Area men plead to trafficking stolen cigarettes
Amer Kamal Quzah, 50, of Summerville; Chandon Podder, 45 of North Charleston; Syed Ahmed, 43 of North Charleston and Moinuddin Patwary, 26 of Lexington plead guilty Tuesday for their roles in a conspiracy to traffic stolen cigarettes, according to United States Attorney Bill Nettles.
Patwary and Ahmed both pled to Conspiracy to Receive Stolen Property in Interstate Commerce, which carries up to five years in prison.
Quzah pled to two counts of False Statement to a Federally Insured Institution under 18, which carries up to 30 years in prison.
Podder pled guilty to Structuring a Financial Transaction to Evade Reporting Requirements, which carries up to five years in prison.
Information contained in the indictment and presented at the guilty pleas established that between September 2009 and November 2011 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents, acting on information, began an investigation into the buying and selling of stolen cigarettes.
Acting in an undercover capacity, ATF agents subsequently sold approximately $7,500,000 of purportedly stolen cigarettes to several individuals in North and South Carolina.
The undercover agents represented that they could obtain large quantities of stolen cigarettes and sell them to the defendants at a far better price than was legally available. Agents then conducted approximately 27 separate sales of purportedly stolen cigarettes, ranging from a few thousand dollars to over a million. In all, Agents received over $7.5 million from the sales.
After the cigarettes were illegally purchased, they were offered for sale at various retail locations, including some in the Charleston and Columbia, SC areas. Defendants Ahmed and Patwary pled guilty to providing cash for illegal cigarette purchases on several occasions, in amounts ranging from $200,000 to around $525,000.
Ahmed and Patwary would later offer these stolen cigarettes for sale at various retail outlets under their control. Podder worked at a retail cigarette outlet, and structured the illegal cigarette sale proceeds into bank accounts in order to avoid mandatory financial reports, and thereby conceal the criminal activity.
Quzah, although originally charged in the conspiracy, pled guilty to related charges of providing false information to a bank regarding accounts he held in 2002 and 2007.
The guilty pleas were accepted by the Hon. Sol Blatt, Jr. A sentencing date has not been set at this time.
The prosecution was the result of a joint investigation involving the Federal Reserve - Office of Inspector General; U.S. Department of Treasury – Office of Inspector General; the Internal Revenue Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Assistant United States Attorney Nathan Williams of the Charleston office is prosecuting the case.