'Hero' deli owner warned about paraphernalia sales
Authorities warned Shirley deli owner Mohammad Sohail about his alleged illegal sale of drug paraphernalia months before his store was raided this week, officials said Thursday. Sohail, heralded Tuesday as a hero for his act of mercy toward a would-be robber, is among the owners of seven Brookhaven and Huntington shops who face penalties for allegedly selling pipes, bongs and hookahs. The man locals call "Mo" said he hopes the civil charges won't harm his reputation. "I don't want to be a zero. I still want to be a hero," he said. A Tuesday night raid on Sohail's business, which ended in the seizure of more than a dozen pipes and bongs, came at the end of a day when national media reports hailed the deli owner. On May 21, he gave $40 and a loaf of bread to a robber cowering after Sohail pulled out a rifle, an encounter captured in a surveillance video. Undercover investigators purchased drug equipment from Sohail three times this year after making clear they were interested in doing drugs, Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said Thursday. The purchases came after authorities asked Sohail, whose store is about a mile from William Floyd High School, to hide the merchandise from children, Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) said. She said the request was made about six months ago, around the time Sohail opened the Shirley Express Convenience store on William Floyd Parkway. Sohail faces a fine of up to $30,000 and is scheduled to appear in court on June 10, Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko said. Sohail said he did not realize the sale of pipes and bongs could be illegal. He added he had a sign on the glass cabinet where he displayed them: "Pipe use for tobacco." Sohail said his total inventory of pipes and bongs was worth about $600. While acknowledging Sohail's kindness as "a nice thing to do at the time," Browning added, "But I know who he is, I know what he was doing. No sympathy for him." State law allows store owners to sell bongs and pipes, but the sale becomes illegal if the buyer expresses an interest in doing drugs, Spota said. On one occasion, an undercover officer told Sohail, "I've got some great weed that's going to go great in that bong," Spota said. Sohail's conversation with undercover officers made clear he knew he was selling drug paraphernalia, Spota said. "While I may respect the fact that he did something courageous on one occasion, I am absolutely convinced that he was violating the general business law," Spota said.