The Boston Licensing Board decides Thursday whether to give the listed owner of New York Fried Chicken on River Street in Cleary Square a couple of months to get his affairs in order and sell the take-out place or whether he has to shut down immediately because he's agreed to plead guilty to federal tax-evasion and immigration fraud charges.
Riaz Ali Shah of Brockton agreed to plead guilty to the charges in March. A month later, Hazrat Khalid Khan of Middletown, NY, whom authorities say was secretly the majority owner of the eatery - along with numerous other fried-chicken outlets in Boston - agreed to plead guilty to the same charges.
On Thursday, the licensing board will consider whether Shah's plea deal - and the fact that Khan was never listed on any of the business's records - warrant lifting his license. The board can rescind licenses held by convicted individuals or for which there are secret owners.
Shah's attorney, William Cintolo, argued at a licensing-board hearing this morning that that his criminal status - including possible prison time and eventual deportation back to his native Pakistan - won't actually take effect until at least some time in December. A judge in US District Court in Boston is scheduled to decide on the plea agreement in November; Shah would then have a month to appeal the decision.
"Technically, he is not a felon," he said.
Board Chairwoman Christine Pulgini, however, said she will have to look at "the totality" of the evidence against Shah, which includes the fact that he agreed, with a different lawyer, to plead guilty.
Last August, Shah signed an agreement with the US Attorney's office in Boston on a proposed plea deal - that includes restitution of $150,000 - that states:
Defendant expressly and unequivocally admits that he committed the crimes charged in the Information, did so knowingly and willfully, and is in fact guilty of those offenses.
In their plea agreements, Shah and Khan agreed that they under reported revenue and paid workers in cash to reduce the amount they owed in federal taxes.
ICE, the FBI and Boston Police detectives raided New York Fried Chicken in 2013 in search of tax records, after watching Khan for several years. According to an affidavit by an ICE agent, the criminal investigation and plea agreement put the kibosh on Shah's pending citizenship application.
Cintolo, whose past clients have included former House Speaker Sal DiMasi during his corruption trial, pleaded for the board to hold off a couple of months because he is new to Shah's case and wants to help him at least get something out of the business by selling it.
Most of the money from any sale would probably go to the government, anyway, Cintolo said. Pulgini noted that food-service licenses aren't transferable in the same way as liquor licenses - there is no limit on their numbers. Any such sale might require the approval of the US Attorney's office, under the statement Shah signed.
Cintolo suggested Shah was more of a dupe than an active participant in a criminal activity. "He doesn't understand English well or the nature of how business is conducted in the United States," he said, adding Khan's method of business was to buy chicken places, put others up as front men, and then keep most of the profits."
Khan did not attend the hearing.