By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
NORTH TONAWANDA — It’s been a long, hard slog for Muwafak Rizek, who now says he will launch a federal lawsuit against the City of North Tonawanda in the coming days.
The Oliver Street entrepreneur was accused by North Tonawanda investigators of setting fire to his business in May of 2009, which led to an arson charge that could have sent him for prison for up to 25 years.
After an 8-day trial in State Supreme Court last year a jury took less than 15 minutes to determine his fate: Not liable. Yet as the relief of an arson acquittal came to pass, the enormity of his next challenge sunk in.
With a stagnant business that had remained closed for more than two years because of the legalities and a hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the building that housed Mark’s Food Market, the challenges began piling up.
But Rizek, 27, said he was determined to remedy that scenario when he eventually received a $500,000 settlement from his insurance company, half of which he said went to his legal team and expert witnesses — the same group that convinced a jury in December that the fire had begun from an electrical fire and not from gasoline, as local police investigators had contended.
“The reason I’m going through with this is that no one is being held accountable for what happened,” Rizek said. “There was no internal investigation by the police department or by the mayor’s office. It’s really shocking to me that nearly a year later not one thing has been done. The reason the building has not been up and running is ultimately because of the city.”
A call to City Attorney Shawn Nickerson revealed that the city is not yet aware of the pending suit, which will seek to acquire a financial settlement.
Rizek began refurbishing the building as well as the three apartments behind it that had incurred smoke damage, while he also purchased the heavily damaged structure next door that had previously been home to a union outfit, and turned it into a parking lot.
And on Monday his new entrepreneurial endeavor will come in to play, when The Everything Store kicks off Rizek’s next venture, with a new facade, interior and items from home decor, to mobile phones and other household items.
Rizek said that despite the advice of some friends and family, part of the reason he decided to move forward with a lawsuit is to continue efforts to clear his name.
“I’m still suffering up to this day,” he said.
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.