Ramadan Case Nearing Trial; 2013 Probe Broke Up Smuggling Op

OCEAN CITY — Two years after the raid on his Ocean City business and West Ocean City home, the trial for Basel Ramadan, ringleader of a vast multi-million dollar cigarette smuggling ring who was later charged with attempted “murder for hire” from behind bars, will likely begin as early next month.

In May 2013, 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 business owners Basel Ramadan, now 44, who was called the “ringleader” and “boss of the enterprise,” and Samer Ramadan, 42, who was called the “enterprise treasurer.” Federal officials on the same day also raided the Ramadans’ offices over the Subway restaurant they owned at Sunset Drive near 26th Street in Ocean City.

Nearly two years later, Basel Ramadan was back in New York’s King’s County Supreme Court for yet another appearance, the latest in a string of 19 pre-trial court appearances for the ringleader since his arrest and grand jury indictment in 2013. Basel Ramadan is scheduled for another appearance on May 29 and his trial could begin as soon as early June. A spokesperson for the New York Attorney General’s Office this week said the trial might start as soon as June 8 and Ramadan’s attorney confirmed the case was finally moving closer to trial.

At the Ramadan’s West Ocean City homes in the Oyster Harbor community, $1.4 million in large black bags was recovered in 2013, along with 20,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes. Also seized were numerous vehicles and other property belonging to the Ramadans. The Ramadans allegedly conducted the vast cigarette smuggling operation out of their Ocean City properties, but 14 other co-conspirators, from transporters to distributors to resellers, were also rounded up at locations all over the mid-Atlantic region.

According to the New York Attorney General’s Office, the Ramadans and their co-conspirators allegedly funneled thousands of cartons of untaxed smokes and millions of dollars in ill-gotten revenue through Ocean City and Worcester County from a wholesaler in Virginia to a distribution warehouse in Delaware, from whence the illegal, untaxed cigarettes were distributed to retail outlets all over New York City and upstate.

In May 2013, a New York grand jury handed down formal indictments against the Ramadans and their alleged 14 co-conspirators. As of yesterday, 15 suspects had been arrested including the Ramadan brothers, but a 16th suspect had fled the country to an unknown location in the Middle East.

The 300-plus page grand jury indictment includes 244 total counts and another 243 “pattern acts,” which attempt to establish the pattern of the operation over several years. Also included in the indictment are numerous “overt acts,” which include recorded phone conversations and movements of the alleged co-conspirators. According to the indictment, the Ramadans were successful for a long time in disguising the illicit proceeds and funneling through local banking institutions and allowed them to continue to finance the purchase of thousands of cartons of cigarettes from Virginia wholesaler Cooper Booth Inc.

Last July, Samer Ramadan, pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption, the top charge against him for his role in the massive cigarette smuggling scheme and was sentenced to a maximum of six years in prison and a minimum of two years. Another co-conspirator, Youssef Odeh, last year pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption and second-degree conspiracy for his role in an alleged murder-for-hire plot targeting witnesses in the case and was also sentenced to a maximum of six years and a minimum of two.

While Basel Ramadan faces trial for his leadership role in the vast cigarette smuggling operation, his case was complicated in October 2013 when he was indicted, along with Odeh, in an alleged “murder for hire” plot while incarcerated. The New York Attorney General’s Office in October 2013 added the new charges alleging Basel Ramadan and Odeh conspired from behind bars to murder witnesses they believed were cooperating with law enforcement in the massive cigarette smuggling case against them.

The second indictment alleged the two defendants conspired in the murder for hire plot shortly after their original indictment and arraignment on the original charges.

“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 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.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.