LEWISTON — Federal agents raided a local grocer Friday, apparently serving the owner with a search warrant.
Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement converged on the Bartlett Street store and stayed for about four hours, arriving shortly before 10 a.m. and leaving shortly before 2 p.m.
Agents packed up about eight boxes of evidence from A & R Halal Market and hauled them out to the back seat of an unmarked car, a black Chevrolet Impala with Massachusetts license plates.
An agent whose windbreaker identified him as a member of the Criminal Investigation Division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury said he had driven to Lewiston on Thursday night and stayed overnight at a local hotel.
An unidentified federal agent carried a computer hard drive and printer to his unmarked Impala police car, also with Massachusetts plates, and drove away.
Lewiston police said a call came in for a security alarm at the 199 Bartlett St. address and that local police cleared the call.
A local locksmith was at the scene, along with an unidentified woman who was equipped with what appeared to be a power drill, a portable generator and other equipment, but both left before noon. Local police said federal agents had requested a local cruiser at the scene but said they didn't know any details of the raid.
A woman who said she was planning to open an Ethiopian restaurant next door said the apparent owner of the market, identified by acquaintances as Ali Hassan Haji, had owned the business for about eight years. Calls to Haji's phone were not returned.
Haji arrived at the store late morning and met with agents there before leaving for a local mosque. He returned to the store later in the day. The vehicle he drove, a black Nissan Xterra, was registered to Roda Abdi of Lewiston.
Abdi was referenced in Sun Journal stories as the owner of the market in 2003. She told reporters at that time that she imported goat meat from as far away as Philadelphia because no Maine farmers slaughtered goats according to Muslim Halal rules. Those rules include calming the animals before slaughter, using a sharp knife to cut the animal's throat and saying a prayer to Allah at the moment of the animal's death.
A man who identified himself as a former worker at the store said he had seen the store's owner cutting up chickens and goats in an adjacent garage with a band saw.
During Friday's raid, a meat supplier showed up at the Bartlett Street market with a delivery of chicken, beef and goat meat. Agents turned away the delivery. Police also turned away customers throughout the day.
An officer who appeared to be from the Maine Department of Agriculture's Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations showed up at the store shortly after noon.
The 6,098-square-foot lot and the fifth-acre lot next door are owned by a local corporation, "199-215 Bartlett Street LLC." They were purchased jointly in March 2004, sold by Future Capital Group LLC.
The Bartlett Street site has three addresses listed there, belonging to R. Abdi, the Arhalal Market and Rahima Youssuf.
A call to Abdi on Friday was not returned.
A woman driving a Honda SUV with Maine registration COOKN also entered the store and met with agents.
After agents left the store, Haji locked the door and left. A group of men who said they knew him gathered next door at the soon-to-be-open restaurant. They said agents served Haji with a search warrant after he arrived to find them at the store. The men said they didn't know what was written on the warrant.
All questions were referred to the Portland office of U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby, who said Friday evening she had no comment.