At least two Evanston restaurants on Sept. 20 received phony documents purporting to be court orders issued in the names of Cook County Circuit Court judges.
Zinnia Iglesias, owner of Ovo Frito Café, 1936 Maple Ave., did not expect anything out of the ordinary when the restaurant’s mail was delivered Monday. However, she noted the time was 1:45 p.m., just after she opened an envelope with a return address of the Cook County Circuit Court in Skokie and found a hate-filled, threatening message bearing the title “Court Order” and the name of an associate judge of the Cook County Circuit Court.
At least one other restaurant received a similar “court order.”
In addition to targeting these restaurants, the document, dated Sept. 14, 2021, contained demeaning and dehumanizing language about large groups of people based on their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
“I never thought I would receive a letter of hate, especially in Evanston,” Iglesias said in a telephone interview with the RoundTable.
“My first instinct was that I was the only one who received the letter,” she said.
For Iglesias, the letter was a call to action. She reported the incident to the Evanston Police Department and then called a friend, Evanston resident Patrick Hughes. As Director of Business Development for Byline Bank, Hughes is in contact with a wide range of area business owners.
Out of concern for her fellow restaurant owners, Iglesias asked Hughes if he knew of any other Evanston restaurants that had received a similar letter. After checking with several other area restaurants, Hughes told a reporter from the RoundTable that he learned that Kabul House, 2424 Dempster St., had received a letter with the same message, bearing the name of a different Cook County Circuit Court judge.
“Highly offensive documents, falsely claiming to be orders from various current or retired Circuit Court of Cook County judges, are being circulated by some person or group,” Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
The statement from the chief judge’s office called the content of the documents “appalling” and said the messages “appear to be intended as a means of intimidating the recipients and others.” The office said it is cooperating with investigators.
The letters were determined by the Police Department to be fabricated by an unknown sender or senders, but the hateful content was no less real for the recipients.
The owners of both restaurants spoke out about the impact that it has on individuals and the community at large.
“Racism is not good, and this type of hate mail is demoralizing. My family is from Afghanistan. For this to occur, amid the media coverage of what is going on there, feels overwhelming,” Kabul House owner Aki Qazi told the RoundTable.
“We’re law-abiding citizens, working to benefit our society and contribute to the community. We just want to make people aware that this type of hate mail is going around,” said Qazi.
Iglesias said receiving the letters made her feel unsafe and uncertain about what might happen. But she shared her experience, “to let others know that, if they get a similar letter, they should report it.”
Like Qazi, Iglesias said she thinks it is important for the community to be aware of the fraudulent mailings.
“I don’t want the people who wrote this to think they’re going to intimidate us,” said Iglesias.
She said the the Evanston Police Department was “very responsive” and advised her to report anything suspicious or unusual that might be related to the incident, and “to keep an eye out.”
They contacted the office of one of the judges whose name appeared on the fabricated court order, and, through a staff attorney in his office, confirmed that the judge is aware that the document bears his name, and that it is fraudulent. The judge’s office also confirmed that the judge is in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s office about the mailing.