Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Operator of neighboring eatery indicted in Pizza Man arson Suspect's Black and White Café opened about a year before fire
By John Diedrich of the Journal Sentinel
May 10, 2011
A grand jury in Milwaukee indicted the owner of the Black and White Café on Tuesday in connection with a January 2010 fire that destroyed the building housing the well-known Pizza Man restaurant on the city's east side.
Feras Rahman, 27, of Milwaukee was indicted on counts of arson resulting in injury, arson to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and lying, according to the indictment. The fire caused more than $3 million in damage.
The cafe, a counter-service restaurant, opened next door to Pizza Man in January 2009. The fire began in the Black and White Café, fire investigators have said.
Rahman faces a minimum of 17 years in prison if convicted on the arson counts alone, according to U.S. Attorney James Santelle. Convictions on the other counts could add more prison time.
In a statement, Santelle commended the investigation involving federal, state and local law enforcement.
"Their focus on and attention to this matter since the time of the arson, along with the work of federal and county prosecutors, reflects our commitment to pursue aggressively violent crimes of all types - not only to ensure the safety and well-being of our community but also to discourage those who might otherwise be inclined to engage in highly destructive behaviors of this sort," Santelle said.
Fred Milanowski, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said in a statement, "The potential loss of life of building occupants, responding law enforcement or fire service personnel is what makes arson such a violent crime. We are very fortunate that no one was killed as a result of this senseless act."
Deanna Amidzich, co-owner of Pizza Man, which will not reopen, said justice was served by the indictment.
"What they did could have killed many people, and it did destroy many lives," said Amidzich, adding one of her former employees lost his home because the fire left him unemployed.
Amidzich said sorting out the insurance has been difficult. She and her husband have been saved by what had been a side business, a pre-mixed margarita and tequila brand called Stinky Gringo.
"No one is truly prepared for this," she said.
Rahman is not in custody. He is expected to appear by summons in the near future, according to his attorney, federal public defender Daniel Stiller. Stiller said his client plans to plead not guilty.
"From the time of the fire until the time of the indictment, Mr. Rahman has professed his innocence," Stiller said. "These cases are scary because unless Mr. Rahman started this fire, he is a victim of this fire. His not-guilty plea casts him in the role of the victim."