Two businesses temporarily closed for flier violations, failing to pay fines

City health agency suspends food permits due to code enforcement citations

  • Nephew's Pizza
Nephew's Pizza (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
April 01, 2011|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

Two East Baltimore pizzerias were closed last week by city health officials who found they repeatedly violated a ban on distributing fliers to residences and failed to pay their fines.

The food permits of the two carryout restaurants, both named Nephew's Pizza, were suspended for five days, a period that ended Friday.

"It's a good first start. It sends a message," said City Councilman Jim Kraft, who introduced the 2006 bill that banned distribution of commercial fliers to homes. City law already prohibited fliers on auto windshields. Each violation is subject to a $50 fine.

Fliers left on doorsteps, in vestibules or stuck into railings are a nuisance that litter streets and are a telltale sign that people aren't home, residents across the city say. Frustration with repeat offenders has spawned a Facebook group and the blog

Kraft, who represents parts of East Baltimore, including Canton and Patterson Park, said his staff sends first-time violators a letter explaining the law, and most comply after that. "In fairness, we probably have been successful with 80 or 85 percent," he said.

Some, however, such as the Nephew's on East Monument Street, have been resistant. Kraft said his staff and residents picked up hundreds of violating fliers during neighborhood sweeps. So, he coordinated with the Baltimore City Health Department, which has the authority to suspend or refuse to renew permits for multiple or unpaid citations.

It's the first time the Health Department has exercised that power since it was granted in 2009, said agency spokesman Brian Schleter.

But it's a powerful tool, Kraft said. "The real leverage at the end of the day is the permit to sell food," he said.

According to two orders issued after a January Health Department hearing, Samir Hashem, the owner of Nephew's Pizza at 4534 Erdman Ave., was the former owner of the Nephew's at 3100 E. Monument St. But Hawa Fofana now runs that restaurant, according to the order.

Neither Hashem nor Fofana could be reached for comment.

City housing's code enforcement officers had issued multiple citations in 2009 and 2010 for Hashem's business, as well as at least five citations for the Monument Street location in 2010, according to the Health Department's order.

At the hearing, both Hashem and Fofana denied authorizing anyone to distribute fliers and promised to do so only through legal means, according to the order.

Schleter said the two locations passed spot checks by environmental health staff to ensure compliance with the closures. But Joe Di Mattina, a member of the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association, said he was skeptical they would stop as a result of the penalty.

"It's definitely a good thing, and it sends the right message," he said. However, "I don't know if it's strong enough for a business that has been so flagrantly breaking the law for all these years."

He said he and his neighbors, in the area north and east of Patterson Park, would sometimes get fliers as frequently as twice a day in the summer. Nephew's fliers "are the No. 1 contributor to street litter in our neighborhood," Di Mattina said.

He said stopping the flier distribution was important because they end up in the gutters and washing into the bay.

"We're trying to clean up the watershed, and it doesn't help when you're putting 100 fliers from one block into the gutter," he said.

According to Kraft, despite their promises at the January hearing, Nephew's fliers have been distributed illegally since then. He was prepared to pursue criminal charges against Nephew's — unless future violations prompt the Health Department to revoke their license entirely.

"If we all have nice, clean neighborhoods, everyone benefits," Kraft said.

Reporting illegal fliers

To report fliers illegally delivered to homes or placed on auto windshields, residents must call 311 to obtain a service request number. They must write the number on the flier and leave it on or near their front door for a city housing code enforcement officer to collect it.

The 311 online submission form states that in most cases, fliers will be collected within three business days.

Political literature, newsletters and newspapers are exempt from these rules.

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