Back in March, we told you about the case of Bassam Kiriaki, a modern day tobacco pirate from Maryland who was caught with a staggering $1.2M in loot following a brief but highly successful criminal career bringing cigarettes from low tax states into high tax areas. However, not to be outdone by some two bit punk from the Old Line State, it took a New Yorker to really take things to the next level. Last week in a Big Apple court, Samer Ramadan plead guilty to helping out his brother Basel with a little project they had going.
The No. 2 man in a multimillion-dollar cigarette smuggling operation based out of West Ocean City has pleaded guilty to corruption charges and now faces prison time in New York state.
Samer Ramadan, 40, pleaded guilty June 27 to the top charge against him of enterprise corruption, according to the New York Attorney General’s Office. In a statement in open court, he admitted his role in the operation run by his brother, prosecutors said, including stating that his brother ran the enterprise.
In a 303-page indictment of the cigarette smuggling and money laundering operation, dubbed Operation Tobacco Road, prosecutors identify Samir Ramadan as the treasurer. The indictment says he focused on control and disbursement of the cash generated by the enterprise.
Samer is looking at two to six years behind bars. The details you’ll read in the indictment really provide a fascinating look into the operation these guys set up to take advantage of the patchwork sin tax laws across the northeast corridor. We’re not talking about a couple of thugs highjacking trucks and selling cartons in an empty parking lot like a scene out of Goodfellas. Ramadan’s people were bringing in truckloads to local distributors who were then sending them out to a variety of outlets on a regular schedule. Of course, it was all cash under the table and not in small quantities.
Police found that the Ramadans had purchased tens of millions of dollars worth of cigarettes. More than $55 million in cash, transported in garbage bags, had been taken into Ocean City and laundered through various small businesses, the indictment states. The driver at times would drive with as much as $100,000, authorities allege.
Authorities said the Ramadans generated more than $10 million in profits from their illegal activities. The criminal charges alleged that the operation stiffed New York state out of $80 million in cigarette tax revenue.
I’d call this development amazing if it hadn’t been predicted well in advance by numerous sources. When you jack up the price of something that high in an effort to bail out your state economy and there are far cheaper sources so close at hand, there’s always going to be somebody ready to take a chance and cash in on situation. One of their associates was overheard on a wiretap as saying that smuggling smokes was “better than selling drugs.”
That’s no surprise either, since the end product is much harder for the police to pick up on. They’ll notice people passing baggies of powder or sticking a needle in their arm, but nobody pays attention to people smoking Marlboros or picking up a pack at the Stop and Shop. And I doubt anyone is going to think that they’ve toppled the criminal empire just by nabbing these folks. The Ramadans managed to soak up $80M that was supposedly going to go to the State of New York. I wonder how many more are still out there operating?