Christine Haughney covers corruption and criminal behavior as part of the Zero Point Zero Production series Food Crimes.
An ice cream truck driver who allegedly attacked a rival street-food vendor with a baseball bat in a dispute over a coveted street corner in New York City is no longer facing jail time.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office has dropped all charges against John Cicero, the operator of a New York Ice Cream truck whose publicized altercation last spring cast an unsettling spotlight on the dicey side of the street-food business in the city.
On May 12, Cicero reportedly got into a fight with Reda Elbendary, who works at the Abdo Afandinaa Halal Food Stand on the northeast corner of 54th Street and Fifth Avenue. According to court papers, Cicero hit Elbendary over the head twice “with a stick like object” and also threatened Elbendary with a knife. The attack took place in such a public area that local observers gathered video and photographs of the incident. Cicero later turned himself in to authorities. He was charged with assault, menacing and criminal possession of a weapon.
Cicero was scheduled to appear in court on Monday to determine what would happen next in his case. But according to Cicero’s lawyer, Theodore Kasapis, the case was dismissed before he even arrived in the courtroom. Kasapis said the case was never brought before a grand jury. “I was surprised that it was dismissed so early,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said in a statement that “the People stated (in substance) that the case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and the case was dismissed.” She did not provide any additional details.
New York’s ice cream truck vendors have long been notorious for carrying baseball bats in their trucks and waging often-violent wars against each other for coveted locations. The New York Times has been chronicling the violence and litigation resulting from the turf war between rival ice cream trucking companies Mister Softee and New York Ice Cream.
It’s unclear what Monday’s court decision means for the safety of Elbendary, an Egyptian immigrant who is about five foot seven and weighs 145 pounds. Following the attack, Elbendary said, he went to the hospital and received treatment, leaving him with $3,000 in medical bills. Several weeks later, he still suffered from headaches, had visible scratches and let a reporter feel the bump on his head where he had been hit with the bat.
Elbendary continues to fear for his life. He said that Cicero’s friends threatened to shoot him twice if he continued to pursue charges against the ice cream seller. After Cicero’s cousins threatened him a second time on June 25, Elbendary said he went back to the police but an officer advised him not to file an additional complaint. In an email he sent to the detective who originally helped him, Elbendary shared how scared he felt.
“I let you know if I die or I got shot or anything bad happens for me it’s from the guy,” Elbendary writes in the text. “He will shoot me he said. Please you are the law here in his country and I’m telling you what happened.”
Since then, Elbendary said he has not heard back from any authorities, and he did not know that the charges had been dropped against Cicero until this reporter notified him. He remains in his current vending spot — appearing for his regular shift at 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon — even though he is still fearful of further retaliation.
“I feel a problem is coming for me,” said Elbendary.