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Ozone Park balloon man sues city for wrecking lot

An Ozone Park balloon proprietor who watched police in search of body parts destroy his newly renovated property with a payloader filed suit against the city last week for violating his civil rights.

Wayne Scheriffspent more than three months and $30,000 transforming a trash-strewn lot with a tattered garage at 84-10 Rockaway Blvd. into the home of Molly’s Balloons. But just days before the business was scheduled to open in December, he drove by and saw swarms of police officers ripping apart his dreams.

The police had a warrant authorizing digging at 82-04 Rockaway Blvd. and 108-14 103rd Ave., but when Scheriff told them neither of those addresses were his property, he was detained in a squad car against his will, the suit alleges.

“I was devastated,” said Scheriff, who five months later still cries when describing how police bulldozed a brand-new chain-link fence, dented a garage door and tore up chunks of concrete 19 inches thick on Dec. 15. “I still can’t believe this actually happened.”

The lawsuit, seeking unspecified monetary damages, was filed in federal court in Manhattan by attorneys Daniel Perez and Ron Kuby.

Kate O’Brien Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the city’s corporation counsel, said the office planned to examine the details of the case but declined further comment, saying they had not seen the suit.

Sources said a suspect who police had arrested Dec. 14 told them there were human remains buried at 82-04 Rockaway Blvd. Later that day, a detective from the 102nd Precinct went to Queens Criminal Court to obtain a warrant to conduct a search at that address.

Scheriff said police insisted they had the right address even though it was not the one listed on the search warrant. “This is where I want to be,” he said a detective told him. When Scheriff protested, he said a different detective told him “if you don’t like it, sue the city.”

Less than 10 minutes later, police loaded the payloader and power equipment onto a trailer and drove away, the suit says.

“He still is not able to do business out of the site because it looks like a tornado went through,” Perez said. “The city has refused to settle anything without a lawsuit being filed.”

The suit alleges Scherrif had to cancel more than $11,000 in New Year’s Eve sales because police acted “intentionally, maliciously and with a deliberate indifference.” Tens of thousands of dollars in material improvements to the property, including $22,000 in concrete alone, were either damaged or destroyed, the suit says.

Scheriff, 52, started Molly’s Balloons, named after his daughter, in 1993 after he brought balloons to his wife in the hospital when she gave birth.

He operated out of his Ozone Park home, providing balloons to catering halls, restaurants, churches and schools, but through personal savings and loans from friends, raised enough money to expand to a commercial location.

Now he is back to working out of his home, a move which has cost him between $20,000 and $30,000 in sales because people do not realize he is open for business, he said.

“I’m not looking to become a millionaire on this case,” he said. “I just want to get my business back together.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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