NEW ORLEANS -- A New Orleans Civil Court judge will decide if former Orleans Levee Board chairman Bob Harvey can renew licenses to operate two gas station convenience stores he took over following a series of WWL-TV reports about the previous owner – Harvey’s client.
The state Alcohol and Tobacco Control office is seeking to deny Harvey the licenses, saying he owes almost $700,000 in delinquent sales taxes on the two stores along Elysian Fields in Gentilly.
Judge Sidney Cates issued a temporary restraining order last week to allow Harvey to maintain the right to sell cigarettes and alcohol. At a hearing today, attorneys for Harvey requested a permanent injunction while attorneys for the ATC argued that the licenses should be denied.
The renewals were required in May, but Harvey’s stores were flagged by the Louisiana Department of Revenue because of the delinquent tax payments.
The stores had been owned by Omar Hamdan’s wife, but she lost the licenses after reports by WWL-TV’s investigative reporter David Hammer raised questions about Hamdan – including threats of violence and previous felony firearms and cocaine convictions. The ATC found that Hamdan’s wife had lied on her application by saying that she was not married to a convicted felon.
Following those WWL-TV reports, Hamdan was charged with fraud and bribery charges related to a different convenience store. Bob Harvey took all three stores off the Hamdans’ hands when they lost their license.
But new questions were raised about Harvey’s takeover, in particular, whether Harvey is just a straw owner who took over the stores for the Hamdans.
Harvey said he purchased the stores for $500,000 by canceling the debt Hamdan owed him for legal services.
When ATC raised questions about Harvey’s ownership in court, they landed in front of Cates, who issued an injunction.
Now, with new questions being raised about the delinquent taxes, Harvey’s attorneys argued that the earlier injunction should continue to apply to the new circumstances.
In a telephone interview, Harvey made a more common-sense appeal on keeping the stores open.
“It just makes no sense to put the stores out of business,” Harvey said. “The entities have 15 or 16 people working there. We’re willing to work with anybody to resolve the matter.”
Hamdan, represented by Harvey, has filed a libel lawsuit against WWL-TV and David Hammer, accusing them of unfairly portraying Hamdan in the earlier investigative stories.
The station stands by its stories and is vigorously defending the lawsuit.