Ramadans Indicted For Untaxed Cigarette Operation; Guns, $312K Seized During Raid

Ramadans Indicted For Untaxed Cigarette Operation; Guns, $312K Seized During Raid
Basel and Samir Ramadan

WEST OCEAN CITY — Two weeks after their West Ocean City home was raided by federal law enforcement officials and their local partners, two Ocean City men were indicted Thursday in New York for their alleged roles in trafficking significant quantities of untaxed cigarettes, the same crimes they were convicted of in 2015.

On Thursday, Oct. 11, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials and Homeland Security (HSI) officials, with support from local law enforcement including the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, raided the West Ocean City homes of Basel Ramadan, 47, and Samir Ramadan, 45, both of Ocean City, as part of Operation Sidestep, a months-long investigation into a criminal cigarette smuggling and various money-laundering and tax-related crimes.

Following the raids in West Ocean City, Basel and Samir Ramadan were held without bond on fugitive warrants from New York before waiving extradition to that jurisdiction last week. On Thursday, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced the indictment and arrest of three individuals including Basel and Samir Ramadan for their alleged roles in trafficking significant quantities of untaxed cigarettes from Virginia to New York.

The 21-count indictment charges the Ramadans and their alleged co-conspirator, identified as Fahd Muthana, also known as “Ahmed Abdullah,” 39, of Brooklyn, N.Y., in the three-person cigarette trafficking ring allegedly responsible for distributing over 1.25 million cigarettes and evading nearly $430,000 in tax liability.

Basel and Samir Ramadan were arraigned in Kings County, N.Y. Supreme Court on Thursday and bail was set for both at $2 million each, or in the alternative, a $500,000 bond. Muthana was arraigned last week. Preliminary hearings have been set for December.

Code-named Operation Sidestep, federal, state and local law enforcement agents concluded a months-long investigation into a network that allegedly evaded New York state and New York City excise and sales taxes by trafficking more than 1,500 cartons of untaxed cigarettes per week from Virginia to be sold in retail shops in Brooklyn. The investigation was led by the New York State Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) in partnership with the Intelligence Bureau of the New York Police Department (NYPD) and HSI.

“As we allege, the defendants ran a criminal trafficking ring that funneled over 1.25 million untaxed cigarettes into New York, while cheating New Yorkers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes,” said Underwood in a statement on Friday. “These traffickers are charged with sidestepping the law, which put legitimate, law-abiding businesses at a disadvantage. We’ll continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to hold accountable those who try to game the system and cheat New Yorkers.”

During the raids at the Ramadans’ West Ocean City homes, federal, state and local authorities seized three handguns, one shotgun, three vehicles and over $312,000 in cash. In addition, over 341,000 untaxed cigarettes were seized from the suspects’ storage location in Brooklyn.

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 Samir Ramadan, 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. 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 a Virginia wholesaler.

In that case, Basel Ramadan ultimately pleaded guilty to all 198 counts in the indictment against him and was sentenced to four to 12 years and was also ordered to forfeit $1.2 million in ill-gotten gains. Samir Ramadan pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption in 2014 and was sentenced to a maximum of four years and a minimum of two years. Another co-conspirator in that case, Youseff Odeh, pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption and second-degree conspiracy for his role in an alleged murder-for-hire plot targeting witnesses in that case and was also sentenced to two- to four-years.

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.