Tonawanda News

January 19, 2012

City, man cleared in arson charge settle

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

— — The owner of a building on Oliver Street that was severely damaged in a May 2009 fire said he will not sue the City of North Tonawanda following a determination by a jury last month that he did not commit arson — a contention held by city fire investigators and a police detective.   

Muwafak S. Rizek said he and his attorney came to the conclusion following a meeting in Niagara County Court between Richard C. Kloch and City Attorney Shawn Nickerson on Wednesday. Rizek’s attorney, Kevin Stocker, filed a motion of claim earlier this week, indicating that his client may move forward in seeking a financial settlement from the city.  

In turn, the city will drop criminal charges previously filed in housing court and a $2,500 fine, which were both levied because of the length of time the decimated structure has stood vacant.

Nickerson has said his primary concern was to expedite the remediation process of the building, while Rizek said his hands were tied to due to a civil trial, which left him without a settlement from his insurance company for nearly three years.

Rizek was awarded $500,000 from Finger Lakes Fire & Casualty last week and said he has taken immediate action on the building, while he has already contacted an architect.

“I don’t have the money from the insurance company yet,” he said. “Nothing has come through but I have been talking to a lot of contractors. I’m going to try and have a lot of things done in the next three weeks.”

As part of the agreement, $30,000 from the settlement will be held in escrow in case Rizek does not begin construction work in a timely manner, Nickerson said.

“Certainly I’m going to be watching the progress very closely,” he said. “I understand it’s always weather permitting. I’ve had indication from both Mr. Rizek and his attorney that it will be taken care of. I know that the roof is in severe need of repair.”

Rizek ran his own grocery store business, Mark’s Food Market II, out of the building and recently said he may want to reopen the establishment. But after giving it some thought, he decided to refurbish it into two retail spaces, with one interested party almost ready to sign a lease in advance of the repairs.

Rizek said he’s still bitter about the treatment he received from local officials and although he will not seek a settlement through the legal system, he plans on getting a hold of county and state representatives to look into the matter, which he said unfairly pinned a charged of arson to his name even though strong evidence suggested otherwise.  

He also noted that despite the sizable settlement with the insurance company he won’t have much left after paying legal and fire investigator fees related to the trial, along with the remediation of the building itself.

“One thing I’ve learned is that when you’re right, you’re right,” Rizek said. “The truth will always prevail. I had nothing to do with the fire from day one.”