Search Results for: sunny sharma


best-grocerySunny Sharma’s Leighton Avenue business, Best Deli & Food Market, was open Monday. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

Federal immigration officials say Red Bank retailer Sunny Sharma remains in their custody and will be deported, but they’re mum on why — and so is his fiancé, who now appears to be running his Leighton Avenue grocery.

Sharma was arrested at his store as a fugitive last Thursday afternoon and  “will be removed from the country,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Harold Ort tells redbankgreen.

Agency privacy rules prohibit the disclosure of any additional information regarding Sharma’s whereabouts or the particulars of his case, Ort says. “Fugitive” can mean several things, including ignoring an immigration court order or illegal re-entry into the U.S., Ort says.

Sharma, who lived in Middletown, is a native of India.

Sharma’s business, Best Deli & Food Market, was open its usual hours on Monday, leaving some neighbors wondering what the scene Thursday was about, when Sharma was reportedly taken out of his store in handcuffs.

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Sunny Sharma, a onetime Red Bank liquor retailer who was stripped of his license for selling booze to minors, has been arrested on an alleged immigration violation, redbankgreen has learned.

Red Bank police confirmed that Sharma was taken into custody at his Leighton Avenue grocery store Thursday afternoon on a warrant by officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Police had no additional information. A spokesman for ICE could not immediately be reached for comment on the reason for the arrest and Sharma’s status.

A witness tells redbankgreen that Sharma was led out of his store in handcuffs.

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SharmaThe shelves of Sunny Sharma's business, once stocked with hard liquor, now carry shaving cream and snacks. Milk and eggs have replaced beer as the products featured on the door. 

Sunny Sharma says he can't catch a break.

It's not a new feeling, certainly. Over the last couple of years, as he battled his Leighton Avenue neighbors and the Red Bank Council in a failed bid to keep his liquor license, Sharma says he's grown accustomed to being treated like a pariah. 

Best DeliBut with the war lost just a month ago and all the booze packed up and shipped out, he had hoped he could quietly turn his attention to the future and start recouping some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that went toward legal fees, not to mention the equity that went up in smoke with the loss of the license.

His plan: turn Best Liquors & Food Mart into Best Deli & Food Mart. Build up a clientele by accepting food stamps for milk, bread and other staples, and supplement revenue by firing up a grill that was used at the store long before he bought the business five years ago.

Already, though, his plan has hit a speedbump, and he smells a rat.

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Pankaj ‘Sunny’ Sharma‘s appeal of Red Bank’s revocation of his Leighton Avenue store’s liquor license wrapped up near Trenton today without a decision, the Asbury Park Press reports.


Moreover, a ruling probably won’t be handed down until summer, and whichever way the ruling breaks, it is likely to be appealed.

As expected, Borough Attorney Tom Hall and Sharma attorney Samuel ‘Skip’ Reale Jr. squared off before Administrative Law Judge Joseph Martone over the town council’s unanimous revocation of Best Liquor’s retail distribution license last June.

But within the hearing was a mini-trial over a set of particular allegations.

From the report:

The majority of the trial consisted of testimony by Red Bank Police Sgt. Eliot Ramos, who arrested Mark Anthony Valdez, who was 18 at the time, and two boys who were then 17 years old, one from Red Bank and one from Middletown, were charged with possession and consumption of alcohol, which they allegedly purchased at the store.

Attorney Samuel “Skip’ Reale Jr., argued that the borough couldn’t prove that an object handed to a clerk in the store wasn’t a fake Pennsylvania driver’s license, which police found in Valdez’s vehicle when they stopped his vehicle after Ramos watch him purchase liquor while on stakeout across the street from Best Liquors.

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It’s crunch time, finally, in the long-delayed effort by Pankaj ‘Sunny’ Sharma to save his West Side liquor store from a shutdown over a handful of violations involving sales to minors and other offenses.

Last June, the Red Bank Borough Council, after a trial-like hearing, voted to yank the retail distribution license of Best Liquors, on Leighton Avenue.

The council hearing followed five municipal court cases involving sales of alcohol to minors; sale of untaxed cigarettes; and employing a person not registered with the borough. Sharma or his agents were either found guilty of or pleaded guilty to all the charges.

Tomorrow, Sharma’s appeal of that decision is scheduled to be heard by a state administrative law judge assigned to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division in Mercerville, near Trenton.

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Red Bank’s effort to shut down Best Liquors on Leighton Avenue won’t go before an administrative law judge until March 5, nine months after the Borough Council voted to yank the store’s license.

Borough Attorney Tom Hall got word of the scheduling from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division by letter yesterday, he tells redbankgreen.

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In a move that embattled Best Liquors owner Sunny Sharma and many of his customers see as a blatant attempt to harass him out of business, the borough of Red Bank painted the curbs at Leighton Avenue and Catherine Street yellow on Tuesday.

Borough officials say the paint job underscores what was already illegal: parking too close to a corner. But Sharma says the move is a thinly disguised attempt to drive away customers by ticketing them for doing something they’ve been doing without police interference for some 80 years.

“I don’t know how they found only one corner in all of Red Bank to paint yellow,” Sharma railed from behind the counter of his store early this afternoon, as a steady stream of customers offered a chorus of supporting comments.

“There’s a school crossing just one block away. They didn’t paint that. They didn’t paint the curb in front of Yogi’s yellow. They didn’t paint the curb in front of On the Rocks yellow,” he said, citing two nearby liquor stores.

“They couldn’t find a legal way to shut us down,” he said, referring to the recent dropped-charges case alleging the sale of beer to a minor. “So now they’re going to harass the customers. Every customer is complaining, ‘what the hell is this shit?'”

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Feeling intense heat as a result of last week’s bust of an employee for the alleged sale of beer to a minor, Best Liquors owner Sunny Sharma broke his months-long silence this morning to defend the employee and his store.

“I do check IDs,” Sharma told redbankgreen. Referring to a security videotape of the July 10 incident involving 19-year-old customer Javier Lopez-Ruiz, which he did not show us, Sharma said, “You can see on the camera that he had a Mexican consul ID, issued by the Mexican embassy. He showed legal ID.”

That’s not what the police report says. Lopez-Ruiz (who police Capt. Steve McCarthy says is a Middletown resident, not a Red Bank one, as previously reported) was arrested, and Best Liquors clerk Balvinder Singh was issued a warrant for selling Lopez-Ruiz a 12-pack of Modelo Especial beer without asking for any proof of age.

The police report said Lopez-Ruiz had no ID in his wallet when he was stopped on his bicycle or on his person when he was searched later. (Download supplemental_charges_and_specifications_71207_with_exhibits_redacted.pdf)

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The front in the battle between the Borough of Red Bank and Best Liquors shifts to Trenton later this month, when the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division will decide “whether there is an overriding public interest” in immediately terminating the store’s liquor license, according to a notice sent to lawyers for each side yesterday.Download 71607_abc_order_scheduling_hearing.pdf

The hearing is scheduled for 10a July 25 at the office of the ABC director. The burden of proof is on the borough, a deputy state attorney general wrote in the notice.

Meantime, store employee Balvinder Singh is due in Red Bank Municipal Court on July 19 to answer a summons for selling beer to a 19-year-old on July 10. The store was under surveillance at the time. Download supplemental_charges_and_specifications_71207_with_exhibits_redacted.pdf

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In a sweeping show of bipartisanship, the Red Bank Borough Council this evening voted not to renew the alcohol distribution license of Best Liquors, the packaged goods store on Leighton Avenue that last year became a hothouse of illegal activity and drew the enduring wrath of its neighbors.

The governing body voted 5-0 against the store on each of six charges that formed the basis of the license hearing. Councilman RJ Bifani, who had an unspecified potential conflict of interest, did not attend hearings in the matter.

Both store owner Sunny Sharma and his antagonists — a group of homeowners living near the intersection of Leighton Ave. and Catherine Street — were surprisingly subdued as the outcome of the case became clear.

The decision not to renew the license, which under normal circumstances would expire June 30, is the first step in what could prove to be a prolonged battle in the courts. Next, the council will draft an resolution to introduce Monday night, at its next regular meeting, calling for the permanent revocation of the store’s liquor license.

A special meeting to vote on the resolution was scheduled for 5p next Thursday. If the measure passes, it would become effective at 11:59p that night.

Store owner Sunny Sharma, however, is expected to appeal to the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission. According to his lawyer, Samuel ‘Skip’ Reale Jr., a former deputy state attorney general, the store will be permitted to continue selling alcohol during the pendency of the appeal.

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By Linda G. Rastelli
In a hearing characterized by polite sparring between lawyers, the Red Bank borough council sat through nearly four hours of testimony in the case against Sunny Sharma and Best Liquors without a decision Tuesday night.

No date was set for a resumption of the hearing, in which the council is sitting in judgment. Mayor Pasquale Menna said he hoped the next installment could be scheduled within 30 days.

Testimony was taken from four witnesses for the borough: a 20-year old Middletown woman who was arrested for illegally buying beer from Best Liquors last year and three police officers involved in arrests or investigations centering on the store at Leighton Avenue and Catherine Street.

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Best Liquors owner Sunny Sharma and an employee of his Leighton Avenue store have each pleaded guilty to one count of selling alcohol to a minor, according to Police Chief Mark Fitzgerald.

But Sharma’s legals woes are far from over. He and a second employee are still contesting two pending charges in Municipal Court proceedings that have been adjourned until Feb. 1. And at some point, Sharma is expected to face off against the Borough Council, which has been making noises about yanking his liquor license in response to a long list of complaints and resolved offenses.

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Elected officials suddenly went into lips-zipped mode on the topic of Best Liquors last night, asking citizens to refrain from discussing or inquiring about the case of the controversial West Side retailer during the public portion of the borough council’s bimonthly meeting.


The reason? To avoid any appearance that the council might have prejudged a hearing, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 6, on whether to revoke or suspend the store’s liquor license for a variety of alleged offenses that have had neighbors demanding a shutdown of the store for months.

That trial-like civil hearing on the status of the store’s liquor license will be prosecuted by Assistant Borough Attorney Thomas Hall, who takes his marching orders from the council. The council itself, several of whose members have openly discussed possible ways to terminate the store’s license, will rule on the matter.

Now, though, Mayor Ed McKenna says council members should stay mum on the subject to avoid giving the impression that the hearing won’t be fair, or give store owner of Sunny Sharma grounds for an appeal should the council rule against him.

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Sunny’s back in biz, and dialing up the charm.

Sunny Sharma of Best Liquors has his store back online after a brief shutdown for fire code violations.

And he’s gone proactive, trying to cool the anger of neighbors who want him shut down.

He’s got his work cut out for himself.

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Sunny Sharma has lost his appeal of Red Bank’s revocation of his license to sell booze through his problem-plagued Best Liquors store on Leighton Avenue, the Asbury Park Press reports this evening.


From the Press:

A decision released today [by Administrative Law] Judge Joseph F. Martone agreed with the borough’s arguments made at a hearing last March.

“It is a victory,” said Mayor Pasquale “Pat “” Menna. “It is not just a west side issue, it is complete town issue. Quality of life is what it’s about.”

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In what could be the start of a long process, Best Liquors’ owner Sunny Sharma has begun appealing his case to the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control division in an effort to block the borough of Red Bank from permanently yanking his liquor license.

Last night, in a session that took less than 10 minutes, the council unanimously passed two resolutions: one to revoke the store’s retail distribution license, and the second, to deny renewal when its two-year term ends at midnight tomorrow.

Last week, the council found Sharma guilty of seven charges, five of which alleged sales to underaged persons.

Those sales were the tipping point that prompted Councilwoman Grace Cangemi to be part of the unanimous revocation vote, she said last night.

“It was too many sales to minors,” she said.

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After six months of delays, the Borough of Red Bank’s administrative law case against Best Liquors will finally happen next Tuesday.

That’s the plan, at least.

At stake for Best Liquors owner Sunny Sharma is his ability to sell beer, wine and liquor at the corner of Leighton Avenue and Catherine Street.

For his residential neighbors, what’s at stake is their ability to get a good night’s sleep and to wake up knowing that tiny airline-style liquor bottles haven’t rained down on their lawns and sidewalks.

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It’s finally on. Four months later than expected, the Borough Council will hold a trial-like hearing Tuesday night to determine the fate of involving Best Liquors, Sunny Sharma’s packaged-goods store that last year became a lightning rod for quality-of-life complaints by its Leighton Avenue neighbors.

At issue: a 38-page raft of charges and evidence involving the sale of loose cigarettes and liquor to minors, all of which have been adjudicated in municipal court with either guilty pleas or convictions (though one of the convictions has been appealed to Superior Court.) Download best_liquors_charges_and_specifications.pdf

The defense: that after several acknowledged lapses, the business has cleaned up its act regarding liquor and booze sales and has done everything possible to ensure that loitering, noise and littering don’t occur on its corner, at Catherine Street.

Potential outcome: the temporary or even permanent lifting of the store’s liquor license.

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The Borough Council’s trial-like hearing on a series of seven allegations against the liquor license of Best Liquors has been postponed for a month, according to today’s Asbury Park Press.

The reason: store owner Sunny Sharma’s hiring of a new lawyer, Mitchell Ansell. Word of the new counsel reached borough officials Monday, and they agreed that Ansell should have time to prepare his defense against the allegations, which include five counts of selling liquor to minors.

From the article:

“The party in the case just reached us and asked us for an adjournment,” Mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. said. “I’d ask we grant that adjournment so we can afford him due process.”

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best-groceryVacant for four years, the shop would get an interior and exterior sprucing up, with a raised-bed vegetable and herb garden out back. (Click to enlarge)



A former West Side building at the center of a long-running controversy involving booze, noise and angry neighbors could become the home of Red Bank’s first take-out-only organic restaurant.

Plans on file with the borough planning office call for a business called Kitch Organic to take over the former home of Best Liquors, at 75 Leighton Avenue – and bring a clean-slate approach to an eyesore building with some bad karma.

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Ross. johnJohn Ross addressing the Red Bank Council last night.

A decision on whether the borough can shut down Best Liquors may not come from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division before the end of February, assistant borough attorney Tom Hall said at Monday night's Red Bank Council session.

And even then, store owner Sunny Sharma still has an another avenue of appeal.

The news added to the frustrations of Leighton Avenue neighbors of the store, who said they had laid off on calling the police over noise, litter and drug violations in recent months only because they thought their ordeal was at last near an end.

"The process just keeps going," said John Ross, whose home faces the West Side liquor store. "At what point do the citizens' rights to a normal life outweigh this guy's rights? We are prisoners to what this man has done," he said, referring to Sharma.

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Here’s a recap of Monday night’s Red Bank Borough Council meeting. (Follow along with the agenda, if you like.)

• Mayor Pasquale Menna accepted a $162,975 dividend payment to the borough from the Central Jersey Health Insurance Fund, the shared-services operation comprised of 20 Monmouth and Ocean county towns and authorities.


The dividend has more than doubled from the $79,000 of just two years ago, and represents improved claims experience, Menna said. It is also the equivalent of a six-percent return on the borough’s annual health insurance premium, he said.

• Menna also accepted a $5,000 donation to the borough in lieu of taxes from the nonprofit Monmouth Boat Club.

• The council gave final and unanimous approval to two ordinances.

One will result in the creation of a four-way stop at the intersection of Bridge Avenue and Chestnut Street.

The other, a planning amendment, permits the use of professional offices by physical, speech and other licensed therapists and real estate brokerages with five or fewer employees. Previously, the list of authorized uses was limited to doctors and dentists, architects, musicians and ministers, among others.

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Tyler_johnReady to serve, he says: John Tyler at borough hall last night.

As expected, the Red Bank Republican organization has nominated John Tyler of Leighton Avenue and two others for the borough council spot vacated by the resignation of John Curley two weeks ago.

The council, led 4-1 by Democrats in the interim, now has 15 days to choose from among the three.

Tyler’s inclusion on the list, with Steve Fitzpatrick and John Giannell, is unsurprising given that he’s already on the GOP council ticket with incumbent Grace Cangemi as the party seeks to hold onto to the little it’s got at the local level. They’ll face Dems Juanita Lewis and Ed Zipprich in November.

Tyler’s on the ticket because of his impressive first-time run for council last year, when he lost a squeaker to Kathleen Horgan.

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Img_8646Councilwoman Grace Cangemi says residents should have warnings before nearby hydrants are flushed, resulting in discolored water flowing through taps.

Some highlights from last night’s bimonthly meeting of the Red Bank council:

TEACHERS OF THE YEAR: In addition to primary school teacher Pat Moss, who was spotlighted here yesterday, this year’s honorees were middle school third-grade teacher Stacy Curcio; third-grade teacher Matt Strippoli of the Red Bank Charter School, and social studies teacher (and Red Bank native) Steve Johnson of Red Bank Regional.

AUDIT: Independent auditor Dave Kaplan gave his annual assessment of the borough’s finances and record-keeping, both of which he finds in good shape, though with four “relatively minor” cautions, one of which centers on the timely approval of council minutes. (Until last night, the borough clerk’s office was more than a year behind in getting the minutes of meetings together; now, the most recent minutes approved are from the July 9, 2007 session.)

Kaplan noted also that tax collections last year slipped a tad, to 97.09 percent from 97.99 percent, which he attributed to economic conditions. “People are just a little slower in paying their taxes,” he said.

BOATS AND CARS: There was a discussion of a request regarding parking on Union Street from the Monmouth Boat Club. As is somewhat common at council meetings, the agenda gave no hint of what the boat club had asked for, and nobody on the council bothered to fill the audience in, but it seemed to involve the removal of or deactivation of parking meters.

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A recent string of burglaries and shootings in Red Bank evoked mixed reactions at a West Side Community Group neighborhood watch meeting last night, with some residents praising police efforts and others saying they feel unsafe.


“I was born and raised here. I never felt vulnerable before,” said Connie Festa Aparicio, owner of Salon 340 on Shrewsbury Avenue, who said her Catherine Street home was burglarized this week. “I don’t know how to protect my home and business.”

“My block has turned into a tenement situation,” she said. “I was gone for two hours and I was hit. It took them 10 minutes. The neighbors called (police), but he jumped off the roof (before they got there). It’s scary.”

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