25 Individuals Charged in Rocky Mount Cigarette Smuggling and Money Laundering Operation

RALEIGH – G. Norman Acker III, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina announced today that on October 20, 2021, a federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of North Carolina returned a sealed, twelve-count indictment charging 24 individuals with a scheme to defraud the federal government, the State of North Carolina, the State of New York, the State of New Jersey, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, of millions of dollars in tax revenues from the sale of cigarettes.

This investigation is an effort to end large scale tax fraud and to hold these defendants accountable for the millions in lost tax revenue as the result of their illegal scheme.  The individuals charged are:

The defendants were arrested yesterday and will be presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert T. Numbers today.  U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III presides over the case.

In Count One, the grand jury alleges that the 24 individuals listed in the indictment, had been engaged in a conspiracy, beginning in May of 2021 and continuing until at least the time the indictment was returned, to ship, transport, receive, possess, sell, distribute and purchase cigarettes, in quantities exceeding 10,000 cigarettes (as required by the relevant statute), which bore no evidence of the payment of applicable State or local cigarette taxes in the state and locality where they were found.  The object of the conspiracy was to profit from the purchase of cigarettes with cash in North Carolina, drive those cigarettes to the northeast, and sell them without paying the applicable sales tax.  This is all alleged to be in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2342 (a) (which prohibits the trafficking in contraband cigarettes and smokeless tobacco) and Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, the general conspiracy statute.

It is alleged in the indictment that members of the conspiracy would repeatedly purchase large quantities of cigarettes from wholesale cigarette outlets in Rocky Mount and Wilson, and then transport those quantities of cigarettes to storage locations for future shipment to Virginia, New Jersey, and New York.  After purchasing the cigarettes from the wholesalers, members of the conspiracy would then prepare for transporting the cigarettes to the northeast by using large vehicles and cross into the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Counts Two through Eight allege seven specific instances where the individual(s) named in those counts (and who were part of the conspiracy charged in Count One) knowingly shipped, transported, received, possessed, or aided and abetted contraband cigarettes (in amounts greater than 10,000) which bore no evidence of the payment of applicable state cigarette taxes in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Each of these instances is alleged to be in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2342(a), as well.   

Count Nine alleges that all 24 defendants were engaged in a conspiracy to launder money in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h).  In this count, the grand jury alleges that members of the conspiracy (a) conducted and attempted to conduct financial transaction affecting interstate commerce which involved the proceeds of specified unlawful activity, that is, cigarette trafficking, with the intent to further the goals of that crime, and that they knew that the property involved in the crime was in fact the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity; and (b) that while they conducted or attempted to conduct the specified unlawful activity – again, cigarette trafficking –the transactions were designed in whole or in part to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership and control of the proceeds of the unlawful activity.  So, in sum, the money laundering conspiracy count alleges that the members of the conspiracy were trying to either further the goals of the crime or to conceal the crime by using the proceeds of the crime in some way or do both those things.

Count Ten alleges that Shaher Bahjat Dari, a/k/a “Boo Boo,” an alien illegally and unlawfully in the United States, possessed a firearm and ammunition.

Count Eleven alleges that Shaher Bahjat Dari, a/k/a “Boo Boo,” possessed with intent to distribute more than fifty (50) kilograms of marijuana.

Count Twelve alleges that Tamara Delilah Richardson possessed with intent to distribute a quantity of marijuana.

If convicted of Count One, the general conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes, each defendant faces up to five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000 or both. If convicted of Counts Two through Eight, each defendant named therein faces up to five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000. If the defendants are convicted of money laundering as alleged in Count Nine, they each face up to 20 years imprisonment, a $500,000 fine or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater, or both. In Count Ten, the defendant faces up to 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine or both. In Count Eleven, the defendant faces up to 20 years imprisonment, $250,000 fine or both. In Count Twelve, the defendant faces up to 5 years imprisonment, $250,000 fine or both.

In addition, the grand jury included a forfeiture notice in the indictment.  That section of the indictment provides notice to each defendant that the items of property listed in that notice, and any other property which is the proceeds of or involved in the crime, is forfeitable to the United States.  The forfeiture notice includes approximately 10,000 cartons of cigarettes, $440,000 in U.S. currency and vehicles that were seized during the investigation.

Further, on November 5, 2021, Wasim Bahgat Dari, 30, will be presented for an initial appearance based on a criminal complaint filed today charging him with trafficking in contraband cigarettes, conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

G. Norman Acker, III, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina said “North Carolina continues to be a target for cigarette trafficking organizations to take advantage of North Carolina 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.  This office will continue to aggressively prosecute those organizations that are travelling to or are operating in the Eastern District.”

“Dari’s scheme to launder money and sell contraband cigarettes has gone up in smoke and he will have to answer for his crimes,” said Special Agent In Charge Ronnie Martinez, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in North Carolina and South Carolina. “Disrupting and dismantling criminal organizations is a priority for HSI and we will continue to find, arrest and prosecute these criminals.”

“Yesterday morning, Deputy United States Marshals from the Eastern District of North Carolina, and the Carolinas Regional Fugitive Task Force assisted Homeland Security Investigators, Nash County Sheriff’s Office Detectives and other state and local law enforcement officers in the simultaneous arrest of 22 individuals on federal charges.  The coordinated arrests occurred in Nash County and surrounding areas, as well as in NY, FL & PA,” commented United States Marshal Michael East.  “The arrests were the culmination of extensive investigative work by HSI, the Nash County Sheriff’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.  The United States Marshals Service is always willing to assist our federal, state and local partners in the apprehension of criminal suspects and fugitives.” 

Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone stated, “This is a perfect example of well-trained law enforcement officers partnering with federal authorities for safer communities. With this case, it’s more than drug cigarette smuggling, it includes acts of violence. This is just another example of organized crime.”

“Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office prides itself on working with federal, state and, local partnerships to ensure our county and surrounding areas are safe and we will continue that relationship,” commented Sheriff Clee Atkinson.

This case is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, Nash County Sheriff’s Office, Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office, United States Marshals Service, and the Henrico County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office.

Related court documents and information are located on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No. 5:21-CR-394.

An indictment is merely an accusation. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

U.S. Attorney’s

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