- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2012

During the past three years, northern Columbia Heights resident Cecilia Jones estimates, she has tracked more than 1,200 criminal cases through the D.C. court system, but lenient jail sentences handed down in drug-related cases have frustrated her the most.

So when a neighborhood store owner was indicted in February on drug distribution charges, she wanted to give residents a way to speak out against the drug dealing that has plagued the Northwest Washington corridor for decades. Through an online petition, she collected 441 signatures as of Tuesday in favor of revoking the liquor license of indicted D.C. Fish Carryout owner Suk “Bruce” In Hyun.

“Often the property crime is driven by the drug trade,” said Ms. Jones, president of the Northwest Columbia Heights Community Association. “I would like the drug cases to get more aggressive treatment.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Hyun is due both in D.C. Superior Court and before the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in relation to the charges. At the ABC Board hearing, members could suspend or revoke Mr. Hyun’s license.

Mr. Hyun, of Centreville, and two other men were charged with two counts of distribution of cocaine after undercover Metropolitan Police Department officers bought crack inside the D.C. Fish Carryout on two occasions, according to reports from both police and the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.

Convicted felons are not allowed to hold liquor licenses, said ABRA Director Fred Moosally.

As of Tuesday, D.C. Fish Carryout remained open. From behind the register in his small, cramped convenience store, Mr. Hyun, 53, declined to comment on the case. According to court records, Mr. Hyun has rejected a plea agreement offered by prosecutors and is fighting the charges. His attorney could not be reached.

Court and ABRA documents describing the police investigation state that in December 2011, undercover MPD officers approached 43-year-old Craig McKoy, now a co-defendant in the case, and asked about buying crack. He led them into the D.C. Fish Carryout, gave Mr. Hyun $1, and the store owner made a phone call.

A short time later, 24-year-old Timothy Diablo Hill, also a co-defendant in the case, arrived inside the store and handed the drugs to the undercover officers.

During a second buy, the officers noticed that Mr. Hyun appeared to be looking through a phone list while he made several calls.

In early February, when officers conducted a search in the store, they confiscated various small packages of synthetic marijuana, known as K2.

But because Mr. Hyun has not been convicted, some neighbors would rather the ABC Board delay any judgment on the fate of his liquor license until his criminal proceedings are complete.

“If he’s ever convicted, I will get behind the petition,” said Vickey Wright-Smith, a resident who lives a few blocks from the store. “But we could have ruined that man’s business, and I’m not willing to get behind that.”

Many who signed the public petition describe witnessing blatant drug transactions made in front of the D.C. Fish Carryout on 14th Street, just a few blocks north of the DC USA shopping center.

Ms. Wright-Smith said she agrees that the area has long had drug problems, but she said they predate Mr. Hyun. She recalled that he opened his store shortly after she moved to the neighborhood in 1988.

“I understand their frustration. I live on a block where drug dealing seems to happen 24 hours a day and no one can seem to get those guys,” she said. “Let’s let the criminal case play out, and if he is convicted, then he has no reason to hold a license.”

However, with the ABC hearings taking place before the criminal case is resolved, Ms. Jones said residents have to speak up now or risk not having a voice.

“If you wait, you can miss your window of opportunity,” she said.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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