A.G. Underwood Announces Takedown Of Staten Island-Based Cigarette Trafficking Ring

News from the New York Attorney General's Office 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 22, 2018

Attorney General's Office Press Office / 212-416-8060
nyag.pressoffice@ag.ny.gov 

A.G. UNDERWOOD ANNOUNCES TAKEDOWN OF STATEN ISLAND-BASED CIGARETTE TRAFFICKING RING

Joint AG-NYPD Investigation Reveals Trafficking Ring Allegedly Transported Nearly 4 Million Cigarettes from Virginia to New York and Evaded Over $1.3 Million in New York Taxes 

79-Count Indictment Charges 12 Defendants with Criminal Tax Fraud, Money Laundering, and Related Tax Crimes

STATEN ISLAND – Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced the indictment of 12 individuals for their alleged roles in trafficking nearly 4 million untaxed cigarettes from Virginia to Staten Island for distribution and resale, and evading over $1.3 million in city and state taxes. A 79-count indictment unsealed in Richmond County Supreme Court today charges 12 co-conspirators with criminal tax fraud, money laundering, and related tax crimes. Seven of the defendants were arraigned today in Richmond County Supreme Court by the Honorable Stephen J. Rooney. The indictments against the remaining defendants not present at arraignment remain sealed.

“As alleged in our indictment, the defendants engaged in a massive cigarette trafficking ring and evaded huge amounts of New York taxes,” said Attorney General Underwood. “These crime rings cheat New Yorkers, and my office will continue to partner with law enforcement agencies to crack down on those that try to skirt the law.”

Code-named “Operation Virginia Slims,” the Attorney General’s joint investigation with the NYPD implemented court-authorized wiretapping, GPS tracking, covert cameras, and undercover operations to uncover an operation that was allegedly evading New York State and New York City excise and sales taxes by trafficking approximately 740 cartons of untaxed cigarettes per week from Virginia to New York City. It is alleged that a total of approximately 3,977,400 cigarettes were trafficked into Staten Island, evading a total of $1,332,344 in tax liability due to New York State and New York City.

Brothers Iyas Leqyanya and Ihab Jaber allegedly directed the operation’s transporter to procure cigarettes two to three times per week from Atlantic Dominion Distributors in Virginia Beach, Virginia and transport them to Staten Island. Once the transporter delivered the untaxed cigarettes to Staten Island, they were allegedly stashed in Leqyanya and Jaber’s Manor Heights residence. Leqyanya, Jaber, and another defendant then allegedly distributed and resold the untaxed cigarettes to retail shops in Staten Island and Queens. 

On March 6, 2018, law enforcement executed search warrants at seven stash locations in both Staten Island, NY and Onley, VA. Hundreds of cartons of untaxed cigarettes, approximately $20,000 in illicit proceeds, and Atlantic Dominion Distributor invoices – which detailed the scope of the operation – were seized.

On August 16, 2018, defendants Leqyanya, Jaber, and a co-conspirator were charged on an initial indictment with possession or transport for the purpose of sale of 30,000 or more unstamped cigarettes. On August 22, 2018, Leqyanya and Jaber were arraigned in Richmond County Supreme Court before the Honorable Stephen J. Rooney. Leqyanya and Jaber were each held on $350,000 bail.

The Attorney General’s indictment charges the following seven defendants with distinct crimes, including, but not limited to: Criminal Tax Fraud in the First Degree (a class B felony), Criminal Tax Fraud in the Second Degree (a class C Felony), Money Laundering in the Second Degree (a class C Felony), and Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree (a class E felony), for their involvement in the untaxed cigarette trafficking operation:

Iyas Leqyanya, 43 years old – Staten Island, NY

Ihab Jaber, 48 years old – Staten Island, NY

Rana Abdelqader, 43 years old – Staten Island, NY

Hasan Leqyanya, 26 years old – Staten Island, NY

Hansraj Deonarain, a.k.a. “RICK,” 42 years old – Queens, NY

Mohamed Alzowkari, a.k.a. “RUSHDY,” 31 years old – Staten Island, NY

Ali Ismail, 36 years old – Staten Island, NY

The charges against the defendants are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. 

The Attorney General’s investigation was directed by Organized Crime Task Force Investigator Joseph Oliver, with the assistance of OCTF Investigator Andrew Scala, under the supervision of OCTF Supervising Investigator Paul Grzegorski and Deputy Chief Investigator Christopher Vasta. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Dominick Zarrella.

The NYPD portion of the investigation was led by Detective Christopher McDonnell and Sergeant Robert Olson.

This investigation included a complex forensic tax audit, which was directed by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance’s Cigarette Strike Force Chief Investigator, Janet Mullins with the assistance of Forensic Tax Auditor Robert Bergeson. 

Additionally, throughout the duration of this investigation, OCTF and NYPD received assistance from the Virginia State Police, specifically Special Agent C. Scott Wade, Eastern Shore Drug Task Force.

The case is being prosecuted by OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorneys General Brandi S. Kligman and Christopher S. Clark, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Diego Hernandez. Nicole Keary is the Deputy Attorney General in Charge of OCTF. Margaret Garnett is the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice. 

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