Reporting Bernie Tafoya
(WBBM/STMW) – A business owner filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming that the village of south suburban Worth is intentionally trying to drive out businesses owned by people of Middle Eastern descent.
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Ala Alsherbini, owner of Friends Cafe and Lounge, claims that the village intentionally began a practice of targeting businesses owned by people of Middle Eastern descent by issuing tickets and fines and revoking their business licenses, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
Friends Café is no longer on 110th and Harlem. It relocated to Merrillville, Ind.
The café’s name still remains on the strip mall’s main sign along 110th and Harlem but is no longer on the building itself.
Alsherbini claims that the targeting practice began after Jan. 2009 when Randy Keller became mayor of the village. On Aug. 27, 2009, under the orders of Keller, Alsherbini was served with a notice to appear for proceedings to revoke his business license, according to the suit.
The notice alleged more than 45 municipal code violations for disturbing the peace, according to the suit. Prior to June 18, 2009, Alsherbini never received notice of any allegations for disturbing the peace.
On June 18, 2009, Alsherbini met with police chief John Carpino regarding a littering ticket he was issued, according to the suit. During the meeting, Carpino discussed allegations of noise complaints against the Friends Cafe, which Alsherbini denied but asked the police chief to contact him directly if any issues arose in the future.
Alsherbini claims that he contacted Keller several times regarding the allegations but Keller never responded.
The music played at the Friends Cafe is never played loud enough to be heard from the parking lot outside, according to the suit.
One of the other allegations mentioned in the suit claims that Keller contacted Alsherbini on June 20, 2009 regarding beer cans Keller found in the cafe’s parking lot, according to the suit. Alsherbini claims that the cafe does not serve alcohol or permit patrons to bring alcohol.
A liquor store is directly adjacently to the cafe and both establishments share the same parking lot, according to the suit. No complaint was ever made to the liquor store.
Alsherbini claims that he entered into an agreement with the village to move up the closing hours of the cafe from 2 a.m. every day to 10:45 p.m. on weeknights and 11:45 p.m. on weekends in exchange for the village not revoking his business license.
No hearing was ever conducted on the code violations, according to the suit.
Alsherbini claims police began coming to the cafe to attempt to enforce closing hours, sometimes before the actual closing hours.
The earlier closing hours and a constant police presence at the cafe has dropped monthly receipts by 50 percent, according to the suit.
The eight-count suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, court costs, attorney fees and other relief.
Newsradio 780 is attempting to get a response from Village President Keller.
The Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010 contributed to this report.