SNOW HILL – Federal officials yesterday morning swarmed two businesses and a residence in Snow Hill in connection with a massive sting operation conducted over the last several months targeting 39 suspects involved in an extensive money laundering scheme involving funds the suspects thought were being diverted to terrorism operations and the bribing of immigration officials for illegal permanent resident cards.
Early yesterday morning, federal officials including the FBI and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided two businesses in Snow Hill in connection with a months-long undercover sting operation targeting as many as 39 suspects. Raided were the Your Stop convenience store and the Chicken Man restaurant on West Market Street in Snow Hill as well as a private residence.
The raids were carried out shortly before U.S. District Court officials announced four indictments involving 39 defendants, many of whom were operating in Snow Hill, Ocean City and other locations on the lower Eastern Shore. The indictments arose from Operation Cash-Out, a months- long undercover sting investigation involving extensive international money laundering and bribery schemes. One of the indictments was connected to a suspect who allegedly attempted to conceal terrorist financing.
One of the four separate indictments specifically implicates several Snow Hill residents as well as residents of Salisbury and Parsonsburg. Two of the defendants named in the indictments issued in Baltimore yesterday owned and operated the two businesses targeted during yesterday’s raid in Snow Hill and other defendants worked in the businesses.
Mohammed Gujjar, a Pakistani native who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, has owned and operated the Your Stop Food Market in Snow Hill since 1995. Also named was Mohammed Ijaz, the brother of Gujjar, who has owned and operated the Chicken Man store in Snow Hill since 1993.
According to the indictments, an undercover operative working with FBI and ICE officials represented himself as the owner of an import-export business with ties to drug trafficking and the trafficking of illegal cigarettes. The undercover operative also told the defendants he had the capability of funneling funds to terrorism cells around the globe and also had the capability of funneling bribes to U.S. Immigration officials for illegal permanent residency cards, according to the formal indictment.
“Afridi Services, trading as Afridi Trading, was a fake import/export company utilized by an individual acting in an undercover capacity under the supervision of law enforcement agents with ICE and the FBI,” the indictment against several Snow Hill and Eastern Shore officials reads. “At the direction of ICE and FBI agents, this ‘cooperating witness’ represented himself to be involved in numerous illegal activities including large scale international drug trafficking, international smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes and other goods and contraband.
“The cooperating witness also represented that he had connections to high-placed federal and Maryland state government employees who would be willing to accept bribes in exchange for undertaking official acts of contravention of their lawful duties,” the indictment reads. “Specifically, the cooperating witness represented that in exchange for specific quantities of U.S. currency, his Immigration contacts would be willing to issue lawful permanent resident cards and his contacts in the Office of the Comptroller of Maryland would be willing to abate business-related tax assessments.”
It was the bribing of Immigration officials for illegal permanent resident cards that caught most of the defendants listed in the indictment from the Snow Hill area. The indictment lists several incidents during which defendants from Snow Hill passed substantial sums of money through the undercover agent believing the funds were headed to Immigration officials as bribes. Many of the incidents occurred in Snow Hill and a few of the transactions actually took place in Ocean City.
For example, on or about March 10, 2006, Gujjar and others met with the undercover operative in Snow Hill and provided him with $15,000 in U.S. currency to give an Immigration official was the first payment of a $40,000 bribe to induce said official to illegally issue lawful permanent resident cards to two illegal immigrants. Similar incidents are listed throughout the indictment including a handful of transactions that occurred in Ocean City. For example, on or about Oct. 11, 2006, Gujjar met with the cooperating witness in Ocean City and provided him with a $5,000 second and final payment of a $20,000 bribe for illegal permanent resident cards. In all, hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes for illegal resident cards were passed in the Snow Hill and Ocean City areas.
It’s important to note the “cooperative witness” was acting as an operative for the FBI and ICE and no actual bribes were accepted by Immigration officials or the Comptroller’s Office. According to a source, federal prosecutors made it clear during yesterday’s press conference the sting was carried out with no actual bribes reaching state of federal officials.