By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
The owner of a building along Oliver Street who was accused by police of setting it on fire then found innocent by a jury is making progress in resuscitating the structure.
Muwafak S. Rizek said he’s glad to see nearly three years of headaches winding down related to the charges and court proceedings that could have sent him to jail for up to 25 years should he have been found guilty, after his property formerly housing Mark’s Food Market II was destroyed in May 2009. He was found not liable for the fire earlier this month.
Since then, he’s hired an architect and met with city officials and the building inspector. In turn, the city has refunded $2,500 in fines levied because of the length of time the building stood vacant, after a deal was orchestrated by state Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch. As a result of the arrangement Rizek and his attorney agreed to drop a potential lawsuit against the city.
“They said they’re going to be mailing out a check for that,” Rizek said of officials at the city.
Meanwhile, he’s still waiting for the $500,000 settlement from insurance company Finger Lakes Fire & Casualty, which along with a city police detective accused Rizek of setting fire to his building.
As a result, Rizek said he is using some of his savings to launch the process, though he expects a payment in the coming weeks.
City Attorney Shawn Nickerson, who has been involved in the case for months, said from the city’s standpoint everything is moving along.
“We are on target,” Nickerson said. “We have a follow up phone conference with Judge Kloch on the 22nd. It started with (Rizek) reaching out with the building inspector.”
Rizek said the hefty job of fixing the dilapidated building will begin with gutting the fire damage, then turning the front portion into two commercial spaces. He said he’s close to having one tenant ready to move in when the work is complete in the next couple of months, though he declined to say exactly what type of business will be occupying the space until a lease is signed.
Rizek said he still harbors ill feelings toward the detective and the insurance company that accused him and is considering taking the issue to state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
“It’s not over yet, I’m still looking at all my options,” he said. “I’m filing a complaint with the attorney general. They should be liable for all attorney fees, conceptually. I settled at $500,000 but that money is barely enough to get everything taken care of. After you spend three years of your life fighting the insurance company, attorney fees can be very hectic.”