Their Amer­i­can dream dis­ap­pears

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Kirk Mitchell

Abdi Noor fled So­ma­lia dur­ing a tribal war, hop­ing to re­al­ize his Amer­i­can dream.

For 15 years he worked long hours as a taxi driver with his sights on own­ing a restau­rant. He knew famine — eat­ing bland maize pan­cakes day af­ter day — so when he and two friends cre­ated the Kin restau­rant, they served heap­ing plates of sa­vory meals with gen­er­ous quan­ti­ties of meats and veg­eta­bles.

Two doors down from Kin in the Parker Point shop­ping cen­ter, near the in­ter­sec­tion of East Mis­sis­sippi Av­enue and South Parker Road in Ara­pa­hoe County, was the All Amer­i­can Pawn Shop. The owner’s ties to a jew­elry theft ring run by mem­bers of a street gang called the Kings of Den­ver led to nearly two dozen ar­rests — in­clud­ing his own.

So when the land­lord sent an evic­tion no­tice, Noor and his part­ners were shocked to learn that it was their restau­rant and not the pawn shop that had been tar­geted.

The per­plex­ing turn of events, Kin’s own­ers say, boiled down

to race and re­li­gion. It didn’t mat­ter that Noor, Ho­dan Amin and Mo­hamed Sufi al­ways made their lease pay­ments on time. All that re­ally mat­tered was that they are black and Mus­lim, and the pawn shop owner was white, they claim.

Amin, Noor and Sufi re­cently filed a fed­eral civil rights law­suit in Den­ver U.S. Dis­trict Court against the Loup Man­age­ment Co. and prop­erty man­ager Shelly Haynes, and Parker Point LLC. They are seek­ing un­spec­i­fied com­pen­satory dam­ages.

Loup rep­re­sen­ta­tives did not re­turn calls for com­ment, and Haynes said Mon­day that “since this is on­go­ing lit­i­ga­tion, I’m not al­lowed to com­ment.”

Sev­eral units va­cant

While re­peat­edly turn­ing away prospec­tive So­mali busi­ness ten­ants, Loup own­ers have found it dif­fi­cult to lease re­tail spa­ces to any­one, the law­suit says. Sev­eral units have been va­cant for years.

Noor, 40, left So­ma­lia to flee famine and a war that claimed his fa­ther’s life. The refugee stayed in Kenya be­fore mov­ing to the U.S. in 1999. For many years he saved money he made work­ing for a car­pet com­pany and driv­ing a taxi as many as 24 hours straight. Sufi im­mi­grated from Mo­gadishu, the cap­i­tal of So­ma­lia, in 1997 amid an eth­nic war. He drove a taxi for Metro Taxi.

“Half my life I’ve been driv­ing a cab,” Noor said. “I wanted to open a busi­ness and live the Amer­i­can dream.”

In 2013, Noor joined forces with Sufi and his wife, Amin. They dis­cov­ered a restau­rant space at 7950 E. Mis­sis­sippi Ave. that was an ideal spot from which to serve their spicy, eth­nic food. Neigh­bor­hoods in the vicin­ity have the largest pop­u­la­tion of East African refugees in the Den­ver metro area. It was near the So­mali Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Cen­ter of Colorado, 1582 S. Parker Road, and Colorado Mus­lim So­ci­ety at 2071 S. Parker Road.

In Au­gust 2013, Loup al­lowed Kin to take over a restau­rant lease held by Muk­tar Buni, even though Haynes had told Buni that the com­pany no longer planned to lease to So­ma­lis, the law­suit says.

Kin’s own­ers mar­keted the restau­rant to their com­mu­nity of cab driv­ers, who of­ten called ahead to pick up their food dur­ing 15- to 20-minute breaks. For cabbies, time is money.

Noor said he and his part­ners ar­rived at Kin at 3:30 a.m. each day and worked late of­fer­ing bar­gain-priced plates of ha­lal food pre­pared ac­cord­ing to Is­lamic di­etary rules. It was very hard work, but Noor and Amin didn’t mind. They were build­ing clien­tele.

Noor said his iden­tity more and more was de­fined by his busi­ness own­er­ship.

The idea of pro­vid­ing rich, de­li­cious lamb, chick- en and beef dishes af­ter grow­ing up in a na­tion rife with famine where chil­dren died of mal­nu­tri­tion was deeply mean­ing­ful to him. His wife, Fa­tima, said peo­ple sub­sisted on a sin­gle maize meal a day if they had any food at all.

“Peo­ple liked the food. It was fresh ev­ery day. We opened at 6 a.m. and stayed open through the night shift. We had a good busi­ness,” Noor said. “It was al­ways busy. My busi­ness was my dream come true. I knew my life was go­ing to change. I was go­ing to be suc­cess­ful.”

Haynes soon wrote a let­ter to Kin com­plain­ing that its pa­trons of­ten loi­tered in the park­ing lot and ha­rassed cus­tomers of other busi­nesses in the strip mall, the law­suit says.

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, Haynes made a “false” re­port to the Ara­pa­hoe County Sher­iff’s Of­fice in Jan­uary 2016. Dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with the re­spond­ing deputy, she said she did not want to re­new Kin’s lease be­cause of on­go­ing “shenani­gans.”

In April 2016, she com­plained that Kin’s pa­trons trig­gered crim­i­nal re­ports, loi­tered in front of the restau­rant and were very loud and dis­re­spect­ful of neigh­bor­ing busi­nesses. Their cus­tomers fought, dumped trash, tried to sell stolen goods, in­tim­i­dated pa­trons of other busi­nesses, of­ten parked in spa­ces for the other busi­nesses.

The smell of mar­i­juana smoke of­ten wafted from that part of the strip mall, she com­plained.

But Haynes failed to cite any spe­cific facts or in­ci­dents, the law­suit says. Loup or­dered Kin own­ers to va­cate by Novem­ber. When Kin hired an at­tor­ney, Loup agreed to re­new the lease only un­der the con­di­tion that no more than three taxi cabs could park in the Parker Point lot at one time.

If she had wanted to find spe­cific bad be­hav­ior of neigh­bor­ing busi­nesses, Haynes could have done so by look­ing at the public records of law en­force­ment, ac­cord­ing to the plain­tiffs.

His­tory of run-ins

Abra­ham Mizrachi, 65, and 27 mem­bers of a theft ring that stole $400,000 from 50 Den­ver metro homes were in­dicted by a Den­ver grand jury on nu­mer­ous charges on May 16, 2016, in­clud­ing theft and rack­e­teer­ing, the in­dict­ment doc­u­ments say. The stolen items were val­ued be­tween $100,000 and $1 mil­lion, records say.

Theft charges against Mizrachi were pend­ing when he died on Sept. 14. Mem­bers of the lo­cal theft ring “on a reg­u­lar ba­sis” sold gold, jew­elry, de­signer watches to All Amer­i­can, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

While Loup had claimed it was Kin’s pa­trons get­ting ar­rested, Haynes “made no ef­fort to de­ter­mine whether the com­plaints re­lat­ing to loi­ter­ing, thefts and in­tim­i­da­tion by cer­tain ‘groups’ were ac­tu­ally All Amer­i­can’s clients,” the civil rights law­suit says.

The crime syn­di­cate run­ning through All Amer­i­can’s doors flour­ished be­tween 2013 and May 11, 2016 — about the same pe­riod Kin was op­er­at­ing in the shop­ping cen­ter, ac­cord­ing to court records. Haynes’ re­port to the sher­iff’s of­fice had been the only po­lice re­port filed against Kin de­spite her ref­er­ence to fre­quent po­lice ac­tiv­ity, the law­suit says.

Haynes’ ref­er­ence to bad­be­hav­ing taxi cab driv­ers was merely a eu­phemism for Kin’s Mus­lim, East African pa­trons even though the taxi driv­ers are hard­work­ing, law-abid­ing res­i­dents who must pass crim­i­nal back­ground checks, the law­suit says.

Haynes even turned com­plaints that Kin’s own­ers made about fight­ing and pot smok­ing in front of Wise Guys against the restau­rant, claim­ing those same re­ports had been made against Kin pa­trons.

Oth­ers de­nied

Other East Africans were de­nied lease re­newals or told they weren’t wel­come in the shop­ping cen­ter, the law­suit says.

Idris Yousuf, the for­mer owner of the Kif­fah Cafe at the same shop­ping cen­ter, said Haynes also re­fused to re­new his lease af­ter telling him, “We don’t want you guys here any­more.” When Buni in­tro­duced a So­mali friend who was in­ter­ested in leas­ing a va­cant unit in the shop­ping cen­ter to Haynes, she al­legedly told the man Loup wasn’t leas­ing to any more So­ma­lis be­cause they were “vi­o­lent” peo­ple and the taxi driv­ers took up too many spa­ces, the law­suit says.

An­other hope­ful renter, Ab­di­razak Mo­hamed, said Loup stopped cor­re­spond­ing with him af­ter he re­vealed he was orig­i­nally from So­ma­lia. When Ab­di­razak Mo­hamed’s brother later called Ja­son Kin­sey, a real es­tate bro­ker rep­re­sent­ing Loup, to say he was in­ter­ested in leas­ing a unit at the shop­ping cen­ter, Kin­sey al­legedly told him Loup did not want to deal with more taxi cab “prob­lems.”

Kin’s lease at Parker Point was not re­newed in March. Noor and Sufi have re­turned to driv­ing cabs.

“It was pretty bad. I lost a lot of money,” Noor said.

Fa­tima Noor said her hus­band couldn’t sleep. They could no longer send money to rel­a­tives still liv­ing in So­ma­lia to help them sur­vive. He was trau­ma­tized and felt stress. “It not only af­fected him. It af­fected us.”

Amin said own­ing and run­ning a restau­rant meant a lot to her hus­band. “He was the one pro­vid­ing for his own fam­ily.” Now he’s driv­ing for Uber, she said.

“We’re start­ing from square one,” Noor said.

“Peo­ple liked the food. It was fresh ev­ery day. We opened at 6 a.m. and stayed open through the night shift. We had a good busi­ness.” Abdi Noor

John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

So­ma­lis Abdi Noor and his wife, Fa­tima, say their Den­ver-area restau­rant’s evic­tion is dis­crim­i­na­tion.

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