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Officials 'Strongly Believe' Rogers Park Fire Was Arson, Ald. Moore Says

By Linze Rice | January 12, 2016 11:46am | Updated on January 12, 2016 1:38pm
 Police tape cordoned the building off as of 11 a.m. Monday as investigators continue to search for the cause of the fire.
Police tape cordoned the building off as of 11 a.m. Monday as investigators continue to search for the cause of the fire.
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DNAinfo/Linze Rice

ROGERS PARK — An extra-alarm fire in a Rogers Park apartment building that injured seven firefighters and left some units uninhabitable is now being investigated by Chicago Police as "criminal," according Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

Moore said Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago updated him Tuesday morning with news that the fire may have been fueled by a possible accelerant found on the wall of a stairwell that collapsed during the blaze, injuring a firefighter.

"They strongly believe it was arson," Moore said.

Samples from the wall were sent to two labs that will test them and have results in about two-three weeks, Moore said.

In the meantime, investigators with the police's arson and bomb squad are continuing to look for clues, including video that may have captured anything suspicious. On Monday afternoon, the state fire marshal's K-9 unit was on site at the complex.

The building's owner has a long history of legal issues with the city, and the building at 1700-08 W. Estes Ave., where the fire occurred, has been cited 39 times in the past 10 years.

But Moore said those "were not an egregious number" of violations had nothing to do with Monday's fire.

The building is registered to Cameel Halim, the agent for CH Ventures, LLC and Wilmette Real Estate & Management, LLC.

Court records show Halim and his various real estate corporations have been sued dozens of times in Cook County civil and chancery courts in the past 24 years, including by the city of Chicago for building and environmental violations.

In November 2011, the courts ruled in favor of Centerpoint Energy Services, Inc., which was seeking $1.7 million from natural gas supplied to Halim's rental properties.

In the suit, the energy provider alleged Halim moved funds from Wilmette Real Estate & Management's account to he and his wife's personal account in order to avoid paying the judgment. The energy provider argued many of Halim's rental property corporations were "shell corporations."

Records show Halim and his wife have contributed at least $21,301 to Moore since March of 2000 citing various corporations as their employer — including Wilmette Real Estate & Investment, Wilmette Real Estate, W R Property Management LLC, Wilmette Real Estate & Management and CH Ventures LLC.

Moore said the contributions were all "perfectly legal" and never provided Halim any extra advantages or benefits.

"The building has been a campaign contributor, as have many people," Moore said. "Arson is a very serious crime, so I can imagine the residents should be very rattled by it — more than rattled even, very concerned, we all should be concerned. But I don't know if that has anything to do with the fact the owner of the building is giving campaign contributions. ... There is no evidence that the owner has received favored treatment."

The fire didn't cause any injuries among residents or claim any lives, but Moore said 16 units were affected by the fire, with seven being left completely uninhabitable.

His office, along with the Chicago Red Cross, Rogers Park Builders Group and other community resources, were currently working on ways to determine the needs of the displaced and organize donation drop-offs.

Organizations like the Rogers Park Builders Alliance are trying to potentially help place the seven families, many of whom are of immigrant and refugee status, in alternative housing situations, Moore said.

His office has also been in contact with both New Field and Eugene Field elementary schools, who say some of their students live in the building and were affected by the fire.

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