Judge Wants Imam to Prove He's Fixing NJ Buildings

September 15, 2010 - 6:20 PM

(AP) - The imam who wants to build a mosque near New York City's ground zero has until Thursday afternoon to produce documents that prove he is fixing alleged violations at two apartment buildings he owns in northern New Jersey.

A judge told a lawyer for Feisal Abdul Rauf during a hearing Wednesday to submit the documents. The hearing was prompted by a complaint filed by Union City, a community just outside the Lincoln Tunnel.

But state Superior Court Judge Thomas Olivieri denied Union City's request to have a court-appointed monitor oversee the property, which the city says is riddled with serious code violations that haven't been addressed, in some cases for years. But the judge said he would revisit the request Sept. 23 after the city has had time to review Rauf's submissions.

Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, "have been under a lot of stress," attorney Tomas Espinosa said after the hearing. "They will prove to be honorable people when the final decisions of the court are made," he added.

Espinosa said he had not had direct contact with Rauf since the complaint was filed Monday but had been in touch with Khan. Neither attended the hearing, and Rauf did not answer the phone at his home in neighboring North Bergen. He has not commented on the complaint.

The 96-page complaint alleges Rauf failed to fix 12 fire code violations the year before a 2008 fire in one of his buildings, and that instead of repairing the 32-unit building he boarded it up and kept residents from moving back in.

The complaint also details violations in the second, 16-unit building, including bed bugs, improper garbage disposal and broken fire alarms and smoke detectors. The building's gas and electricity were shut off recently due to unpaid bills and were only turned back on when city officials appealed to the utility company, Union City attorney Christine Vanek said.

The fire alarm system in the building is still faulty, the complaint claims, which has forced the city to pay a police officer to be outside the building at all times on a fire watch.

"Why should the city have to provide the mechanism to safeguard the tenants?" Vanek asked the judge.

Espinosa told Olivieri that a company had been retained to fix some of the problems and had amassed "a big file" of documents showing what work was under way or planned.

Olivieri scolded Espinosa for not producing any of the documents Wednesday. When Espinosa said Rauf had been busy in New York and he'd had trouble meeting with him, the judge replied tartly, "Mr. Espinosa, that's over the river. You're acting like it's another universe. It's not that difficult."