OCEAN CITY — Basel Ramadan, ringleader of a vast, multi-million dollar cigarette smuggling ring indicted along with 15 others after raids on their resort area properties in May 2013, was sentenced on Wednesday to a broad range of four to 12 years and will be forced to forfeit $1.2 million in ill-gotten gains, according to the New York Attorney General’s Office.
In late September, Ramadan, a West Ocean City resident, was found guilty on all 198 counts including enterprise corruption, money laundering and numerous tax crimes. Ramadan was accused of running a multi-state, multi-million dollar 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.
Back in New York Supreme Court on Wednesday, Ramadan was sentenced to four to 12 years and was ordered to forfeit $1.2 million. He was facing as many as 30 years in prison after being found guilty on nearly 200 counts late last month. It was uncertain immediately following the sentencing hearing if Ramadan was given credit for the two-years-plus he spent in jail following his indictment and arrest in 2013.
Ramadan’s trial concluded in September after 10 weeks of evidence was presented including hundreds of wiretaps. Basel Ramadan’s brother Samer 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 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 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 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.
Early on in the investigation, there were not so subtle references to a possible link between the co-conspirators and known terrorists groups, fueling speculation many of the millions of dollars in proceeds from the illegal enterprise could have been funneled to terrorists, but no link was ever firmly established and Ramadan was not charged with anything related to terrorism.
Basel Ramadan’s case was complicated in October 2013 when he was indicted 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 conspired from behind bars to murder witnesses allegedly cooperating with law enforcement in the massive cigarette smuggling case against them. Ramadan was acquitted on those charges.