ALBANY—A federal indictment has been opened against 27 illegal cigarette traffickers who allegedly laundered money, sold millions of counterfeit tax stamps and purchased large quantities of cigarettes in Virginia for resale in New York and Michigan.
The 17-month-long investigation concluded late Tuesday when nine indictments against the 27 people, 21 of whom are from New York City or Yonkers, were returned in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
SEE Prior Post; Saturday, May 31, 2008, POLICE SAY SMUGGLED CIGARETTE CRIME RING PUT OUT OF BUSINESS IN TAMPA SCAM, MAYBE NOT SO MUCH, OLD HABITS HARD TO KICK.
The long-term investigation was conducted by New York State Department of Taxation and Finance investigators working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, federal agents from ATF and IRS in Richmond, investigators from the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Board and the King George County Sheriff’s Department, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Charges against the 27 people included criminal conspiracy, trafficking in contraband cigarettes, money laundering and felony possession of firearms and ammunition. Nineteen of the suspects are in custody.
In the fall of 2006, an undercover storefront location designated as KG Wholesale was established in King George, Virginia, which was being operated by undercover agents from the Tax Department. The storefront was wired for video and audio surveillance to record the identities and activities of individuals who would arrive to purchase cigarettes.
During the course of the investigation, undercover agents conducted more than 142 transactions. In these transactions the defendants paid $6.1 million in cash to purchase 295,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes most of which were destined for re-sale to wholesalers and retailers in the New York City area.
It is also alleged that some of the defendants sold or attempted to sell 6.2 million in counterfeit cigarette stamps to the undercover agents, and that one traded two handguns and ammunition to agents in exchange for cigarettes.
Nicholas Yakoumakis, 27, of Queens, is charged with various counts of criminal conspiracy, trafficking in contraband cigarettes, money laundering, and felony possession of firearms and ammunition.
The disparity between state taxation of tobacco products along with the discounted prices to certain populations, such as Native Americans, garner cigarette smugglers huge profits. "For example, a pack of cigarettes that costs $8 in New York and New Jersey will only cost $4 in 'tobacco states' like Virginia and North Carolina," the report explains. "The profit on a standard diverted load of 1,500 contraband cartons [of cigarettes] could be as high as $60,000."
"Recent law enforcement investigations ... have directly linked those involved in illicit tobacco trade to infamous terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and al Qaeda,".Arab-Americans have a corner on the cigarette smuggling market in New York where "tight-knit, nationality-based networks, primarily families through blood or marriage of Lebanese, Yemeni, Jordanian, and Palestinian descent" rely on Arab-owned convenience markets to peddle their contraband cigarettes. According to the report, 60 percent of all convenience stores are now Arab-owned in the state. The ethnic and familial character of the networks make it hard for law enforcement to penetrate these networks. And as recent prosecutions have revealed, cigarette smuggling flourishes and has been linked to terrorist financing. See list of names below.
Charged with criminal conspiracy, trafficking in contraband cigarettes and money laundering are:
–Suliman Al-Ghananim, 46, and Roxanne Al-Ghananim, 42, both of the Bronx.
–Rafea Alnablsi, 41, of Woodhaven, Queens.
–Omar Mannaee, 31, of Yonkers.
–Maeen Graber, 26, of Hamtramch, Michigan.
–Mousa Alhadad, 29, of Hamtramch, Michigan.
–Mohammed Shahbain, 22, of Hamtramch, Michigan.
–Wei Guang Kuang, 43, of Brooklyn.
–Lee C. Yip, 55, of Fayetteville, South Carolina.
–Hong Long Wong, 60, of Brooklyn.
–Zi N. Lu, 47, of Brooklyn.
–Ahmed Mozeb, 34, of Brooklyn.
–Omar Muthana, 42, of Dearborn, Michigan.
–Atef Gabr, 48, of Ridgewood, Queens.
–Josh Fonfrias, 38, of the Bronx.
–Ammar Saleh, 26, of Queens.
–Ahmed Alghazali, 25, of Yonkers.
–Amin Lnu, no age or address available.
–Abdul A. Alhumaidi a/k/a Sabry, 48, of Manhattan.
–Juan Santiago, 20, of Queens.
–Jugal Singh, 63, of Brooklyn.
–Adel Kassim, 26, of Manhattan.
–Osam Yahya, 22, of Brooklyn.
Charged with trafficking in contraband cigarettes and money laundering are:
–Jaime J. Oquendo, 47, of the Bronx.
–Mohamed Sadiqi, 33, of Queens.
–Rashad Y. Saleh, 27, of Queens.
All of the suspects are in custody or out on bail except for Omar Muthana MI, Amin Lnu, Suliman Al-Ghananim , Roxanne Al-Ghananim, Maeen Gaber MI, Mousa Alhadad MI, Halil Lnu and Lee C. Yip. Looks like the Dearborn MI Muslim crew of Omar Muthana, Mousas Alhadad and Maeen Graber took the money and fled the country, this is a Federal rap.