Six Charged in Federal Cigarette Smuggling Indictment
MARTINSBURG, WV—A federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging six individuals with unlawful cigarette smuggling, United States Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II, announced today.
Mohamed Abdo Elbarati, 30, of Winchester, Virginia, Farouk Mohamed Aldaylam, 28, of Queens Village, New York, Amir Mohamed Alsaidi, 37, of Baltimore, Maryland, Fahd Hamood Aljahaf, 37, of Bronx, New York, Galal Hameed Kassim, 29, and Muneer Kaid Khaled, 25, both of Brooklyn, New York, are alleged to have conspired to profit from the unlawful sale of contraband cigarettes. The indictment charges that the defendants transported large quantities of cigarettes across state lines for redistribution and sale. The cigarettes were acquired in Virginia, where the tax rate for cigarettes is one of the lowest in the nation, and sold in New York, which has one of the nation’s highest tax rates. The cigarettes were possessed and transported in West Virginia.
Tobacco retailer Smoke Palace, LLC, of Winchester, Virginia, which was owned and operated by defendant Elbarati, was responsible for the acquisition of the contraband. Smoke Palace and Elbarati are alleged to have purchased millions of dollars worth of cigarettes from various wholesalers in the region, primarily with cash, before reselling them to out of state smugglers for a profit.
“We will not allow the Commonwealth of Virginia to become a home base for this kind of large, organized criminal enterprise,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring. “This case is a textbook example of how collaboration and cooperation, even across state lines, can get results, and I’m proud that my team was able to help out.”
Each of the six defendants is charged with one count of “Conspiracy.” Elbarati is further charged with four counts of “Transportation of Contraband Cigarettes.” Aldaylam is further charged with two counts of “Transportation of Contraband Cigarettes.” Alsaidi is further charged with two counts of “Transportation of Contraband Cigarettes.” Each of the defendants faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each of the aforementioned counts. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed will be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendants.
“The New York State Tax Department has a vigorous and coordinated effort to battle the sale of untaxed cigarettes,” said New York State Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Jerry Boone. “As we see in this case, working closely with our law enforcement partners is, more and more, leading to success.”
“Organizations that attempt to systematically defraud state and local governments and profit through crime are sorely mistaken,” said Glenn Sorge, acting special agent in charge HSI New York. “HSI’s El Dorado Task Force and its law enforcement partners are committed to investigating financial crime and contraband smuggling activities that pose a threat to our public safety and the economic well-being of the United States.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Stein and Shawn Adkins are prosecuting the case on behalf of the government. Homeland Security Investigations, the Frederick County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia Office of Attorney General, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the West Virginia State Police, the New York Department of Taxation and Finance, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Internal Revenue Service—Criminal Investigation led the inquiry.
An indictment is merely an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.