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Two found guilty in stolen cigarette trial

Feb. 5, 2013 at 2:32 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Feb. 5 (UPI) -- A North Carolina federal jury has convicted two men of conspiring to pay more than $9.3 million for 486,000 cartons of cigarettes they believed to be stolen.

The men, Kamal Zaki Qazah and Nasser Kamal Alquza, were among 11 people indicted in 2011 on charges they conspired to pay millions of dollars to undercover agents for hundreds of thousands of cartons of cigarettes, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reported Tuesday.

Qazah, 33, of Columbia, and his uncle, Alquza, 57, of Mount Pleasant, S.C., were also found guilty of money laundering charges.

Qazah was acquitted on two counts of transporting stolen property and two of three counts of receiving or selling stolen property.

Federal and state authorities launched the investigation in 2009 when they learned a man who operated mobile telephone stores in Charlotte wanted to buy cigarettes at prices far below wholesale for resale.

Qazah's defense attorney, Richard Harpootlian, blamed the government, saying in closing arguments, "There was no crime. This was a made-up scenario by [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives]."

Alquza's attorney, Jack Swerling, said his client had not conspired with anyone because he "had no reason to believe the cigarettes were stolen."

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Savage said there was "no doubt at all" the men agreed to sell stolen cigarettes.

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