Ocean City Cigarette Smugglers May Have Funneled Money To Hamas - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Ocean City Cigarette Smugglers May Have Funneled Money To Hamas

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OCEAN CITY, Md. – Two of 16 men charged with 244 counts of enterprise corruption, money laundering and related tax crimes are local businessmen in Worcester County. Authorities say some of the suspects may have funneled money to Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip. The U.S. and Israel consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. Authorities say that in the past, similar schemes have helped fund terrorist groups.

Brothers Basel and Samir Ramadan of West Ocean City are being called the ring leaders of this massive cigarette smuggling scheme that stretched from Virginia to New York. They were arrested Wednesday on fugitive warrants.

"The Ramadan brothers funneled more than $55 million in cash, transported in garbage bags from New York down to local financial institutions in and around Ocean City, MD, and laundered those funds to purchase additional cigarettes and for other purposes. We know that some members of this group have ties to some very dangerous people. We know they were arrested with weapons, we know they made tens of millions of dollars, but so far have only found a fraction of that," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a press conference on Thursday.

More than 1.3 million cartons of untaxed cigarettes were sold throughout New York. The attorney general reported the city and state have been beat out of more than $80 million in taxes.

The distribution hub involved in the smuggling ring was reportedly in a warehouse in Delaware.

"They flooded New York City from their distribution center with approximately 20,000 cartons of cigarettes a week, all untaxed," AG Schneiderman said.

With the use of electronic and physical surveillance along with the analysis of 17 months of financial records, officials discovered the Ramadans brought tens of millions of dollars in cigarettes over this period of time from a wholesale cigarette dealer in Virginia. Several times a week, one of the co-conspirators from Brooklyn drove with as much as $100,000 in cash per trip from New York to Delaware. He gave the cash to the brothers in plastic garbage bags. Police searched Basel Ramadan's residence where they recovered a 22 caliber handgun and more than $1.4 million that was hidden in his home and car. Three vehicles were reportedly searched and seized.

The conspiracy includes New York based distributors and New York based resellers who would distribute the cigarettes and sell them to grocery stores and markets around New York City.  

"One Brooklyn distributor actually was overheard on wiretap saying to Basel Ramadan that this business is better than selling drugs," AG Schneiderman said.

42-year-old Basel Ramadan and 40-year-old Samir Ramadan were held at the jail in Snow Hill, MD and appeared in District Court Thursday morning where they waived extradition. They have since been transported to New York.

Neighbors in the Oyster Harbor community admit these allegations are hard to believe. They describe the Ramadans as nice people - their kids played together and participated in community events.

WMDT was there when the father of the two suspects happened to drive up. He didn't want to speak on camera, but he did confirm that Basel and Samir live in two homes right next to each other on Whisper Trace Drive. They both are married, each with four children who attend local schools. Interestingly, both wives are pregnant. Samir's wife in particular is said to be carrying twins and is expected to deliver next month. Basel and Samir's father lives in the same neighborhood just down the street. He tells WMDT the family has lived in the area for 25 years owns 24 businesses in Ocean City, including Subway, Dairy Queen and Ledo's Pizza. He says the entire family has been publicly humiliated and harassed by these allegations. He claims his family is innocent and told reporters "we don't sell anything illegal."

More than $6 million that reportedly came from the smuggling ring has been frozen, but officials are still working to track down the rest of the money involved. Each defendant faces up to 25 years behind bars.

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