NEW ORLEANS -- A property dispute – which some believe had something to do with a 2010 Gentilly convenience-store firebombing – has only intensified in the two months since our first Eyewitness Investigation report.
The firebombing of the Fuel Zone on Chef Highway and Louisa Street happened in 2010, while Scott Wolfe and Omar Hamdan fought over who owned the competing gas station and strip mall property across the street. And the dispute continues to this day.
Wolfe has filed several complaints against Hamdan in various courts, saying he is the real owner of the property across from the Fuel Zone. As a part of his full-court press, Wolfe also sent stacks of documents to the state Alcohol and Tobacco Control arguing that the Hamdans should not be allowed to sell alcohol at three convenience stores, including the one at the center of their property dispute.
After we asked questions in April, the state ATC swooped in to possibly take away Hamdan's permits. The commission cited Omar's wife, Fatmah Hamdan, with falsely stating that her spouse was not a convicted felon.
Omar Hamdan is a twice-convicted felon.
One of Fatmah's lawyers, Chris Young, responded to that by claiming that she and Omar were never really married under Louisiana law, in spite of sworn court statements and federal tax returns that said they were married.
The day before our story aired, Fatmah filed for divorce from Omar, and swore that they were married in Jerusalem in 1998.
Young repeatedly declined to answer our questions about his contention that the Hamdans believed they were not legally married in Louisiana.
After the ATC hearing for Fatmah Hamdan was pushed back multiple times, she avoided it altogether by selling the three stores that had alcohol permits to one of her clerks, named Fady Abusaud.
Abusaud is Omar Hamdan's nephew, his sister’s son, and, according to Scott Wolfe, sometimes even uses Hamdan as his last name. Wolfe presented pictures to the ATC from what Wolfe says are the Fady Hamdan Facebook and Instagram accounts.
They showed Fady claiming to beat up a customer at the gas station, purportedly preparing to douse a sleeping vagabond with gasoline and bragging that he’s holding a gun to a man’s head for stealing a beer.
The Hamdans' attorney, Bob Harvey, initially told us the sale from the Hamdans to their nephew was an arms-length transaction. But at a hearing last week, we learned Harvey actually loaned Fady Abusaud the $50,000 down payment for the $300,000 purchase.
Harvey told the ATC that he had a higher interest in loaning Fady Abusaud the $50,000: namely, $500,000 in legal fees for representing the Hamdans in their fight with Scott Wolfe.
“I thought it was a good investment at that point to lend the young man $50,000,” Harvey said. “My interest was I felt I was protecting another aspect of my practice…. I had some fees due to me from the litigation…. From the Hamdans.”
ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert said he had little reason to believe that young Fady Abusaud, 24 -- who made $12,000 a year, who didn't even have his own checking account, whose leases with the Hamdans had him paying 2 percent of liquor sales back to the Hamdans and who never got control from Fatmah Hamdan of the stores’ credit card accounts -- was the real owner of these lucrative businesses.
“It is frustrating to me as commissioner that we have individuals that are going to try to skirt and circumvent the laws and regulations of this agency,” Hebert said.
Hebert suspended the alcohol and tobacco licenses. And then, just before a follow-up hearing last week, the carousel spun again. The lawyer, Bob Harvey, bought the three businesses from his clients, the Hamdans.
Harvey, 73, said he’s looking to retire as an attorney and says owning the convenience stores can be a good way to move into the next phase of his life.
It would be quite a departure for the man who emerged as an outspoken and powerful political player decades ago. He was president of the Levee Board under Gov. Edwin Edwards and became known for pushing controversial projects that had nothing to do with flood protection -- like a Lake Pontchartrain casino.
Scott Wolfe's lawyer said at Monday’s hearing that it looked like Harvey was just standing in for the Hamdans again. But the commissioner lifted the suspension and granted Harvey the permits – although he also made him responsible for paying a $1,500 fine for the commission’s findings about Abusaud.
Still Harvey was happy with the result.
“I sent a lot of documents did everything I was asked to do to prove suitability and I was very pleased,” he said. “I thought he was firm but polite to everyone, gave everyone a chance to speak and I'm perfectly satisfied with the decision.”
He then laughed as he said he hopes to make up for the $1,500 fine by being able to sell beer again at the three stores.
Harvey said Fatmah Hamdan never meant to mislead the ATC about Omar Hamdan’s criminal history. Nevertheless, Hebert told Harvey that his agents would keep watching his stores to make sure the Hamdans and Abusaud are not managing them in any way for two years. Abusaud is still allowed to work as a clerk, Hebert said.