner wrote on June 08, 2012 at 8:06 am

I'm just going to say the same thing I said yesterday and wait for people to accuse me of hating the police or being a convict; which are both not true.  This is a total waste of time and resources in order to make the public feel good.  These men have a business and while they may be guilty of selling a certain combination of products in a way that does not meet the letter of the law I think this entire ordeal is completely overblown.  If you want to fix SE Urbana, and we have money to blow, let's acquire some property, do some demolition, and redevelop at lower densities.  Removing the former Woodstone and Scottswood Manor properties would alleviate many problems in the neighborhood.  Effective police patrols and sting operations, like the one against Home Run, would eliminate the the petty drug dealers.  I'm no lawyer (and willing to admit it unlike most posters here), but when I see three people sticking their hands in a car on a public street like its an ice cream truck I'm assuming that is probable cause to determine that something illegal is happening.  There are far more effective means of reducing crime in this area than scapegoating a business that pays taxes when even the police admit that calls for service are down.  It becomes very clear that in response to last week's carjacking, police/city admin felt that they must demonstrate that they are in control by going after small potatoes to create a public spectacle, and what makes a better target than an Arab owned store with an African-American clientele?.  Trust me, crack addicts will find another place to buy brillo, roses, and lighters.  And, to all of you who put this neighborhood in the 'those people' category; I hope you enjoy what happens when they start walking to other area businesses to obtain their groceries and 'supplies'.  

Yea Right wrote on June 08, 2012 at 9:06 am

 Its roses in the glass pipe?  How would you know that?  Now thats funny!

Utowner wrote on June 08, 2012 at 11:06 am

I've lived in some shady areas during my student days...  When you live in these areas and you need groceries there isn't exactly an IGA to be found so you have to go in these stores and interact in order to get neccessities until you have the time to get in your car and drive to the suburbs where groceries are avaiable...not exactly the situation in CU, but a way of life in cities...

DaTruuth wrote on June 08, 2012 at 9:06 am

 Dear Mary Schenk,

I would like to thank you for teaching me how to smoke crack. I am sure many other people that also read this article will also appreciate it. Way to go NewsGazette I will be sure to read every "drug related" article from here on out!

Cstraight wrote on June 08, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Hahaha! I was thinking the exact same thing!  Truely sad.  The NewsGazette has to be the WORST newspaper in the country.  Who includes step-by-step instructions on how to smoke crack cocain in their articles? 

Also, local law enforcement will have to close EVERY small liquor/convience store in Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul and other small communities because these things will continue to be sold and if people don't buy them there they will go to the larger stores and buy them separately and now thanks to the N-G I know what do get and how to do it! 

What a complete waste of our tax dollars. 

Cstraight wrote on June 08, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Hahaha! I was thinking the exact same thing!  Truely sad.  The NewsGazette has to be the WORST newspaper in the country.  Who includes step-by-step instructions on how to smoke crack cocain in their articles? 

Also, local law enforcement will have to close EVERY small liquor/convience store in Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul and other small communities because these things will continue to be sold and if people don't buy them there they will go to the larger stores and buy them separately and now thanks to the N-G I know what do get and how to do it! 

What a complete waste of our tax dollars. 

urbanares wrote on June 08, 2012 at 10:06 am

I have only gone into this establishment a few times but I can tell you that this business definitely performs outside the confines of the law in more ways than just this "brown bag" issue.  I have seen people go in and buy alcohol with food-stamp (now called SNAP) benefits.  I do not care how good they are at paying taxes. They need to be a responsible business in the community. Of course there are no calls for police intervention...why would you call the police to your rescue when you are violating the law? I think the owners are smart enough to know not to do that. There are people who loiter there, obviously at least some of them drug users, and it is sort of a  hang out spot.  I think the police were right to find the most serious of violations this business is committing and use that as a way to force this business to be responsible. 

keyboardcat wrote on June 08, 2012 at 10:06 am

If you think one raid is going to force the owners of Home Run to "be responsible" then you are obviously not from SE Urbana.

rsp wrote on June 08, 2012 at 5:06 pm

What makes you think this is all they are going to do? 

e-man wrote on June 08, 2012 at 10:06 am
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The place right next door to Home-Run pantry does the same crap, except the store is newer and doesnt look scummy..where else can you go and buy a single Newport cigarette for a dollar.. Why dont they just shut down those slum bodegas and see where the roaches scurry to next. Truely a symbiotic relationship in the get-toe

read the DI wrote on June 08, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Bummer, dude.

opinions1973 wrote on June 08, 2012 at 7:06 pm

dammers, there goes the best italain beef in c-u......

benu wrote on June 09, 2012 at 11:06 pm

they dont pay taxs anyway so the cops are crooks because they took money and a gun but the owners didnt do a dam thing wrond did they how would you like if you kid went in there and was around all that was goin on in that store?? i would bet money if they are selling the pipe the are most likely selling crack too