Cigarette smugglers had connections to Hamas: NYPD

"Operation Tobacco Road," the investigation that led to the bust of this cigarette smuggling ring, resulted in the arrest and indictment of 16 men. Credit: Attorney General's Office.
“Operation Tobacco Road,” the investigation that led to the bust of this cigarette smuggling ring, resulted in the arrest and indictment of 16 men. Credit: Attorney General’s Office.

The NYPD, the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other law enforcement agencies took down several suspects in a “massive scheme” involving a cigarette smuggling ring. The arrested men were reportedly already on the NYPD’s radar for suspected connections to terrorists.

The principal suspects were selling cigarettes untaxed, NYPD Police Commissioner Kelly said, “in a massive raid on the New York Treasuring in the form of cigarette tax avoidance.”

The NYPD had apparently been monitoring the suspects out of concern about the connection some of these men had to a top Hamas official as well as Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheik” convicted in a 1995 trial involving a plot to bomb New York City landmarks.

One suspect, Yousef Odeh, reportedly told police he sold 15,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes, with a total value of $780,000. These 15,000 cartons were sold to just three customers.

Odeh also ran a baby formula business. Over a decade ago, Rahman was one of his investors. He also had personal and financial ties to Ahmed Abdel Sattar, who apparently was a spokesman for the Rahman during his trial and transmitted messages to Rahman’s supporters in Egypt and Afghanistan. 

Another suspect arrested yesterday was Muaffaq Askar, reportedly a “confidante” of Rashid Baz. Baz was convicted in the 1994 killing of 16-year-old Ari Halberstam, when he fired on a van full of of Hasidic students on the Brooklyn Bridge. He was sentenced to 141 years. Baz, who was Lebanese, reportedly referred to Askar as his “Palestinian uncle.”

According to the Attorney General’s investigation, the ringleader of the organization was Basel Ramadan of Ocean City, Maryland, who, with his brother Samir, bought cigarettes in Virginia and stored them in Delaware. Several times a week, Adel Abuzarieh would drive from Brooklyn to Delaware with tens of thousands of dollars in cash to purchase cigarettes from the Ramadan brothers. Abuzarieh sometimes carried over $100,000 in one trip.

The Ramadans’ profits from cigarettes alone reportedly totaled some $55 million, in addition to $10 million from other illegal activities, the Attorney General’s office said.

The crime ring also included New York-based distributors and resellers in bodegas throughout the five boroughs. One of the resellers, Mohanned Seif, also sold cigarettes to grocery stores upstate near Albany and Schenectady.

It’s estimated that New York State lost far more than $80 million in tax revenue due to this cigarette smuggling network.

Kelly noted that “it hasn’t been established yet where the illicit proceeds in this case ended up,” but the NYPD is “concerned because similar schemes have been used in the past to help fund terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah.”

The federal agencies involved in the bust will continue investigating the money trail.

 

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Judge sets January start for murder trial of…

By Elizabeth BarberBOSTON (Reuters) - Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez will be tried in January for the murder of semi-professional football player Odin…

National

Donut capers stymie police in Oregon

For more than a month, mysterious vandals have been smearing pastries on cars, depositing donuts in lawns and leaving cakes strewn about the streets.

International

U.S., European airlines halt flights to Israel due…

U.S. and European airlines halted flights to Tel Aviv in an effort to ensure passenger safety as turmoil in Israel and the region has intensified.

Local

Eric Garner death prompts NYPD retraining, pols demanding…

The New York City Police Department will revise training procedures for its officers following the death of Staten Island man Eric Garner after an arrest gone awry.

Arts

Don't miss 'Charles James: Beyond Fashion' at the…

Have you been meaning to see "Charles James: Beyond Fashion"? There are only two weeks left to get to the Met and catch this amazing American fashion designer's collection.

Television

Zac Posen talks 'Project Runway' and what it…

We talked to Zac Posen, judge and designer extraordinaire, about the new season of "Project Runway" and what keeps him coming back after three seasons.

Television

'Face Off' contestant David 'DOC' O'Connell sounds off…

David "DOC" O'Connell tells us about getting cast on Season 7 of Syfy's "Face Off," premiering tonight at 9.

Arts

PHOTO: Wildlife photographer Marc Mol captures amazing aerial…

This aerial image was taken by photographer Marc Mol who spotted the animals during an air safari in Zambia.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead…

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead pack

NFL

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will…

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will win Super Bowl?

NFL

5 players to watch at Giants training camp

Metro takes a look at five players who will be on everyone’s mind when Giants training camp gets underway.

NFL

'Vicktory dogs' travel road to rehabilitation seven years…

Of the dozens of dogs groomed by Bad Newz Kennels, 48 were rescued and 22 of the pit bull terriers have emerged at Best Friends Animal Society.

Tech

Learn Braille with these gloves

U.S. scientists have designed high-tech gloves to help users understand Braille in a matter of minutes.

Home

5 New Ikea products that will change your…

We round-up the latest must-have products.

Food

Recipe: Wolfgang Puck's Buttermilk French Toast

We recently spent some time chatting with restauranteur/celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at his Wolfgang Puck American Grille in the Borgata in Atlantic City. Puck wanted…

Style

Go retro with your sneakers

The best of wacky new sneakers.