NEW YORK, May 16 (UPI) -- Some of the proceeds of a multimillion-dollar cigarette smuggling operation may have gone to terrorist groups, New York officials said Thursday.
State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly announced the indictment of 16 people on charges that include enterprise corruption, money laundering and tax crimes. Some of the defendants were described as having ties to terrorists and terrorist groups, including Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Egyptian sheik now serving a life sentence in federal prison for a plan to blow up New York City landmarks.
"While it hasn't been established yet where the illicit proceeds ended up, we're concerned because similar schemes have been used in the past to help fund terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah," Kelly said.
Cigarette smuggling is a perennial problem in New York state and especially New York City, where cigarette taxes are much higher than in states like Virginia. Investigators say the ringleaders bought cigarettes from a distributor in Virginia and then passed them on to middlemen in the New York area who sold them to Arab markets in the city and in the Albany and Schenectady areas.
Investigators have uncovered at least $55 million in illegal sales, Schneiderman said.
The group was allegedly headed by Basel Ramadan, 42, while his 40-year-old brother, Samir, allegedly served as treasurer. The brothers live in Ocean City, Md.
Investigators said they seized $1.4 million stored in trash bags in Ramadan's home.