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Undercover Drug Operation Targets SF Tenderloin Markets

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Cocaine. (CBS)

Cocaine. (CBS)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A two-year undercover investigation by the San Francisco Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration has concluded two markets in the Tenderloin District are safe havens for illegal drug sales along with fencing stolen merchandise.

According to San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Barah’s Market on Turk and Leavenworth and Razan Deli and Grocery on Ellis Street and Jones are responsible for 182 police calls in 2011 alone.

Herrera filed civil lawsuits in San Francisco Superior Court against the two markets Monday, calling them “egregious violators of the public trust.”

KCBS’ Bob Melrose Reports:

“The officers of the Tenderloin with assets provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration, who also deserve a thank you here, talked to many businesses all over the Tenderloin,” said Chief of Police Greg Suhr.

Suhr said 99 percent of those businesses refused and even threatened to call police for even being asked to participate in what the businesses were doing

The lawsuits allege that each business functioned as a “safe haven” for the sale of cocaine, crack, heroin, prescription painkillers and other drugs, and that the businesses purchased and resold stolen merchandise.

The suits state that undercover police officers frequently bought drugs in or around Barah Market—also known as Azaal Market—and Razan Deli throughout 2010 and 2011.

Officers also sold merchandise they claimed was stolen from nearby Walgreens stores to market employees, who encouraged them to return with more stolen goods to sell, according to the lawsuits.

“These businesses deserve to be closed,” police Chief Greg Suhr said. “The Tenderloin will be better off without these irresponsible businesses.”

Suhr and Herrera announced the lawsuits at a news conference held across the street from Barah Market.

Hashem Algahim, who works at Barah Market, said he was unaware of the lawsuit until he was asked about it by reporters, and denied any wrongdoing by the market.

Algahim, who said his cousin, identified in the lawsuit as Jaber Algahim, owns the market, acknowledged that store employees would frequently be offered stolen items but that the market did not accept them.

Tony Montesinos, who works as a case manager at the nearby nonprofit Hospitality House, said he thinks Barah Market is being unfairly picked on.

“I do all my shopping here, and have never seen any problems,” Montesinos said. “Maybe things go on late at night, but it’s all around the neighborhood … you can see it all around, this is a bad neighborhood.”

The owner of Razan Deli could not immediately be reached for comment.

The city attorney’s office is seeking to close each business for one year “until they get their houses in order,” and is also seeking thousands of dollars in fines and fees from the markets, Herrera said.

He said he hopes the city’s action against the markets, which are located near schools, senior housing centers and other “vulnerable” populations, “will create an environment in which people can thrive.”

Copies of the complaints against the two markets are available at the city attorney’s website at www.sfcityattorney.org.

 

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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