At least 25 people are charged in U.S. District Court with allegedly having engaged in conspiring to profit by obtaining cigarettes locally in cash for transport to and sale in areas to the northeast without paying the applicable sales tax.
The people are accused in court records of having been part of a scheme to repeatedly purchase large quantities of tobacco products from wholesale cigarette outlets in Rocky Mount and Wilson and to place the products in storage units for subsequent shipment to Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh said in a news release that a grand jury on Oct. 20 handed down an indictment charging the suspects with defrauding the federal government, the states of North Carolina, New York and New Jersey and the commonwealth of Virginia of millions of dollars in tax revenues from the sales of the tobacco products.
And the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the 25 people are charged with conspiring to commit money laundering in an attempt to further the goals of the crime or to conceal the goals of the crime by using the proceeds of the crime in some way or to do both of those things.
Additionally, the grand jury included a notice in the indictment saying that properties that were the proceeds of or that were linked to the crime are forfeitable to the federal government.
The forfeiture notice includes vehicles and approximately 10,000 cartons of cigarettes and $440,000 in cash seized during an investigation by authorities.
The indictment, which is 24 pages long, lists a total of 41 acts allegedly openly committed in furtherance of the conspiracy, which is believed to have dated at least as far back as May.
Of the names of those indicted, Bahjet Shaher Ahmed Dari, 58, was at the top of the list in the news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In the news release, Special Agent in Charge Ronnie Martinez, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations operations in North Carolina and South Carolina, said, “Dari’s scheme to launder money and sell contraband cigarettes has gone up in smoke and he will have to answer for his crimes.”
And Martinez said, “Disrupting and dismantling criminal organizations is a priority for HSI and we will continue to find, arrest and prosecute these criminals.”
In addition to Dari, the following people are indicted in connection with the operation:
- Shaher Bahjat Dari, alias “Boo Boo,” 32.
- Hashem Faraj Hatu, 30.
- Tamara Delilah Richardson, 27.
- Bismillah Barak, 38.
- Khalid Naser Hizan, 23.
- Jymonica Arnez Gorham, 29.
- Adam Husam Salem, 21.
- Husam Khaled Salem, 60.
- Shelton Dewain Tenor, alias “DC,” 50.
- Sierra Nicole Strickland, 28.
- Noe De Jesus Vega, 45.
- Jermaine Tyrell Underhill, 28.
- Sameer Mohammad Dari, 53.
- Ali Osama Dari, 22.
- Anastasia Chante Harrison, 29.
- Leandro Alberto De Los Angeles-Perez, 43.
- Amer Mohammed Zughbi, alias “Amer Mohammad Zughbi,” 21.
- Toribio Antonio Perez, 55.
- Francisco Odalis Perez, 37.
- Jason Peralta, 22.
- Ahmad Awni Said Marzouq, 35.
- Abdulla Mohamed Aezah, 30.
- Alicia Walker, alias “Alicia Mendez,” 44.
- Wasim Bahgat Dari, 30.
The indictment also charged Shaher Bahjat Dari with having on Dec. 15, 2019, possessed a firearm while being an illegal alien.
The indictment also charged Dari with having on April 7 possessed with the intent to distribute nearly 1,764 ounces or more of marijuana.
The indictment also charged Richardson with having on Aug. 11 possessed with the intent to distribute a quantity of marijuana.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina Norman Acker said in the news release that North Carolina continues to be a target for cigarette trafficking organizations to take advantage of the state as a source of supply of untaxed cigarettes.
“Any criminal activity that primarily conducts its illicit business with bulk cash is susceptible to violent crimes occurring in those communities, can attract sophisticated and organized criminal groups and could be a source of funding for terrorists,” Acker said. “This office will continue to aggressively prosecute those organizations that are traveling to or are operating in the eastern district.”
A probe is continuing to be conducted by HSI, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Nash County Sheriff’s Office, the Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office and the Henrico County, Va., Sheriff’s Office.
Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said in the news release, “This is a perfect example of well-trained law enforcement officers partnering with federal authorities for safer communities.”
And Stone said he believes this case included acts of violence.
“This is just another example of organized crime,” Stone said.