Notorious Brooklyn deli closed by Sheriff for non-payment of tobacco fines

Dozens of Sheriff’s officers swooped in on the notorious Big Boy Deli in Brooklyn this afternoon and sealed the store for failure to pay thousands of dollars worth of fines for selling untaxed cigarettes and tobacco products.

It is hardly the first brush with the law for the Big Boy Deli at the corner of Broadway and Myrtle Avenue in Bushwick, owned by a variety of sub companies, but with Abdulaziz Yehyi Thabet found to be consistently linked as President, court papers say. His name has popped up for the past six years as the owner of the store, it’s corporate name changing numerous times under the suspicion that the company was avoiding paying sales tax and trying to distance themselves from paying fines related to illegal tobacco and alcohol sales.

Officials say fines now total more than $66,000.

In 2017, Big Boy Deli became the focus of police attention when 32 people overdosed on a synthetic marijuana called “K2,” which was being marketed as potpourri. Several stores were closed by police for selling K2 as overdoses began hitting the neighborhood in large numbers — especially among methadone users who get treatment in a clinic across the street.

Since then, the store has been hit with scores of violations for selling untaxed cigarettes and other tobacco products without a license, according to court documents.

Sheriff’s officers affix a sticker on the front door warning people to stay out of the building. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

“For nearly six years, and especially over the last three years, the commercial establishment currently incorporated as “Brooklyn Finest Deli Corp” and also “Lucky Deli Gourmet Corp” and B.B. Gourmet Deli Corp” – “has consistently violated New York City and New York State Law.” Various forms of criminal and civil enforcement’s have been continuously taken to combat the illegal contraband found within the subject premises as well as to combat the subject premises consistent illegal operation,” court papers say.

Chief Joseph Fucito, commander of the NYC Sheriff’s office, said that the current closure involves enforcement actions as recently as August, but other actions have been taken since August, but not included in this complaint. He said other agencies including Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), have done enforcement actions at the deli, but the owners of the business have six months to answer the charges and or pay the fines before the city acts to close a business.

“They had six months to dispute the accusations — they can act but they didn’t,” Fucito said. “We give them as much time as they needed, but they didn’t do anything. I think we are very fair.”

The complaint dates back to incidents as far back as 2013, with numerous violations issued against the store for selling untaxed cigarettes. The complaint says the store would allegedly purchase cigarettes with an excise tax of 30 cents a pack in Virginia, but would sell it in New York City. The excise tax for cigarettes in the city is a combined $5.85 a pack, saving the trafficker thousands in tax costs that they can then pocket.

The store was hit this Wednesday afternoon by an army of Sheriff’s officers who cut the lock on the front door and found a man inside doing carpentry work. The store shelves were mostly empty and was not in operation, officials said, and the man found inside was not arrested. Officers then changed the lock on the front door and affixed large posters warning the owner that nobody was allowed inside the store or permitted to run the business by order of the Department of Finance.

Sheriff’s officers search a man found inside the store doing carpentry work. (Photo by Todd Maisel)
Officers searched the inside of the store to make sure nobody else was left inside. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Since 2010, court documents indicate that Big Boy Deli was associated with five different corporate entities – all of which are still active and own other locations. Since 2013, there have been 10 administrative inspections of the deli with seizure of more than 77 cartons of cigarettes, 793 packages of illegal tobacco including k2, and 4,000 pills of illegal prescription medications. Inspections have resulted in six arrests, five criminal summonses, and eight civil violation summonses. Four other inspections found eight more violations between 2018-2019 resulting in a large number of violations toward the seizure of the store.

Other agencies, including the Department of Consumer Affairs, have issued 14 violations with 10 of those counting toward the sealing of the store. The store was also hit with selling “loosey’s” – cigarettes individually sold for $1 a piece. Other violations included illegal sale of alcohol without a proper State Liquor Authority license. These violations do not include raids by the NYPD who have made arrests and closed the store in the past under the nuisance abatement laws.

“Due to the totality of illegal and in some cases criminal tobacco sales at the location which included six final determinations of unlicensed activity and 18 other violations with the last three years, coupled with the substantial health risks and in the interest of public safety, the Sheriff requested the Commissioner of Finance to order the location sealed pursuant to NYC Administration Code Section 11-4023,” Fucito said.

Residents gathered around the store and questioned the officers, backed by police from the 83rd Precinct, as to why they would close the store.

“My friends work in that store and they need the jobs so I don’t understand why they would close it up,” one man said who would not be identified. “They make good food in that place and it doesn’t seem fair – especially to my friends who work there.”

Residents question police as to why they were closing the Big Boy Deli. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

The store will be closed for a minimum of 30 days, no matter what the owner does in court, officials say, a penalty for failing to answer the summonses against it and for failure to pay the fines.

Chief Joseph Fucito supervises the sealing of the store after numerous complaints and a build up of fines against the owners. (Photo by Todd Maisel)