Fighting for Justice for a Family Half a World Away

Think South Florida cops are crooked? Thank goodness you don't live in Morocco.

Omar Ezzaidi, a Moroccan native who now lives in Miami, moved to the United States in 1998, leaving his family behind. Five years later, he became an American citizen and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. 

Omar sent his family in Casablanca money to open a hookah shop, where business was stable until recently. Then, he claims, a crooked local police officer came around asking for protection money. Omar's brother Jalal, who runs the shop, refused to pay.

Omar visited his family during this past New Year's holiday. A day after the veteran arrived, cops raided the shop at 9:30 p.m., just before closing time. A police report Omar showed Riptide states there were more than 30 patrons. The Ezzaidis claim there were only four men and three women sitting together and talking.

The cops termed it promoting prostitution and threw Jalal behind bars. The evidence was thin: A couple had been kissing. Ezzaidi hired a lawyer, who he claims also asked for a bribe. Eventually, Jalal was convicted. "I was shocked. Morocco is an open-minded country," Omar says. "It's not like Saudi Arabia."

Indeed, many Moroccans opposed the American invasion of Iraq. Omar fears the arrest was retribution. "Sometimes I wonder that because of my service to the U.S government, my family was harassed as an encrypted and direct message to my attention."

Morocco is among America's oldest allies. But when Omar looked to his government for help, he found none. He eventually called the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. At first, spokesman Bryan Gulley said nothing could be done.

"Generally, we do not get involved in legal issues or judicial issues, whether it's in Morocco or the States," he told Riptide early Tuesday morning. "We'd like to be able to help, but... the family are not U.S. citizens."

A few hours later, though, Gulley called back to say the senator's office might reach out to the American embassy in Morocco.

Omar still hopes for justice. He wants to enlist help from Morocco's King Mohammed VI and U.S. media. "I love America so much," he says. "I did so much for this country; all I want is this country to help my family."

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