Lawmakers with both parties started looking closer Friday at Delaware’s business registration practices after the discovery that accused terrorists set up shop in a Dover Mall kiosk without direct city, county or state permits or approvals.
The state’s top tax officer was unable to find any sign of Abror Habibov’s I Cell Fix in the Division of Revenue’s license database. The agency plans a check of other such sites at Dover Mall, along with a wider reminder to host sites like malls that they need to verify permit compliance when they open doors to vendors.
As recently as Monday, a terror group based in Africa threatened attacks on malls in the United States, Canada and other Western countries, although the Department of Homeland Security said there was no credible threat.
Habibov and two others were accused by the Justice Department on Tuesday of using the Dover cellphone-repair kiosk and others from Florida to Philadelphia to advance their goal of helping finance overseas terrorism, including activities of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
“My first question would be to ask what the requirements are now,” for identifying business operators, said Rep. John L. Mitchell Jr., D-Elsmere, who chairs the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. “Obviously, if there are not a whole lot of requirements to come in and set up shop in these malls, I would think it’s something we’re going to have to address.”
A city official said separately that Dover had no record of the company in its business-permit files either, but added that Dover Mall purchases what are effectively 17 blank permits each year, without city confirmation of their eventual use.
“I’m not sure, but we’ll probably have to have more discussions and figure out if there’s a way that could be tightened up,” said Dover Assistant City Manager Kirby A. Hudson. “Here we have somebody who could have been a terrorist operating or trying to operate a business here. How does the city safeguard itself from something like that happening again?”
A Justice Department document named Habibov, a citizen of Uzbekistan, as the operator of cellphone repair and memorabilia kitchenware kiosks in malls from Philadelphia to Florida. He and the other two suspects charged all were identified as Brooklyn residents. Habibov was arrested in Florida.
Court documents did not mention Delaware, but Dover Police officials confirmed Thursday that they had been told about the investigation, and that Habibov had a residence in the Dover area. State court records show he was sued for back rent at Dover Country Club apartments late last year.
The Dover company also was not listed among companies that had secured a required Kent County permit.
“Would that have meant that some kind of flag would have gone up, especially in this day and age of what ISIS are and others are fomenting around the world?” asked Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover. “I don’t know what the answer is, but I think it’s a very fair and legitimate question.”
Division of Revenue Director Patrick T. Carter said that auditors routinely make trips to check businesses for prominent display of licenses. He noted business counts can surge at times like Easter, when outdoor sites pop up along roads everywhere.
Carter said compliance would be checked at Dover Mall as early as Monday.
“As far as we can tell, there is no entity” connected with Habibov on record, Carter said. “We ask that places like the Dover Mall and Christiana Mall make sure that anybody that does business there has an active license.”
Dover Mall Manager Gregory Eroe directed questions to Ryan & Ryan, a public relations firm contracted by Simon Properties. Company President Kevin Ryan did not respond to emails sent late Friday afternoon.
Bob Older, president of Delaware’s Small Business Chamber of Commerce, described unlicensed businesses as “a big problem” statewide.
Sen. Gregory Lavelle, R-Sharpley, said caution would be needed before imposing new restrictions on businesses.
“Then again, I think getting some people together to talk about it with open minds isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
Reporter Scott Goss contributed to this story.
Contact Jeff Montgomery at (302) 463-3344 or email@example.com.
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