URBANA — An Urbana landlord who was allegedly moving fire safety equipment from one property to another in order to pass city fire department inspections has been criminally charged.
Paul Zerrouki, 51, who listed an address in the 300 block of River Bend, Mahomet, appeared in court Thursday where he was charged with criminal housing management, a misdemeanor.
The charges allege that Zerrouki endangered tenants on Jan. 17 at his apartment building at 2018 Fletcher Street and on Jan. 22 at 1302 Silver Street by ordering or permitting smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers to be removed.
"What he was doing was after one building would be inspected by the fire inspectors, he would have his employees take the required equipment out of the building and move it to the next building before it was inspected. It was like a fire inspection shell game," said Assistant State's Attorney Dan Clifton, who drafted the charges Thursday.
"Somebody tipped off fire inspectors, who tipped police. Police watched one of the properties that was being inspected and then after the inspection was done, the inspectors left and the employees came in and started removing the equipment and moved it to the next building.
"The police interviewed the employees and they said Zerrouki told them to do it," Clifton said.
Zerrouki declined to talk with The News-Gazette after his court appearance. He's represented by Jim Martinkus of Champaign. Judge Richard Klaus allowed him to remain free on his own recognizance and told him to be back in court March 27.
Urbana police Lt. Bob Fitzgerald said Zerrouki runs BZ Management, which manages several apartment buildings in southeast Urbana in the 1300 and 1400 blocks of Silver Street, the 2000 block of Philo Road, the 2000 block of Fletcher Street, the 700, 900 and 1000 blocks of East Colorado Avenue and the 900 block of East Harding Drive.
Records from the Illinois Secretary of State list Zerrouki as the sole manager of the Platinum Properties Group LLC, which is the listed owner of the properties, according to the Champaign County Supervisor of Assessments.
Fitzgerald said in the wake of a Valentine's Day 2011 homicide of a Danville man at 2017 Philo Road, the city insisted that Zerrouki follow a security plan drawn up by Fitzgerald and the Urbana city attorney.