Brookline ‘pillar’ shaken by probe of NYC bombing attempt

FBI searches longtime owner’s gas stations

Elias Audy walked past reporters behind one of his Brookline service stations, which FBI investigators searched in connection with the attempted car bombing in New York. Elias Audy walked past reporters behind one of his Brookline service stations, which FBI investigators searched in connection with the attempted car bombing in New York. (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)
By David Abel and Patricia Wen
Globe Staff / May 14, 2010

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Forty-four years ago, when he was a newly married 18-year-old, Bill Audy and his wife left their seaside village in northern Lebanon and followed her family to America. Two years later, after Audy used their life savings to open his first gas station in Brighton, his younger brother Elias followed him to Boston and into the gasoline business.

The Audys, whose families have multiplied over the years and who now live next door to each other in West Roxbury, have owned two gas stations in Brookline since the 1970s and are widely recognized as pillars of a community where businesses come and go every few years.

The Audys’ world was turned upside down early yesterday when Elias Audy received a call that FBI agents had descended on his gas stations in Brookline, allegedly seeking evidence that might link one of his newly hired employees to the attempted car bombing this month in New York’s Times Square.

In a moment, the Audys’ hard-earned reputation seemed at risk.

“We came to America because we wanted more opportunities, and because everyone is supposed to be equal here,’’ said Bill Audy, showing pictures of his grandchildren and the Christian icons that fill his home. “It’s sad if someone paints us as extremists. We are as proud as anyone to be here and to be American.’’

Elias Audy skipped the usual morning coffee he shares with his now-retired brother, their wives, who are sisters, and their parents, who live in a unit below Elias Audy’s house. He drove to his Mobil station on Harvard Street, where FBI and immigration agents were scrutinizing the service bays and several cars in the lot.

Elias Audy declined to comment. “When the time comes, I’ll talk,’’ he said as he left the station near Coolidge Corner, where two American flags flapped in the breeze.

Neither Bill Audy nor employees of either gas station could provide much information about the man under investigation.

At the station on the corner of Cypress Street and Route 9, Hiyam Jabour, the cashier, said FBI agents had questioned her about a Pakistani employee who had worked there on Sundays for the past few months. Neither she nor mechanics in the garage said they knew the man or could recall his name.

Authorities have not said why they descended on the gas stations, nor have they accused Audy of any wrongdoing. Still, the suggestion that Audy’s family was linked to possible illicit activities rankled Bill Audy.

“This is a mess,’’ Audy said as a horde of reporters gathered around him at the station off Route 9. “I think the media has destroyed my brother’s business. If I’m an outsider, I’ve got to wonder if the owners of the gas station are terrorists. He’s not happy about this.’’

Local business leaders also worried that the images of FBI agents scouring Audy’s car repair bays would taint his reputation. They described him as an honorable businessman who has done a lot for the community.

“When you think of the phrase ‘pillar of the community,’ Audy is the kind of man you’re talking about,’’ said Roger Lipson, chairman of the board of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce, a post Audy previously held. Audy also served as president of the Chamber of Commerce and was awarded its 1996 Businessman of the Year award.

“I have considered Elias and his wife, Laurde, friends for years,’’ Lipson said. “They’re very generous people.’’

Shirley MacPherson, president of the Brookline Rotary Club, said she was proud to call Elias Audy a friend. She seemed pained that Audy, a former president of the club, had to endure a publicity nightmare.

“Elias Audy is one of the kindest people I’ve ever known,’’ she said.

In the station on Harvard Street, Audy displays more than a dozen plaques on the wall, which attest to his involvement in charitable causes. The awards are for his contributions to the Kids Clothes Club, which provides thousands of winter coats to Boston needy children, as well as contributions to the Brookline public schools and Brookline Music School.

On his website for his used car dealership, Cypress Automart, Audy said he came to the United States to study at the University of Houston and later at Northeastern University. It says his two Mobil stations and dealership employ about 30 people.

“It’s so unfair,’’ said Dana Brigham, co-owner and manager of Brookline Booksmith, who routinely gets her gas at Audy’s Mobil. “I worry what it will do to his station.’’

At his home yesterday afternoon, Bill Audy showed pictures of his grandchildren in football uniforms, old photos of his children sitting on Santa’s lap one Christmas season, and icons of Jesus on the walls. He talked about his love for his adopted country, and recalled how it cost $4,800 to open his first gas station and how the price of a gallon of gas was just 15 cents.

“It’s been hard work, but we are proud of what we have accomplished,’’ he said. “We hope this doesn’t ruin everything we have worked for.’’

Globe correspondent Sarah Thomas contributed to this report.

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