Over the last couple weeks since the news broke that Basel and Samir Ramadan were at the helm of a multi-million cigarette smuggling operation, I have had numerous conversations with people familiar with them.
While nobody wants to go “on the record,” which in the trade means a quote can be attributed to an individual, most agree it does not come as a surprise to hear they were involved in illegal activities, such as money laundering.
However, the surprise element comes into play though when talk of terrorism arises. My sources range from people who graduated from high school with the brothers, do business with them in some fashion and rented commercial space to them to people whose kids played sports with the Ramadans’ kids, former neighbors of the brothers and long-time family acquaintances.
While their backgrounds and connections to the Ramadans are varied, all seem to agree the men were and always have been mysterious in many ways, particularly after one of them returned from being out of the country for about a year recently.
Along with wanting to know what businesses the men operate in the Ocean City area (see page 6), what people seem to desire the most in this ongoing story is whether the link to terrorism is true. Prosecutors in New York believe Basel and Samir Ramadan, the leaders of this cigarette smuggling operation, have ties to renowned terrorists, and allege cigarette smuggling operations in the past have been linked to terrorism activity. The idea is the profits illegally received through the selling of untaxed cigarettes were being funneled to terrorism groups for training and other activities.
The difficult, if not impossible, part will be tracing the money. Until more information from the ongoing investigation is released, all we have to go on is what New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly offered during a news conference following the bust of the operation.
“The association of some of the suspects in this case to the Ari Halbestram’s killer, the Blind Sheik and a top Hamas official concerns us,” said Kelly. “While it hasn’t been established yet where the illicit proceeds ended up, we’re concerned because similar schemes have been used in the past to help fund terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah.”
The Berlin Farmers Market will be relocating after all, and it could turn out to be a good thing for all involved.
Parking is slowly become a problem in Berlin, and that’s evident on a drive through town of late. Visitors are unsure where to park and even those who can find the large public parking lot off William Street do not seem satisfied and want to be closer to Main Street. Furthermore, those who are lucky enough to land a Main Street spot have such difficultly maneuvering into their chosen spot that it causes a minor traffic backup.
The point here is the town was going to be coming to the Farmers Market soon for that lot at the corner of Main and West streets, and the vendors were right to take the Berlin Fire Company up on its offer to relocate to its property, which is just a couple football fields south from the market’s current home.
The market will be relocating June 14, and it truly is a “win-win” for all involved.
I have always viewed the whole federal sequestration concept as a ridiculous notion, but this week it was disturbing to learn about its impact on Assateague Island National Seashore, one of my favorite places.
A federal report details exactly the impact the forced cuts will have on the national park, which attracted an impressive 2.15 million visitors in 2012. Sequestration required Assateague to cut $236,000 from its $5.3 million budget. One of the ways the park made those cuts was to reduce its entrance station open times by three hours daily. However, those shorter hours of operation will reportedly cost the park about $70,000 in entrance fees, according to the park study.
“National parks are known as America’s best idea, but America’s best idea is now under attack by one of America’s worst ideas, the sequester,” said Natural Resources Committee member Edward Markey.
“The sequester is a betrayal of that commitment.”
That seems about right to me.