Downtown street vendors accused JD’s Express of allegedly selling drugs from its location and vandalism at a meeting of the city’s Vending Oversight Committee Wednesday.
Juan Hernandez of Johnny Rockets Hotdogs on Broom St. accused JD’s of illegally setting up a tent alongside their Broom Street location to cover up their alleged weekend drug operation. He said he has noticed drug activity at JD’s since they arrived on Broom Street in 2009 after being removed from Frances Street for illegal operation.
JD’s manager Bryant Jiles, a cousin of the owner, said he had not heard of any drug operation based out of the cart.
“Ain’t no drug dealing going out of here–just steak, burgers and chicken sandwiches,” Jiles said.
Hernandez showed the committee a mobile phone picture of the tent alongside JD’s. He said he has seen customers approach the cart through the tent on late nights, pay a clerk inside the cart and walk away without food. He said he has heard familiar street terms, such as “dimebag,” used during the alleged deals.
“I’ve been on the street before,” Hernandez said. “I know what’s going on there.”
Hernandez said he suspects the tent has been set up to avoid attracting attention from the police.
He told the committee he has contacted Madison police, but they have not been able to provide him with any information about an investigation.
Members of the committee speculated the lack of a police response to Hernandez is because the police could be conducting an undercover investigation into the allegations. Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said the allegations about JD’s are disappointing.
“I hate to say it, but I’m not surprised,” Verveer said.
Verveer added the committee is semi-judicial and will not be able to follow up with Hernandez’s claims. The Vending Oversight Committee cannot do anything to penalize JD’s unless a police report is filed and forwarded to the City Attorney’s office, which can then bring it before the committee for judicial action.
John Handley, owner of FIB’s, also accused JD’s of allegedly damaging his cart while it was sitting in storage at a U-Haul facility on West Washington Avenue. He said he noticed paint from JD’s cart on his own cart the morning of Jan. 13.
Handley then viewed 24-hour security footage of the U-Haul facility and saw the driver of the JD’s trailer back up three to four times before finally backing into the FIB’s cart. He said the collision cost him $150 in damages. He has not yet reported the incident to police.
Jiles said he was not aware of any vandalism by JD’s, but said JD’s sign was recently stolen and parts of the menu posted on the cart were ripped off.
The accusations come after JD’s was found to be in violation of vending ordinances last year. City officials have said they are considering banning late-night vending on Broom Street similar to the ban on Frances Street enacted several years ago.
The committee also discussed banning daytime vending on University Avenue, which would affect For Crepe Sake! at the corner of University and Charter Street, and setting up designated vendor zones on Regent and Monroe Streets during game days.
They cited pedestrian safety as the primary reason for the ban. Committee member Rosemary Lee strongly opposed the University Avenue proposal.
“These are small businesspeople,” Lee said. “This is not fair, whether it’s a craft vendor or a food vendor”.
The proposed ordinance will be considered later in the year.
-Signe Brewster contributed to this report