Ramadan Convicted On Corruption, Laundering Charges, Acquitted On Murder-For-Hire

Ramadan Convicted On Corruption, Laundering Charges, Acquitted On Murder-For-Hire

OCEAN CITY — After a 10-week trial, West Ocean City resident Basel Ramadan, ringleader of a vast multi-million cigarette smuggling ring indicted along with 15 others after raids on his resort area properties in May 2013, was found guilty this week  on nearly 200 counts and now faces as many as 30 years in prison.

On Tuesday, Brooklyn, N.Y. Supreme Court Judge Dineen A. Riveiezzo found Basel Ramadan, 44, guilty on 198 total counts including enterprise corruption, money laundering and numerous tax crimes. Basel Ramadan was accused of running a multi-state cigarette smuggling scheme that originated at a wholesaler in Virginia, passed through the defendant’s businesses and residences in Ocean City, West Ocean City and Delaware and ultimately flooded over a million cartons of untaxed cigarettes into New York City and upstate New York.

Basel Ramadan’s bench trial concluded on Tuesday after 10 weeks of evidence presented including hundreds of wiretaps when the New York judge returned with a guilty verdict. Basel Ramadan now faces from eight to 25 years on the enterprise corruption conviction alone and as many as 30 years in prison for all 198 counts combined.

“This individual led a criminal enterprise that stretched from Maryland to New York, flooded our state with millions of cheap cigarettes and cheated New Yorkers out of tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose officers prosecuted the case. “Not only did this enterprise put law-abiding businesses in New York at a competitive disadvantage, but it increased the possibility of violence that comes with any type of smuggling operation. I’m deeply gratified that justice has been served.”

Basel Ramadan’s brother, Samir Ramdan, also of West Ocean City, was indicted along with 15 others in May 2013 and was called the “enterprise treasurer.” In July 2014, 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 was also sentenced to a maximum of six years and a minimum of two.

In addition to the criminal activity, sales of the non-taxed cigarettes deprived taxpayers of millions of dollars in lost cigarette tax revenue, hurt law-abiding businesses and undercut public health measures designed to discourage smoking. Schneiderman’s office estimated the Ramadans and their co-conspirators laundered more than $55 million in illegal proceeds and dodged at least $80 million in New York taxes. The N.Y. Attorney General called the verdict “a result of our relentless fight against highly sophisticated organized criminal enterprises.”

In May 2013, federal officials concluded an investigation into a multi-million cigarette smuggling operation with raids on two locations in and around the resort area including the West Ocean City homes of Basel Ramadan, who was called the “ringleader” and “boss of the enterprise,” and Samer Ramadan, who was called the “enterprise treasurer.” Federal officials on the same day raided the Ramadans’ offices over the Subway restaurant they owned at Sunset Drive near 26th Street in Ocean City.

At the Ramadans’ West Ocean City homes in the Oyster Harbor community, $1.4 million in large black bags was recovered, 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.

Following the raids in May 2013, a New York grand jury handed down formal indictments against the Ramadans and their alleged 14 co-conspirators. 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.

Through the use of electronic surveillance, physical surveillance and the review and analysis of financial records in conjunction with other investigative tools, the Attorney General’s investigation revealed that Basel Ramadan and his brother obtained cigarettes from a wholesaler, Cooper Booth Wholesale, Inc., in Virginia and stored them in a public storage facility in Delaware. Several times a week, an alleged co-conspirator, Adel Abuzahrieh of Brooklyn, drove with tens of thousands of dollars in cash from New York to Delaware which he allegedly exchanged to the Ramadans untaxed, illegal cigarettes.

Beyond the $55 million in purchases for cigarettes, the Ramadans generated more than $10 million in profits from their illegal activities, according to the N.Y. Attorney General’s investigation. Once the distributors took possession of the merchandise, which amounted to approximately 20,000 cartons of cigarettes a week, they distributed it to the resellers, who in turn sold the untaxed cigarettes to a myriad of markets and grocery stores in Brooklyn, Staten Island and New Jersey. Abuzahreih’s case is still awaiting trial.

While Basel Ramadan was convicted on Tuesday on all 198 counts related to the cigarette smuggling operation, he was acquitted on alleged murder-for-hire charges added months after the original indictment.