Tonawanda News


January 16, 2012

Settlement finally reached for Mark’s Food Market

— — A local businessman accepted a settlement with his insurance company on Friday for $500,000 following a verdict by a jury in early December that ruled he did not set fire to his own establishment.

Subsequent to a State Supreme court case that saw the insurance company and North Tonawanda fire investigators accuse Muwafak S. Rizek, of arson for a May 2009 blaze at Mark’s Food Market II, the 26-year-old said he is working through his options, one of which may include getting his building and his business up and running again.

City attorney Shawn Nickerson said he filed a motion to intervene in the case last week to ensure that the structure will be remediated in the near future.

The heavily damaged building has stood vacant since it was destroyed, while several experts testified that the cause of the fire was from an electrical malfunction, directly opposing local officials’ view that the fire was started by Rizek, after gasoline was detected in the vicinity.  

“It’s pretty bad and there are major problems with the roof,” Nickerson said. “It’s been vacant since May of ’09 which is never a good thing. There’s been issues with the tarp on the roof. The fact the building hasn’t been fixed I’m sure has attributed to the building deteriorating even more. The longer it takes to fix something the worse it’s going to be.”

The trial, which was supposed to be bifurcated into two parts, has now been closed. Initially, jury selection for the second segment was expected to begin today in Lockport, where the focus would have been put squarely on how much the insurance company, Finger Lakes Fire & Casualty, would have to pay to Rizek.

The company twice offered Rizek a financial settlement, first for $51,000 and again for $367,000 before the two sides came to terms last week, according to his attorney Kevin T. Stocker, who said his client was unjustifiably put through the ordeal.

“That’s part of the reason why the jury took less then 15 minutes in deciding the case,” he said of the jury’s Dec. 8 deliberation after an eight-day trial.

Nickerson said he was originally concerned that the settlement would not cover the cost of the building or repair it in a timely fashion.

He also said that Rizek has stated in housing court that he does intend to repair the building, but has been unable to do so because the settlement money has not been granted.

Now that it has, Rizek said he is working on formulating a plan after nearly three years of fighting the accusations against him, which could have ended in a 25-year to life sentence should a second criminal trial been brought forth, Stocker said.

“At this point I’m still trying to figure things out,” Rizek said. “I’m going to redo the front and I’m going to fix it up.”

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