Almost two years after Attorney General Jeff Sessions shuttered hundreds of illegal fast-food restaurants, state and local governments have not stopped them from creating, opening and operating them, according to an investigation by NBC News.
The lack of enforcement and no real effort to stop them may just be a marketing and promotion ploy.
There are nearly 500 restaurants, bars and gyms open in 16 states including 10 cities and three counties, according to the most recent data provided by the National Association of Counties.
All of them are operating illegally in violation of various federal and state laws related to public safety, including the right to a noise level of no more than 24-hours, the state of Connecticut’s Division of Safety of Streets and Sanitation, and the Department of Children and Families’ Privacy Act.
Roland D. Ehrfurth, chief financial officer for the Connecticut DEAS, told NBC News that the state has no enforcement capability.
And if there is an enforcement effort, it is minimal at best, Ehrfurth said.
“The CTDO doesn’t even have a telephone system. The major agencies have no access to our personnel and we don’t have the capacity to meet the rising demand,” he said.
Connecticut’s Division of Safety of Streets and Sanitation, part of the state’s Department of Public Health, sent the NBC News a memo warning officials that without greater coverage, there is nothing the division can do.
State regulators have tried and failed to limit the number of fast-food outlets open in the state. In March, Massachusetts, which is part of the Northeastern region, passed a law requiring restaurants with 15 or more violations to close before those establishments are licensed.
Ehrfurth said officials in Connecticut want the entire country to adopt the rule but it does not go far enough.
“Here we are in the middle of trying to get the governor to sign into law something that is going to help Connecticut. We’re not even close,” he said.
In August, Ehrfurth and the Division of Safety of Streets and Sanitation wrote a letter to every state governor about the need for more enforcement and penalties to protect public safety.
All the states have more than 100 of these restaurants.
Now the owner of Pizza Haven LLC has become a central figure in fighting off lawsuits. The ABC News story and news footage from Food Network cameras reached out to the company multiple times, and the owner denied ever having been convicted of a crime.
In 2016, Food Network sent a reporter into the restaurant and discovered about 250 suspects in the liquor license certificate room. All of them wore checkered shirts. The only garments clearly visible were those of small, scantily clad women and bottles of beer and cases of liquor.
Ehrfurth said he tried to remove the males from the rooms, but they were dressed differently and returned unharmed.