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Wendy Reuer, Published February 10 2014

Moorhead council denies tobacco license renewal to owner of Pyromaniacs Smoke Shop

MOORHEAD – The City Council here denied a tobacco license renewal for Derek Bitar, the owner of Pyromaniacs Smoke Shop, after hearing police have been called routinely to Bitar’s home and businesses.

Bitar submitted an application for renewal in December after the City Council passed an ordinance requiring background checks as part of the licensing and renewal process.

Bitar owns Moorhead’s Pyromaniacs Smoke Shop at 815 Main Ave.

Police Chief David Ebinger said Monday night that numerous complaints of loud noise and parties at Bitar’s business and Moorhead home have been reported. On two occasions, police had to break up large gatherings.

There have been two tobacco compliance checks in 2014 so far and the Moorhead shop failed once by selling tobacco to a minor, Ebinger said.

Ebinger told the council Monday that renewing the license would “not be the end of the world,” but the decision is a matter of nuisance control and quality of life in the city.

“None of these are overwhelming or an indication that we have a major criminal enterprise going on here,” Ebinger said. “We can say there is a disturbance or continuing item.”

During the background check, City Clerk Michelle French found Bitar was convicted in Clay County District Court of a petty misdemeanor drug possession charge in September.

However, City Attorney John Shockley said state law prohibits petty misdemeanors from counting against a tobacco license applicant.

Ebinger said the conviction came after complaints about a lot of people coming and going from Bitar’s home, along with minors leaving his house appearing intoxicated. The complaints caused his department to request a search warrant for Bitar’s home.

According to Clay County Court records, the search warrant was executed on Aug. 29. Police found digital scales, glass pipes and grinders, items commonly used in drug dealings, the warrant said.

Councilman Mike Hulett said Monday that although the conviction cannot be considered, what the search warrant turned up should be.

“I have some real concerns that a warrant had to be issued for the home of the owner and this kind of stuff came up there,” he said.

The council voted 7-1 to deny the license. Councilman Jim Haney opposed the denial.

Haney did not return a message Monday seeking comment.

Bitar and a number of supporters attended Monday night’s meeting, but did not speak. He only said the loud parties and complaints would stop.

He could not be reached for comment Monday night. Bitar formerly operated a Pyromaniacs store in Fargo and still owns the Kebab King, a Middle Eastern fare restaurant along Fargo’s 13th Avenue.

Bitar’s tobacco license will expire Saturday, French said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530