Two years after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents swarmed the Phoenician Stone shop in the 3000 block of East Coast Highway, the investigation continues, an ICE spokeswoman said in an email.
“The investigation remains active and ongoing,” said Lori K. Haley, an ICE spokeswoman. “(I)t is not at all unusual for complex investigations to take a great deal of time.”
On Aug. 3, 2010, ICE investigators spent hours at the shop, taking over part of a neighboring tire business parking lot, using saws, forklifts and crates for items they were seizing. At the time, investigators said the agents were serving a search warrant but declined to elaborate because the investigation was ongoing.
Owner Joe Sage broke a two-year silence on the raid, telling Corona del Mar Today that he still is clueless as to what caused the agents to storm into his shop.
“We opened up our store and were doing our regular business work, and all of a sudden, 10 to 15 ICE agents came in with their arms drawn up, guns pointed at us,” Sage said in a telephone interview. “They yelled, ‘Get on the floor! Get on the floor!’”
They then handcuffed Sage and an employee for about 15 minutes, taking off the cuffs only after Sage complained that he was embarrassed because he was in plain sight of passersby.
“We didn’t expect something like that to happen,” he said. “It was like a movie.”
Soon the agents told him he was free to go, he said. Later he went to his bank to get money for lunch and learned that his account was frozen, and eventually, he said, federal agents took $1.5 million from his bank account, as well as most of his inventory from his Corona del Mar shop, another shop in Los Angeles and a warehouse. Agents also took items from a safe, including personal house papers and cash, as well as computers, he said.
“Why, we have no idea still,” he said. When he and his lawyer have asked, they have been told that the investigation is ongoing and the warrant is sealed.
“Whatever that means,” he said. Sage declined to name his lawyer.
As a result, Sage said, he has lost his business and been forced to sell his two homes. He moved from the area, he said.
“We’re still in shock,” he said. I thought that you were innocent until proven guilty. It didn’t end up like that for us. We have lost everything. That American dream we once had is gone. For no apparent reason.”
For a few months after the raid, Sage salvaged and sold what inventory he could and has been trying to find work.
“You keep going,” he said. “You live.”
The Phoenician Stone shop opened in Corona del Mar in 2004. After the raid, Sage said he heard rumors. Were the raids tied to importing goods from the Mediterranean? Were they connected to his Lebanese background?
The shop had sold stone mantles, columns, fountains and other decorative items and was very successful, Sage said, supplying fixtures to many luxury homes in Newport Coast and Crystal Cove.
“It’s sad that you don’t even know what happened,” he said. “I wish they’d tell us.”
Haley did not reply to an email seeking comment on Sage’s interview.