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Federal agents searched six International House of Pancakes restaurants in northwest Ohio and another in Indiana and searched two homes and a storage locker yesterday as part of an investigation that involves Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service.
The nearly simultaneous raids at the popular restaurants in West Toledo and Sylvania Township, Holland, and Perrysburg Township, began just after 6 a.m., interrupting the breakfast rush.
Some employees arrived to begin their shifts and were greeted by armed federal agents showing badges.
Scott Wilson, a spokesman at the FBI's Cleveland office, confirmed agents searched the restaurants plus two area homes and a locked storage facility.
Agent Wilson refused to give details about the warrants, which were sealed in court.
"There were quite a few folks involved in this," Mr. Wilson said.
Agents from the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, along with local law enforcement officers, carried out the raids.
No one was arrested, and the authorities did not detain anyone in the searches. No charges have been filed.
Patrick Lenow, executive director of corporate communications for DineEquity, parent company of IHOP restaurants and Applebees, said the seven locations are owned by a single franchisee.
Mr. Lenow refused to divulge the name of the franchise holder or its principals.
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Mr. Lenow said he didn't know the reason for the investigation, but he said he was told by authorities it is not related to possible terrorism.
The affected restaurants were at 4045 Talmadge Rd., 6920 West Central Ave. in Sylvania Township, 10151 Fremont Pike in Perrysburg Township; 6535 Airport Hwy. in Springfield Township, and at locations in Findlay, Lima, and Evansville, Ind.
According to public records and the local Better Business Bureau Web site, Tarek Elkafrawi, also known as "Terry Elk," Kamil Madi, and Maazen Kadir have either ownership or management roles in the seven franchises.
With the exception of the Lima restaurant, Mr. Elkafrawi, who lives in Wood County's Middleton Township, is listed as the president of all the affected IHOPs, and Mr. Kadir is identified as manager of the West Central Avenue and Airport Highway locations. The Lima location is owned by TE & KM Inc., which is a limited liability company owned by Mr. Elkafrawi.
Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn confirmed last night that one of the homes where a search warrant was executed yesterday was Mr. Elkafrawi's Middleton Township residence.
Mr. Elkafrawi and his wife, Kelly Ann Elkafrawi, were not at home yesterday and did not respond to a message left seeking comment.
Dry cleaning could be seen hanging from the front door, and a door bolt could be seen lying on the ground in front of the house.
Lisa Wojciechowski, a neighbor, said she believed Mr. Elkafrawi is in poor health. She said his wife is friendly.
Ms. Wojciechowski said she doesn't see her neighbors much and believes they are kept busy traveling to their various restaurants.
Mr. Madi also has ties to the Toledo area. Mr. Madi, who once lived in Sylvania Township, and his family moved to Jordan about a year ago, according to a woman who now lives in the house.
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A man who answered the phone at the Airport Highway IHOP confirmed that Mr. Kadir is an "area manager" of IHOP locations but was out of town and would not be back until next week.
"No one will want to help you with that," he said when asked if anyone else would comment.
Mr. Lenow said that three of the affected restaurants had reopened by yesterday afternoon -- those in the Toledo metro area were operating except the Wood County restaurant -- and said the others will do so soon after the investigators return control of operations to the owners.
According to the IHOP Web site, the minimum financial requirements for a franchisee is $1.5 million net worth and $500,000 in liquid assets.
IHOP released a statement about the raids.
"We were informed [yesterday] by one of our franchisees about the events at his restaurants in [Ohio] and [Indiana]," the statement said . "We are working to gather the facts and have been in touch with the federal authorities, although we have not been briefed on the matter. We are cooperating fully with the authorities as we seek to gain an understanding of this situation."
Employees at the IHOP on West Central Avenue in Sylvania Township said they walked into the restaurant and were greeted by federal agents.
Travis Noe, assistant manager of the restaurant, said agents with badges and guns arrived shortly after 6 a.m.
He said the agents told him to stay still and allow them to search the place, giving no details on why they were searching the restaurant. After taking out boxes, the agents left about 10:30 a.m.
Nathaniel Coachman, who also works at the IHOP on West Central, said he was ordered immediately to put his hands up in the air when he reported for work Tuesday morning.
"I walked through the door and I thought I was going downtown," he said.
The employees said no customers were in the restaurant while the search was conducted.
At the Talmadge location, officers carried out at least a dozen white banker's boxes, some labeled "IHOP" in red marker, which were put in the back of a black unmarked sport utility vehicle, which was guarded by a Toledo police officer.
Sisters Donna Logan and Delores Busby, both of Toledo, tried to get breakfast yesterday morning at the IHOP in West Toledo but were turned away by a police officer.
"He said all IHOPs were closed," Ms. Busby said. "It's unbelievable."
The women said they eat at IHOP at least twice a month.
A man who appeared to be an employee went into the Talmadge location just before noon; he did not respond to a message left on his car for comment. He put notes on the windows of the restaurant that stated the location was "closed for cleaning" and directed customers to the Airport Highway spot.
Staff writers Ignazio Messina, Nolan Rosenkrans, and Jim Sielicki contributed to this report.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6054.