Schneiderman, Kelly take down cigarette ring
Most offenders from Brooklyn
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly Thursday announced the indictment of 16 members of a criminal ring that flooded New York with more than a million cartons of untaxed cigarettes illegally imported from Virginia.
A 244-count indictment, unsealed in Brooklyn Supreme Court, charges 16 co-conspirators with enterprise corruption, money laundering and related tax crimes. Each of the defendants faces up to 25 years behind bars.
Of the 16 alleged co-conspirators charged in this scheme, 10 are from Brooklyn.
“By cheating New Yorkers out of tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue, this dangerous criminal ring was able to generate astounding profits that we are still continuing to trace,” said Schneiderman.
During a 12-month investigation, law enforcement seized more than 65,000 forged NYC/NYS cigarette tax stamps that were not yet affixed to packs of cigarettes, and nearly 20,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes. The investigation, which has so far uncovered $55 million in illegal cigarette sales, is continuing.
While it hasn’t been established yet where the illicit proceeds ended up, similar schemes have been used in the past to help fund organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah.
“The proceeds from this alleged scheme can be used to fund a host of other criminal acts that threaten national security and public safety of Americans at home and abroad,” said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations New York.
The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that the head of the enterprise, Basel Ramadan, and his brother, Samir Ramadan, obtained cigarettes from a wholesaler, Cooper Booth Wholesale, Inc., in Virginia and stored them in a public storage facility in Delaware.
Several times a week, co-conspirator Adel Abuzahrieh, of Brooklyn, drove with tens of thousands of dollars in cash from New York to Delaware where he gave the Ramadans the cash in exchange for cigarettes, according to the charges. Beyond the $55 million in purchases to cigarettes, the Ramadans have allegedly generated more than $10 million in profits from their illegal activities.
The criminal enterprise consisted of several New York-based cigarette distributors. Once the distributors took possession of the merchandise – approximately 20,000 cartons of cigarettes a week — they distributed it to the resellers, who in turn sold the untaxed cigarettes to a myriad of Arab American-owned markets and grocery stores in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.
All packs of cigarettes sold in New York City must bear a joint New York City/New York State tax stamp, and only a licensed stamping agent can possess untaxed cigarettes and affix the tax stamps on the cigarette packs.
Arraignments began Thursday before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice William Miller.
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