A Belleville convenience store owner recruited people to steal baby formula from other stores and then stocked it at his own business, according to testimony Thursday from a detective.
The detective gave the testimony at a Belleville liquor commission hearing, which was called to determine whether Sammy’s Market can regain its liquor license.
The detective testified the store owner is under investigation on allegations of possessing stolen baby formula and money laundering, but the shopkeeper so far has not been charged with any crimes.
Ehssan “Sammy” Hamdan’s attorney, Jack Kloess of Belleville, said Hamdan would not testify in response to the allegations about money laundering and stolen baby formula under his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself.
They stated they were provided a shopping list from Sammy himself and what Enfamil products to go out and steal. They gave me a detailed explanation of the products they were given, how much they are paid by Mr. Hamdan for those products and other items that he requested they go out and steal.
Belleville Detective Shane Brown
However, Hamdan did take the stand to deny he threatened local barbecue restaurant owner Scott Muir, who testified he thought Hamdan had threatened him not to testify against the shopkeeper. Muir, who owns the Righteous Pig restaurant downtown, lives near Hamdan’s store located at 530 N. Douglas Ave. and often shopped there.
Mayor Mark Eckert, who also serves as the city’s liquor commissioner, said he would issue a ruling Friday on whether Hamdan can keep his liquor license, which was suspended last month.
Hamdan and Kloess declined to comment after the hearing Thursday.
Belleville Detective Shane Brown testified he spoke to two persons who were arrested June 30 at Walmart in connection with an earlier theft of baby formula at the store.
“They stated they were provided a shopping list from Sammy himself and what Enfamil products to go out and steal,” Brown said. “They gave me a detailed explanation of the products they were given, how much they are paid by Mr. Hamdan for those products and other items that he requested they go out and steal.”
Brown said the two persons would receive $3, $5 or $6 for a container of baby formula. He said the containers usually are valued at $18 to $32.
Hamdan, 23, was taken into custody but then released after two search warrants were obtained in late June and early July, Brown said.
Kloess indicated in his cross-examination questions of Brown that Hamdan’s liquor license should not have been revoked merely because Hamdan was taken into custody.
“The point is, at this point today, Mr. Hamdan sits here and he only has been arrested, no charges have been filed against him and that’s the whole issue,” Kloess said.
City Attorney Garrett Hoerner said the fact that Hamdan has not been charged was not a significant issue for the purposes of the liquor license hearing.
Brown said baby formula and other items were seized during a raid at Sammy’s Market.
“We recovered multiple coupon receipts and other items that were consistent with the money laundering portion of that investigation,” Brown testified.
The baby formula containers had markers on them that they are only for sale at Schnucks, he said.
But Kloess noted that just because the baby formula had the Schnucks marker on it doesn’t mean that the container was stolen.
“Are you aware of any law that prevents Mr. Hamdan, or any other licensed shop owner in Belleville or in the state of Illinois, from selling an item that has the label on it?” Kloess asked Brown.
Brown replied he did not.
Kloess handed Brown a container of Enfamil.
“So the fact that I have it today, does that mean I’m guilty of possession of stolen property?”
Hoerner then said: “I’m going to object unless Mr. Kloess is trying to sell it to him.”
Eckert told Kloess that Brown made it clear that the investigation is ongoing.
Kloess ended his line of questioning about the marked containers by saying, “This doesn’t have any, as far as I’m concerned, any legal effect on anything.”
Hamdan’s commercial occupancy license also has been pulled by the city but this revocation was not addressed during the liquor license hearing on Thursday.