December 18, 2014

Elyria
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Judge temporarily shutters Shopway

ELYRIA — A court order has temporarily shuttered an Elyria business that police said was involved in drug sales and fraud, and that the city called a nuisance to the community.

Lorain County Common Pleas Court Judge James Miraldi said a month ago that he did not have a good feeling about Elyria’s Shopway Food Mart. On Monday, he solidified that feeling by issuing a temporary restraining order, barring the business from operating until a hearing on a permanent injunction can be held. The decision not only closes the business, but also prohibits the owners from taking anything from the store.

Elyria Law Director Scott Serazin said an Elyria police officer will deliver the restraining order as soon as possible. Once the order is in hand, the business will have to shut its doors.

“Nuisance injunctions are rare and tough to get,” Serazin said. “This decision is a victory for the people in the ward and neighborhood. It also puts people on notice that we are not going to allow anyone to come into our city and exploit our residents.”

Elyria Police Chief Duane Whitely said the business was open as of 8 p.m. Monday.

Attorney Michael Stepanik, who represents Shopway, said he was disappointed in the decision. He said Shopway isn’t the hub of illegal activity that police and the city have tried to make it appear.

He said thousands of crimes take place each year in Elyria that don’t involve Shopway.

Miraldi initially declined to shutter the business, and Stepanik said he didn’t think the city had presented enough evidence since that first ruling that would have justified the closure.

In his two-page written decision, Miraldi said the city clearly demonstrated the Lake Avenue business and its operators and employees Thaer D. Mustafa, Hesham M. Ayyad and Michael Thrist were involved in a pattern of illegal drug sales and misuse of cards used for the federal Women, Infant and Children food program.

On April 12, a lengthy hearing was held where police officers, neighborhood officials and attorneys offered testimony saying Shopway employees sold alcohol to minors, sold the illegal synthetic marijuana and allowed customers to make illegal purchases with food stamp cards.

That hearing came several days after the store was raided by Elyria police and the Ohio Investigative Unit as a result of an ongoing drug and food stamp fraud investigation into the business and the nearby Cakes, Candy and Flowers.

According to police, evidence of food stamp fraud at both businesses was captured on camera, and illegal synthetic marijuana was found at Shopway, as well as 12 Electronic Benefits Transfer cards, or electronic food stamps, and four guns.

Reporter Brad Dicken contributed to this story. Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.