Brooklyn, N.Y., hot dog vendor Shawki Eldin, right, was hit with 12 Health Department violations in 2012, including dirty equipment and the absence of a required sink for hand-washing, city records say.
This number is truly sickening — scofflaw street food vendors, who ignore New York City fines and cleanliness all the same, owe the city more than $ 7 million.
Since 2010, Health Department violations issued to food cart vendors for assorted disgusting infractions have resulted in $ 10.8 million in assessed fines — but only about $ 3.5 million of that total has actually been collected, according to city records obtained by the Daily News.
Even more de-appetizing, many of the vile vendors who haven’t paid up are still hawking questionable eats on city streets.
“That’s obviously a problem,” Deputy City Health Commissioner Daniel Kass said.
So much so that the recently approved city budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year allocates $ 580,000 for a seven-lawyer squad that will be tasked with tracking down scofflaw vendors.
The scofflaws include Shawki Eldin, a Brooklyn hot dog seller who owes $ 7,480 in outstanding fines for violations that include use of dirty equipment, failure to keep his hands clean and leaving raw food out in the open.
Shawki Eldin Eldin moved his hot dog cart from downtown Brooklyn, N.Y., to Prospect Park and has not paid $ 19,030 in fines levied by the Health Department, according to city records.
“The officers never treat me well,” said the 52-year-old Egyptian immigrant, who has racked up 12 violations since the start of 2012. “They are just targeting me because they know I’m an immigrant and can’t afford to fight them.”
Eldin was repeatedly inspected and fined while hawking weiners in downtown Brooklyn, but he has recently moved his cart to the front of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza in an effort to escape city inspectors.
“I barely make $ 100 a day and they just charge me for anything they want,” he added. “I have to send money to my family in Egypt as well, so it’s hard.”
Many of the worst scofflaw vendors switch their business names, illegally lease out their carts, or use other schemes to avoid paying their bills.
Last year, the city Health Department issued 7,124 fines to sidewalk food vendors for violations that run the gamut of gross — bugs in the grub, working with grimy hands or storing food at improper temperatures, records show. There are also fines for violations that won’t make consumers ill, such as posting permits in the wrong place or having too large a cart. The fines can run up to $ 500.
The violation issued most often — 1,093 times — was for food stored in an adjacent cooler or in a container stashed on the sidewalk.
Brooklyn, N.Y., street food vendor Shawki Eldin holds a pretzel. Hopefully, it’s one he’s eating himself instead of serving without gloves, since the Health Department says he’s been fined for failing to keep his hands clean and other violations.
“I don’t think coolers are a threat to anyone,” said Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project, an advocacy group. “I’ve never tripped on one.”
The second most-common violation, issued 659 times, was for carts being run without permits. Third on the list, with 557 citations, was for vendors operating without a license.
The city often confiscates unlicensed carts but, as the records reveal, fines for skirting the law are rarely paid.
“When there are people operating without a license or a permit, we don’t always know who they are,” Kass admitted.
But Basinski argued that vendors aren’t paying the fines because they simply can’t afford them — as Eldin’s example illustrates.
“The city could collect more money by lowering the fines,” he argued.
In addition to paying lawyers to take up the hunt for scofflaws, the city is moving to hold permit-holders more accountable. Starting this fall, fines issued to vendors who are hired to run a cart that is owned by a permit-holder will ultimately be charged to the permit-holder, officials say.
“The hope is it will lead to better supervision and that it will increase compliance,” Kass said, noting that permits will not be renewed if there are outstanding fines.