BP Amoco shut down

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

‘Residents terrified to be in wrong place at the wrong time near this property’ says council member

The BP Amoco at University and Hamline has been closed. (Photo by Terry Faust)

By Jane McClure
Midway BP Amoco, which has long been called out as a magnet for criminal behavior, is closed.
The St. Paul City Council March 18, 2020 voted unanimously to immediately reevoke all business licenses for business. Station owner Khaled Aloul of Midway and Hamline LLC now has the option of closing for good or going to the Minnesota Court of Appeals to make the case for keeping Midway BP Amoco open.
Evidence for revoking the license speaks for itself, said Ward Four Council Member Mitra Jalali. She cited the exhaustive process and extensive community input involved in the decision to revoke the licenses for cigarette and tobacco product sales, and the gas station business license itself. “I don’t think there is an alternative,” she said.
The public record included hundreds of pages of evidence including emails and a petition with more than 400 signatures. Hamline Midway Coalition worked extensively to help gather input. At one point in 2019, a call for action on Facebook brought out a large crowd to oppose the behavior.
Jalali called that evidence “overwhelming.”
“Residents are terrified to be in the wrong place at the wrong time near this property,” she said. There have been numerous reports of shootings near the business and police have recovered bullet casings. One person was shot and killed there last summer, while sitting in a parked vehicle.
It is unusual for an administrative law judge to recommend revocation of business licenses and for the city council to take such harsh action. Assistant City Attorney Therese Skarda, who represents the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI), said that given the business’s history, city officials could and did seek revocation.
Judge James LaFave issued his findings March 9, citing numerous instances including noncompliance with license regulations. It was found that Midway BP Amoco sold single cigarettes or “loosies,” sold flavored tobacco in violation of city ordinance, sold tobacco products to minors, engaged in a pattern of violating license regulations, and allowed unsafe conduct and conditions that threatened public health and safety.
The judge in his ruling called out shootings, large and disruptive crowds, and illegal drug sales as “severe, aggravating and atypical circumstances” supporting the city’s request for revocation of licenses.
On March 17, Aloul submitted requests that the city impose a greater fine, rather than shutting the business down. He also asked for a stay of licensees’ revocation pending a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Midway BP Amoco already had several conditions on its licenses, including one that there be videotapes of store activities and that those tapes be handed over to city officials when requested. That didn’t happened last year in a case centered on a license violation. Subsequently police and city staff found numerous license and law violations, including sale of pipes to smoke crack cocaine and methamphetamine with, illegal sales of tobacco products and cigarettes, drug dealing, loitering and shootings. One cigarette sales violation occurred as a city licensing inspector was in the business on another matter.
What outraged neighbors even more was that there was a fatal shooting at the station last summer, of a man in a motor vehicle.
Aloul was notified of a license violation in July 2019. This was the second adverse action against the business within a year. The penalty for a second violation is a penalty with a $1,000 fine.

Aloul’s defense
Aloul requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, which was held in November 2019. It took two and one-half days. Among the many exhibits were numerous videos of activities around the station including loitering, large crowds and criminal behavior.
In long and emotional testimony, Aloul accused the St. Paul Police Department and city staff of conducting an extensive campaign to close the store, and depriving his family of income. He insisted that measures had been taken to prevent license violations and other problems.
He pleaded with the council to allow a proposal for a $1.6 million site redevelopment to go forward. It would include a gas station but would feature a new bakery and coffee shop. He has spent more than $80,000 developing the proposal, which would replace the business he has owned since 2010.
Closing would mean about half a dozen people lose their jobs, Aloul said, calling revocation of licenses “disastrous” and said closing means that “the drug dealers win.”
Although Aloul accepted some blame for license violations, he also pointed to the city’s 2019 spike in violent crime as a contributing factor to the problems. That happened when he had to deal with a death in his family, security guards who quit showing up and other issues.
“What are you going to do with the property? Do you want to buy it? Come buy it,” he told the city council.
Attorney James MacGillis represents the business. He cited alternative penalties requested by Aloul, noting that the penalty should be a $1,000 fine because it is the third violation in a year. Aloul proposed a $2,000 fine and a 10-day suspension, among other alternative sanctions.
MacGillis called revocation a “death penalty. “I don’t mean to be dramatic, but it will shut down this business and it will leave an empty lot at 1437 W. University,” he said.
But Jalali and other council members said the recommendation to revoke license should stand, even though it is one that is not taken lightly. Ward Seven Council Member Jane Prince said other business owners get involved with their neighbors and work to resolve problems, not allow them to continue.

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