April 23, 2014

Elyria
Mostly clear
44°F
test

Cops raid Shopway; city shuts it down

ELYRIA — Two employees of Shopway Food Mart on Lake Avenue were arrested after a raid Tuesday, and the nearby Cakes, Candy and Flowers on Chestnut Street also was searched by police investigating allegations of food stamp fraud.

Greg Croft, agent in charge of the Cleveland District Office for the Ohio Department of Public Safety Investigative Unit, said the agency received an anonymous tip that both stores were involved in food stamp fraud, and numerous Ohio EBT cards, debit-like cards that replaced food stamp booklets several years ago, were found at each location.

In addition, Croft said the Elyria Police Department is investigating Shopway because it has evidence that drugs were being sold there. Croft would not comment on what, if any, drugs were found at Shopway, but he said bootlegged DVDs, CDs and sports paraphernalia were confiscated.

Employees Thaer Mustafa and Hesham Ayyad were arrested. Mustafa was charged with three counts of counterfeit controlled substance, according to Elyria Municipal Court records. Information on Ayyad’s charges was not available.

A lawyer for the men arrested at Shopway declined to comment Tuesday.

No one at Cakes, Candy and Flowers was arrested, but Croft said investigators are speaking with the prosecutor.

Croft said he did not know how employees at each store became involved with one another, but that is something police will try to determine as the investigation continues.

Kitty Meszes, owner of Cakes, Candy and Flowers and the daughter of former county Commissioner Mary Jo Vasi, said she was not involved in food stamp fraud but declined to comment further. The store remained open Tuesday.

Shopway is closed indefinitely, however, after city officials condemned the building for “unsafe electrical issues.”

City official Kevin Brubaker said Shopway will not be allowed to reopen until the owner can bring the building up to code. Open device boxes were found in the ceiling and there was exposed wiring in the store, he said.

The owner of the building is listed as Alawi Ali G, according to Lorain County auditor records. He’s owned the building since 2007.

Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino said more information should be released today on the police investigation. Charges will come from both the Elyria Police Department and the Ohio Investigative Unit, as the investigation was a result of the joint effort.

Two other men were arrested during the search of Shopway but their arrests were unrelated to the search.

Tyler Williams was charged with possession of cocaine, trafficking — prep for sale and possession of criminal tools after he was arrested inside the store with drugs, Croft said. Michael Vanalin was arrested in the parking lot on a warrant.

Cascade-Furnace Block Watch coordinator Holly Huff said Shopway has long been a problem in the area with clients dumping trash on the streets and fights in the parking lot. Huff said she’s been to the store on more than one occasion to buy milk, and each time the milk was spoiled.

“There have been rumors for years that there has been illegal activity going,” she said.

Huff said the block watch groups have informed police of the issues at the store, and they have been responsive. She said residents in the area are “doing the happy dance” after news that the store would be closed.

“We’re at peace because that was definitely a problem store,” she said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.