Thursday, May 12, 2011
Pizza Man Fire Difficult To Solve
Investigation Took 16 Months
Brendan Conway, WISN 12 News Reporter
MILWAUKEE -- As the iconic Pizza Man restaurant burned in January 2010, the immediate concern was putting it out and keeping it from spreading, but once the flames were extinguished the investigation began.
Experts from Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee Fire Department, the state Department of Justice and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives combed the debris and determined it was arson, but it wasn't until this week, nearly a year and a half later that Feras Rahman was indicted.
Greg West, the dean of fire and EMS training at Waukesha County Technical College, said arson cases are tricky to pin down.
"It's not like 'CSI' where you wrap it up in an hour," West said.
One of the big problems with large fires, West said, is the flames often consume much of the evidence and what is gathered has to be tested and then pieced together.
He said that can take a lot of time.
"It's your job to find the proverbial needle in a haystack," said West.
Rahman is accused of starting the fire to collect the insurance on his cafe, which burned down along with the Pizza Man and two other businesses.
Prosecutors have not said how they think the fire started, but WISN 12 News has learned a specially trained dog discovered the source, meaning an accelerant was likely used.
In an exclusive interview the day after the fire, Rahman denied knowing about thing it.
"We have no idea. Nobody knows, not yet," Rahman said in January 2010.
West said cases like this should be a warning to any would be arsonist.
"You might get away with it for a while, but eventually it will catch up to you," West said.
Rahman is not in custody. His first court appearance is set for next Thursday morning.
Read more: http://www.wisn.com/news/27862137/detail.html#ixzz1MANAAVh5
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
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."
Friday, May 6, 2011
By Evan Rytlewski
"We lost everything overnight," says Deanna Amidzich of the January 2010 four-alarm fire that destroyed Pizza Man, the historic East Side restaurant she owned with her husband, Mike. In the aftermath of the fire, which had been deliberately set at a neighboring North Avenue restaurant, the couple scouted new locations to rebuild the restaurant while refocusing their attention on their other business, Stinky Gringo—a line of pre-mixed margaritas and tequila based on the margaritas they had served at Pizza Man.
"It was a margarita that everybody always liked," Amidzich says. "We would make batches for friends and family and people would keep saying, 'There's nothing like this on the market; you need to bottle this.' So we did, as a pie-in-the-sky venture. We produced our first bottle on April Fools' Day 2004."
That gambit is now Amidzich's full-time job. Once only available at local retailers, the company's products are now carried in more than 20 states, five of which have been added since this January, and the company is expecting that rapid growth to continue. Last year Stinky Gringo produced 27,000 cases of margaritas, a number it plans to double this year.
The brand's appeal is obvious: At 36 proof, Stinky Gringo's are easily the strongest pre-mixed margaritas on the market, far more potent than the 20 proof of most pre-mixed margaritas. In addition to more booze for the buck, Stinky Gringo's margaritas are made from pure tequila, unlike cheaper brands that cut their mixes with wine or grain alcohol.
"The reason we're going so fast is that consumers are getting more educated on what they're drinking," Amidzich says. "We've been doing tastings wherever we can, and we have a growing cult following on Facebook."
The Amidziches say Stinky Gringo is now their main concern. After talks of reopening Pizza Man in a new location fell through and Mike was hospitalized with a stress-related illness this year, the couple decided fate was telling them to retire from the restaurant business.
"We've met with a few people who are interested in purchasing the Pizza Man recipes, name and rights, but as far as going through the hell of operating a restaurant ourselves, those days are over," Amidzich says. "Right now I'm having way more fun selling hooch and watching this business really come into fruition."