OCEAN CITY — Less than a week after an Ocean City man was indicted in an murder-for-hire plot, his lawyers this week responded, saying there is no strong evidence to support the latest charges and further denying any connection to terrorism links.
In mid-May, federal officials concluded an investigation into a multi-million dollar cigarette smuggling operation with raids on two locations in and around the resort area, including the West Ocean City homes of local residents and business owners Basel Ramadan, 42, who has been called the “ringleader” of the operation, and Samer Ramadan, 40, who is being called the operation’s “enterprise treasurer.” Also indicted were 14 other alleged co-conspirators, from transporters to distributors to resellers, who were rounded up at locations all over the mid-Atlantic region on the same day in May.
Last Thursday, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly announced the indictment of Basel Ramadan and Yousseff Odeh, one of his alleged distributors and a trusted lieutenant, on new charges they conspired from behind bars to murder witnesses they believed were cooperating with law enforcement in the massive cigarette smuggling case against them.
In an interview with The Dispatch, one of Basel Ramadan’s attorney Alex Spiro, of New York-based Brafman and Associates, said the new murder-for-hire charges will not stand up to scrutiny and vowed to fight them with vigor.
“We are going to contest this new indictment vigorously,” said Spiro. “The allegations in this case are based on conversations that occurred while Mr. Ramadan was incarcerated and taken out of context.”
Following the original indictments in May, there were references by prosecutors to a possible link between the co-conspirators and known terrorist groups, fueling speculation many of the millions of dollars generated by the cigarette smuggling enterprise could have ended up in the hands of terrorists. At a press conference in May following the raids in Ocean City and elsewhere, Kelly referenced the possible connection.
“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.”
However, Spiro said on Monday no possible terrorism connection has been established and vehemently denied his client or his co-conspirators have any relationship with known terror organizations or individuals.
“There is no evidence that he had any relationship whatsoever, either directly or through financing, to terrorism,” said Spiro. “The Attorney General’s Office even told us directly there is nothing to do with him and terrorism.”
The New York Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to Spiro’s charge.
Meanwhile, in terms of the alleged murder-for-hire plot, the latest indictment unsealed and released by the New York Attorney General’s Office late last Thursday reveals the alleged conspiracy carried out by Basel Ramadan and Odeh began shortly after their arraignment and subsequent incarceration at Rikers Island in New York. The indictment alleged Ramadan and Odeh conspired with one or more persons and with each other to engage in the felony of murder in the second degree from May 24 to October 11.
“During the course of the above-stated conspiracy, it was the stated goal of defendant Ramadan and defendant Odeh to kill several individuals whom the defendants believed to be witnesses against them in the prosecution of the Kings County indictment,” the indictment released last Thursday reads. “In order to carry out the above stated goal of conspiracy, both defendants discussed and agreed with individuals that the individuals would carry out the goal of the conspiracy by intentionally causing, or recruiting, other individuals to cause the death of persons the defendants believed to be witnesses against them on behalf of the prosecution.”
In one example cited in the indictment from Sept. 17, Ramadan spoke via telephone from jail with an undercover NYPD officer who was posing as a prospective killer for hire.
“During the call, Ramadan stated in sum and substance that he has ‘one of those problems’ and when the undercover officer stated that ‘he could take care of it, Ramadan stated that he appreciated it,” the indictment reads. “Ramadan further stated in sum and substance to the undercover officer that the individual ‘may need some help’.”
However, Spiro said this week the language used during the conversation was vague and did not include specifics about killing or even hurting any potential witness in the cigarette smuggling case. For that reason, he believes the murder-for-hire charges will not stand up in court.
“Even if true, there is no language used regarding ‘kill,’ ‘harm’ or the like,” he said. “There are no overt acts of violence or attempts of any kind. There is no substantive evidence of any crime. This will amount to nothing more than at most idle talk.”