DEARBORN — Last week four Dearborn businesses were cited with tickets for selling tobacco products to individuals under the age of 18 during a Dearborn Police Department compliance check. The tests were conducted using individuals affiliated with the department who were underage and were trying to purchase tobacco products to see if they would be ID'ed. However, at least two of the violations, possibly three, have now been dismissed by the police department. A couple of store owner have now come forward claiming the department was not following proper procedures, describing the sting operation as entrapment.
|Ftouni, the owner of the Citgo gas station on Warren Ave identified this individual (right) as the 17-year-old who was affiliated with the Dearborn Police Department. Ftouni argues that the alleged male doesn't look anywhere near his age.|
Ftouni stated that the individual came into his store and purchased cigarettes. Within the hour a police officer returned to the store asking who sold the cigarettes to the minor. No one at the store had been aware of the situation, including the clerk that sold the cigarettes to him. The police officer issued a ticket, stating that the individual should have been ID'ed. After looking at the minor in question through his surveillance camera's, Ftouni fired back at the department, arguing that the male used during the test looked nowhere near the age of 18.
"He was a big guy, he looked like he was 25. Usually when someone appears to be that age and you ask them for an ID, they could feel insulted. If they are going to be conducting these tests, the individuals should at least look like they are young and i told that to the officer," Ftouni stated. "We have no businesses selling cigarettes to minors. And it's not because it's the law, it's because I don't want minors to be smoking."
In a turn of events, the following day Ftouni states that two Dearborn Police officers returned to his store stating that the ticket was going to be dropped because "proper procedures" had not been in place when the compliance checks were conducted. Ftouni stated that he hopes the entire mishap doesn't paint a bad picture on Arabs in the community, calling the ordeal "an attack on Dearborn businesses."
"I don't want the American public to think that Arabs are not following the laws. It's bad enough we already get painted with a bad image from the media. If we allow them to get away with things like this then it will all just pile up. The last thing we need is another reason for us to look bad," Ftouni stated.
When speaking to Police Chief Ron Haddad, he stated that the department did not withdraw the tickets because of improper procedures, but rather for other reasons.
"We review our work everyday and the decision to withdraw the tickets against two or three of them was done instantly and we felt there was a better tactical way to employ such tests. We want to make sure everyone is seeing the same picture," Chief Haddad stated.
Chief Haddad also added that the majority of business owners did follow through on their compliance checks. While he wouldn't give out specific numbers, he did state that the tests were done to a number of businesses, including some that ID'ed the same individual who was used at the Citgo gas station.
"While some people were cited, the vast majority did ask these very same people for an ID and learned they were under-age, so the system wasn't a failure. However in two or three cases where tickets were issued, we saw that just maybe there was a mistake on the store’s judgment so we gave them the benefit of the doubt," Chief Haddad added.
As far as claims that it might've been an attack on Dearborn businesses, Chief Haddad says that's far from the truth.
"That’s totally erroneous…the vast majority of people carded the officers or the people going in. The vast majority of people did the right things...but in reviewing it, the young people used did look older. We just want to make sure there is compliance across the board and i am very proud of the Dearborn Area businesses, they try to be in compliance at all times. They run a very tight ship," Chief Haddad added.
The test at the Citgo station might not even be the most severe case of the four businesses that were ticketed. At Andy's Liquor Store, an individual who was 17-years-old was given cigarettes even after he was ID'ed and the clerk was aware that he was under-age. At Dollar Kingdom, a minor who was only 15-years-old went in to purchase tobacco for a hookah and succeeded.
Wesam Knansou, who has owned Dollar Kingdom for five years, says that his entire staff was taken back with this entire ordeal. He says that the female employee that sold the tobacco product to the minor in disguise has been working with the store for over four years and is very strict when it comes to IDing individuals.
"She always ID’s people for everything. Cigarettes, tobacco, fireworks...she even ID's people when they want to buy a lighter," Knansou stated. "She thought he was at least 25. Twenty minutes later the police return and give her a ticket, she is very worried about her penalty."
The employee at Dollar Kingdom, who wished to remain anonymous says she has not heard from the Dearborn Police about dismissing her ticket. She set a court-date for July 23 and hopes the judge can dismiss her case because of the tricky circumstances. Knansou claims that this isn't the first time Dearborn Police has done a tobacco compliance check on his store. Besides this one time, they've passed these tests numerous times and have even received "thank you" letters from the police department.
“I just want everyone in the city to know that we follow all of the laws at this store and always have. We do even more than what is required. What happened was not fair,” Knansou added.
Despite these setbacks, Chief Haddad says that the Dearborn Police Department continues to have good relations with Dearborn businesses. He cites the ban of synthetic marijuana products such as K2 and Spice as a recent example of when the department and local businesses collaborated together to get the products off the shelves weeks in advance of the state’s official ban on July 1.