Feds Break Up Butt-Smuggling Ring

     CHICAGO (CN) – Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged 10 people, including a police officer, with ducking state and county taxes by buying more than 100 million unstamped cigarettes for more than $20 million.
     Two snitches working undercover discovered a warehouse in Hickory Hills, a suburb of Chicago, to which the defendants brought “millions of dollars in cash, firearms, narcotics, and counterfeit cigarette tax stamps to purchase millions of unstamped, untaxed cigarettes,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
     Two people working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sold unstamped cigarettes and recorded conversations with customers since March 2010. After October 2010, “the vast majority of sales of unstamped cigarettes occurred at an undercover warehouse operated by ATF agents, with hidden cameras capturing audio and video recordings” of the cigarette buyers, prosecutors said.
     The Illinois Legislature in May this year voted to raise state taxes on a pack of cigarettes from 98 cents to $1.98. That will bring combined state and county taxes to $4.66 a pack in Chicago, the second-highest in the nation, behind New York City’s $5.85.
     Lawrence Draus, 62, a Cook County Sheriff’s police officer assigned to the Vice Unit in Maywood, also was accused of conspiring “to commit extortion by obtaining at least $10,000 to protect the cigarette trafficking from the warehouse,” prosecutors said.
     Draus also was charged with purchasing unstamped cigarettes.
     Each defendant faces up to 5 years in prison for each charge of trafficking cigarettes, and up to 10 years for each charge of selling counterfeit tax stamps.
     The six indictments name these 10 defendants: Mustafa Mohd Shaikh, 47, of Tinley Park; Zulfiqar Alvi, 62, of Justice, and John James, 66, of Bourbonnais; Aiman Othman, 32, of Oak Lawn; Firas el Matari, 37, and his brother, Ammar el Matari, 33, both of Tinley Park; Mohammad al Sakhleh, 27, of Merced, Calif., and Mahmoud al Qaisi, 41, of Justice; and Victoria Jaber, 30, and Chadia Abueid, 32, both of Chicago.

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