FBI searches evicted owner’s Dinkytown Tobacco

Brad Unangst

Minnesota Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputies searched a Dinkytown tobacco shop Tuesday morning during the eviction of the store’s owner.

Agents and officers used a bomb-sniffing dog and spent more than two hours searching Dinkytown Tobacco at 403 14th Ave. SE.

“What does that have to do with an eviction?” said Nizar Alsadi, the owner. “I’ve been evicted before and I’ve never had dogs sniffing my (property).”

Officials said nothing was found and Alsadi was not arrested, but a small amount of cash was removed. The money was taken legally as part of the eviction process.

Sheriff’s department spokeswoman Roseann Campagnoli said the K-9 unit and FBI were called in response to some pro-Palestinian information posted in the shop’s windows.

“When you think you’re looking at hate messages, you don’t know what else is there,” she said. “Because of that, (the sheriff’s deputy) then asked for some back-up resources to help him search the property.”

Alsadi posted flyers calling the creation an Israeli state unjust, which were provided by a University student group. He also wrote a message on the side of a display case facing the store’s window that read, “Kick me out of Palestine and Dinkytown. But I’ll win. God is patient and fair.”

Special agent Paul McCabe said the FBI investigates hate crimes and civil rights violations but could not comment if Alsadi’s postings violated federal laws regarding those types of crimes. McCabe added it is not unusual for local law enforcement to contact the FBI when encountering possible hate crimes.

“Strictly out of an abundance of caution, they called us up. They were concerned about something and they wanted us to check it out,” McCabe said.

By law, the sheriff’s department participates in evictions by serving notices and taking inventory of the contents of buildings, Campagnoli said.

Officials from United Properties – the building’s leasing company – said Alsadi owes approximately $3,000 in back rent and was being evicted for nonpayment.

While Alsadi and his lawyer Brian Pitera don’t deny Alsadi owes the money, they said the leasing company is also evicting Alsadi because of the postings.

“Months ago, they told me I was stepping on some toes and better take the posters out of the windows,” Alsadi said.

United Properties officials deny this claim. They said Alsadi repeatedly paid his rent late and the agency gave him time to pay what was owed.

Alsadi has owned the tobacco shop for more than six years. His current lease was to expire on Oct. 31.

Alsadi said he started putting the postings on the windows following the Sept. 11 attacks. He said he was not threatening anyone but rather trying to educate the public.

Last September, four men threw a bike seat through the shop’s window, breaking a plate. Alsadi said he thinks the men targeted the plate because it looked Arabic.

United Properties gave Alsadi 60 days to finish moving out.