Olive Street in South Bend has been hit once again. And this time, a convenience store was at the center of it all. What began as a search warrant inside a store on Monday, ended with a raid.
Police said a store at Olive Street and Prast Boulevard was selling several illegal items, a front for phony goods and drugs. In the raid, police seized those goods and arrested the owner, 43-year-old Ebrahim Almalabeh.
Almalabeh was arrested on two felony charges, both related to the sale of prescription drugs over the counter. And, there's a federal immigration hold on him which means immigration officials are doing checks to make sure Almalabeh is legally registered in this country.
Almalabeh will have a court date once he's officially charged.
- How It Started
After a man was gunned down outside the Olive Street Convenience store in August, South Bend Police put extra patrols on and around Olive Street. While cracking down on crime outside the store, police said they discovered illegal transactions inside, which sparked a new investigation.
Olive Street is a site that's no stranger to crime in South Bend. "There’s been several assault cases, robbery cases and general crimes of violence," said South Bend Police Capt. Phil Trent.
Police said their investigation reached a boiling point on Monday. "We've received complaints here for quite a while, but it takes some time to put together a good investigation," Trent said.This case could be taken to the federal level because of the amounts of counterfeit items found in the store.
Right now police don’t know if anyone else is involved. While police focus on Almalabeh, police said he was receiving phony goods from a network and federal prosecutors will search for that source.
- The Raid
"Illegal sale of prescription drugs, illegal sale of cigarettes, illegal sale of clothing items, it's a mixed bag," Trent said, describing what police found in the raid.
Police raided the store for hours, filled a U-haul truck with evidence and arrested Almalabeh.
"There's a right way and a wrong way to run a business, and I mean, on a lot of different levels and ways, they were not going about this the right way," Trent said.
But some argue otherwise and defended the owner.
- The Neighbors
"I never saw illegal drugs going on in there, yes I saw a product being sold, but the product, I don't know where it comes from, it’s not my job,” said Arron Durham, who does security for the store.
Stephanie Turner lives next door to the convenience store and said Almalabeh is a family man.
"Abraham looked after the whole community, when someone needed a gallon of milk, I needed 50 dollars for my electric bill until I got paid, not a problem," Turner said.
Turner said the owner has taken extraordinary measures to fight crime outside his store with security cameras and a security guard. "If the store leaves, there will be more crime," Turner said.
(From Jeff Harrell, South Bend Tribune Staff Writer)
The raid came just five days after the store’s owner, Ebrahim Almalbeh, sat in front of neighbors in the parish hall of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church across the street addressing complaints about violence and drug activities sparked by groups of teens hanging outside the store at all hours.
During that meeting - the third in a series of Wednesday evening community meetings - several people said things have been “quieter” around Almalbeh’s store on the corner of Prast and Olive Street since 19-year-old Steven Chatman was gunned down Aug. 18.
As he had done during previous meetings, Almalbeh reiterated his desire to make a difference in the community by hiring a private security firm to stand guard outside the store.
“Security is not for the store,” Almalbeh said last week. “It’s for the neighbors to be safe.”
Almalbeh was inside the store with police Monday and was unavailable for comment.
The owner of that private security company was “shocked” over the raid.
“In the month we’ve been there, crime was almost non-existent but for one incident,” said Aaron Durham, owner of NSA Security, citing an attempted break-in of vans in a garage behind the store.
“Why would somebody that’s tried so hard in the public eye, tried so hard to clean it up, do this?” Durham asked.