Madison County commissioners reversed an earlier decision and granted a beer and wine license Monday to Kwik-Chek in Hull.
The board voted 4-1 to approve the license, with commissioner Stanley Thomas providing the lone “no.”
The original application for an alcohol license for Kwik-Chek on Hwy. 29 South in Dogsboro was denied in early December due to questionable paperwork submitted by the applicant, Irfan Hameed.
On Dec. 28, the BOC stood by its original decision to deny the license, voting 3-2 to deny the appeal for Amir, Inc. (dba Kwik Chek). Mike Youngblood and Jim Escoe provided the two votes against denial that day.
But commissioners John Pethel and Dewitt “Pete” Bond changed their votes from “No” to “Yes” on the application Monday, paving the way for Kwik-Chek to sell alcohol once again.
The vote followed a presentation by Hameed’s attorney Chris NeSmith, who said his client was set to sue the county if that’s what it took to get the license.
“Sometimes that’s the only way you can get a just result is to go to a court and to say ‘Hey, this governing body didn’t perform its function and we’re asking you to compel it to do so,” said NeSmith.
NeSmith said Hameed met all of the county’s requirements to issue a license and that there was no basis for denial. He said his client has not sold alcohol since the New Year and that he is missing revenue from sales. He added that Hameed would seek damages from the court for lost revenue if a suit was filed.
Hameed has taken over ownership of Kwik Chek from Mohammad Shafiq, who pleaded not guilty Nov. 14 to two counts of illegal acts regarding election documents. NeSmith is also representing Shafiq in that case.
The criminal charges stemmed from Shafiq’s involvement in the contentious Republican primary runoff for sheriff this summer between current sheriff Kip Thomas and challenger Clayton Lowe.
Shafiq was an outspoken supporter of and an opponent of Lowe.
Commissioner Stanley Thomas (no relation to the sheriff) has said the connection to the contentious sheriff’s race has had nothing to do with his opposition to a beer and wine license for Kwik Chek.
He said the applicant has repeatedly provided false or misleading information on his license paperwork. And he said Hameed has not sufficiently distanced himself from the former owner.
Thomas has said county ordinances give the BOC authority to deny a license if the applicant doesn’t appear to have a sufficient financial interest in the business or if he or she appears to be a surrogate or “fronting” for someone else.
“That was the whole issue, does it appear that he (Hameed) is working on behalf of someone else (Shafiq),” said Thomas. “Everyone he has been he’s been living in that person’s (Shafiq’s) dwelling. I haven’t seen anything there that has distanced him from the owner of that store.”
Commissioner Mike Youngblood said his experience as a retail man working with Pakastanis in convenience stores showed him that there is nothing unusual about the arrangement between Hameed and Shafiq.
“Three or four years is about their time limit on owning a place until a new person comes in and buys them out,” said Youngblood, referring to Pakastani convenience store owners and adding that new owners often live in residences provided by old owners.
Youngblood said there’s not evidence to back up the BOC’s denial in court.
“I don’t think there’s evidence on the table that says that Mohammad is still tied in to this,” said Youngblood. “I think they did everything they can to show there’s no ties. The application they turned in is perfectly legal.”
Thomas said Hameed has been misleading with information on his beer and wine application.
“There were false dates,” said Thomas. “The very address that was in the voter fraud issue was his (Hameed’s) residence. We asked him where he lived and he pulls out a piece of paper to read where he lives. That night he says ‘We’re moving there the first of the year.’ Well, the first of the year gets here and he doesn’t move there. He moves to another dwelling. When you take an oath and sign a paper, just like on voter registration, you’re supposed to be telling the truth. If they find that false, that’s not legal and lawful. That’s the issues that brought it up to start with.”
Thomas said he’s heard that he’s against Pakistanis and that he’s just being political. He said 12 of the 17 beer and wine license issued in the county were to foreigners. He said he has nothing against Pakistanis. He said he didn’t campaign for anybody in the sheriff’s race and that the matter is not political.
Youngblood said the board unanimously approved a temporary continuation for the license for the store during the change of ownership. The commissioner said there’s nothing wrong with the license and that if there was an issue with the application, it should have been addressed when the board approved the continuation.
NeSmith said he understands commissioner Thomas’s concerns. But he said there is nothing unusual about the relationship between Hameed and Shafiq.
“That’s not uncommon to buy a business from someone and also to rent from that person,” said NeSmith, speaking of Pakistani store owners. “That’s the explanation there.”
Thomas asked if the former owner, Shafiq, has been working in Kwik Chek in the past two months.
Store clerk Melanie Jenkins said Shafiq has worked in the store on an as-needed basis, when the store is short on employees.
“He (Shafiq) has sort of, if you will, shown him (Hameed),” said Jenkins. “Of course, you have to know how to do your job so he have to be trained by someone.”
Thomas noted that Hameed worked for Shafiq for a good period of time and wondered why he wouldn’t have “learned the ropes” already.
“There are certain things he wouldn’t have learned as an owner versus as an employee,” said Jenkins. “As far as day-to-day operations of the business, Mr. Hameed has been the one doing it.”
Pethel, who changed his vote in favor of the application, said his switch had nothing to do with a recent phone call he got from a Pakistani person. He couldn’t remember the person’s name, but said the man told him that they already had two votes and needed him to vote in favor of the application.
“I want you to know that I voted yes tonight, but not because I was asked to vote yes,” said Pethel. “And I really don’t appreciate being asked to do something wrong.”
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