The Terrorist Who Wasn't

Hollywood's Manny Ebaid struggles to rebound after the War on Terror made him collateral damage.

Ebaid is hesitant to talk about the incident. He wonders if another Arab might have been responsible for his inclusion on the terrorist list. "Sometimes I think it was someone from my own people who said those things about me — a traitor, an Arab," Ebaid says.

As he watches a belly dancer outside Exotic Bites on a recent evening, Rodriguez laughs about the absurdity of Ebaid's ordeal.

"Terrorism?" he says. "If I thought Manny was a terrorist, I'd be the first to put my foot up his ass."

Quintin Cortes Rodriguez helped run the restaurant in his boss' absence.
Colby Katz
Quintin Cortes Rodriguez helped run the restaurant in his boss' absence.
Ebaid works long hours trying to rebuild his business and his reputation.
Colby Katz
Ebaid works long hours trying to rebuild his business and his reputation.

Hollywood Police Detectives Pete Salvo and John Kidd were dressed in street clothes when they sat down at a table at Exotic Bites. According to the police report, it was 2:01 a.m. on February 26, 2005.

Ebaid came up to the two men, introducing himself as Manny. "What would you like to drink?" he asked, handing menus to both men.

The undercover detectives claim that they ordered "an alcoholic beverage" and were served at 2:15 a.m. Exotic Bites wasn't licensed to serve alcohol past 2 a.m.

At the same time, according to the report, "Both detectives observed the defendant, who advised he was the owner, serve at least two subjects, which were identified... to be under the age of 21 years old. Each minor was served a beer."

Three uniformed officers arrived, the report states, and "several minors fled the area." Two were stopped: a 16- and a 17-year-old whose names and gender are not provided in the police report.

Salvo arrested Ebaid for serving alcohol after hours and serving alcohol to minors, both misdemeanors. The charges proved to be bogus. The bust is yet another example of dirty police work on the part of Detective Salvo, whose career at the Hollywood Police Department has been marked by allegations of malfeasance, corruption, and brutality. In his 22 years as a Hollywood lawman, Salvo has been charged three times with contempt of court, been accused of sexual battery and manslaughter, and helped cover up a drug crime to protect a family friend (see "Strong Arm of the Law," September 30, 2004, and "Cop, Judge, and Jury," June 15, 2005). In Ebaid's case, Salvo not only contradicts himself in the police report — his time line allows only one minute for Ebaid to serve alcohol to the detectives and the alleged minors, then be arrested — he could not provide evidence to substantiate the charges.

Without that evidence, the Broward State Attorney's Office was forced to drop the charges. Asked by New Times to look into the case, Tony Rode, a spokesman for the Hollywood Police Department, couldn't explain why the names of the minors were not included in the original report or why Salvo was unable to provide the names later. "Maybe there really weren't any minors," Rode concedes.

But that false arrest was only the beginning of Ebaid's troubles. Hollywood detectives claim that, after detaining Ebaid, they discovered that his name appeared on a federal list of suspected terrorists. But Ebaid doubts that time line.

"They knew in advance they wanted to get me, so they made up this charge of serving alcohol to minors," Ebaid claims today.

Even Rode concedes that this may be true: "Maybe the detectives received a tip that he was on the list before the arrest."

If so, that knowledge would give detectives an incentive to trump up charges to score a major collar: a suspected terrorist.

The story hit the newspapers and television stations the next day. From the first news reports, Ebaid maintained his innocence, claiming that Hollywood police unfairly targeted him because his business — and, specifically, his loud Middle Eastern music — did not fit in with Mayor Giulianti's vision for rapidly changing downtown Hollywood.

"I am not a member of any terrorist group," Ebaid told CBS affiliate WFOR-TV (Channel 4) immediately after his arrest. "I never have been."

A sign was taped to the window of Exotic Bites: "He is not a terrorist and has never been involved in anything that would hurt this country. He loves this country and the people."

Border Patrol officers transferred Ebaid to Krome Detention Facility in Miami, where he was interrogated by Homeland Security agents before being transferred to another detention facility in Arizona as a result of Hurricane Wilma.

"I told [federal officials], 'Take your time, but you are wasting your time, because I am not the one,'" Ebaid says. "There is no devout Muslim who has a belly dancer like I do, with alcohol around. No devout Muslim would allow that. It's just stupid. I don't understand: Why come to me? Why look at me? What did I do? I'm clearly not involved with terrorists.

"I laugh at the whole thing sometimes," he adds. "How can I not? They interrogated me, the Homeland Security agents, asking questions like 'What terrorist organizations are you working with?' I laughed at them!"

Even now, no one admits to knowing how or why Ebaid's name appeared on a terrorism watch list. At the time of his detention, the FBI claimed that it had received a complaint that Ebaid had spoken sympathetically about Osama bin Laden. Even if it were nothing more than a thought crime, Ebaid denies it. What's more, federal officials have never identified the complainant or provided any evidence to establish his or her credibility.

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