U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Western District of North Carolina
Western District of North Carolina
For Immediate Release
January 23, 2014
Anne M. Tompkins, United States Attorney
Contact: Lia Bantavani
Five Sentenced in Connection with Cigarette Smuggling Ring Operating in North and South Carolina
The Defendants Were Caught in ATF and IRS-CI Undercover Investigation Involving More than 486,000 Cartons of Purportedly Stolen Cigarettes Worth Over $20 Million
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Five of twelve conspirators charged with running a cigarette smuggling ring in North and South Carolina were sentenced in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 on cigarette trafficking and money laundering charges, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. The smuggling ring was uncovered over the course of "Operation Burn Notice," a multi-agency investigation into the interstate transport and sales of stolen property and money laundering in Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C. and Columbia, S.C.
Wayne L. Dixie, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Charlotte Field Division; Jeannine A. Hammett, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI); and Chief Rodney D. Monroe of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department join U.S. Attorney Tompkins in making today’s announcement.
Chief U.S. District Judge Frank D. Whitney handed down the federal sentences ranging from 14 months to 18 years in prison:
- Kamal Zaki Qazah, 35, of Columbia, S.C., was sentenced to 18 years in prison followed by two years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit property associated with his offenses.
- Tha’er Ismail Ayyad, 48, of Kernersville, N.C., was sentenced to 41 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release. Ayyad, a Jordanian national, was also convicted of one count of visa fraud and will be deported upon completion of his sentence.
- Ahmed Ibrahim, age 48, of Columbia, S.C., was sentenced to 30 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release.
- Ziad Hashem Najjar, 47, of Greensboro, N.C., was sentenced to 24 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release.
- Ahmed Samy Hosney Kareem, 35, of Matthews, N.C., was sentenced to 14 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release.
The final defendant in the conspiracy, Nasser Kamal Alquza, 48, of Mt. Pleasant, N.C., will appear before Judge Whitney on January 30, 2013, for his final sentencing and pending forfeiture of property associated with his offenses.
According to the sentencing hearings, trial evidence and other court records:
From about August 2009 to November 2011, the co-conspirators engaged in a cigarette smuggling conspiracy that trafficked more than 486,000 cartons of cigarettes across North and South Carolina with an estimated retail value of $20 million. The co-conspirators paid more than $9.3 million in cash for cigarettes they believed to be stolen from Virginia and Tennessee, and profited by selling them to a network of retail businesses and associates willing to purchase the illegally obtained cigarettes at prices far below market value. The co-conspirators laundered their criminal proceeds through businesses owned by Kamal Qazah and Nasser Alquza in Columbia, S.C.
Kamal Zaki Qazah and Nasser Kamal Alquza were convicted of multiple counts of conspiracy on February 4, 2013, after a seven-day jury trial in federal district court in Charlotte.
The other six defendants involved in the conspiracy were previously sentenced as follows:
- Khaled Fadel Ibrahim, 50, of Charlotte, was sentenced to 60 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
- Wael Mahmoud Salem, 38, of Oakland Gardens, N.Y. was sentenced to 27 months in prison and one year of supervised release.
- Jose Calderon-Silver, 38, of New York, N.Y., was sentenced to one month in prison, six months of home confinement and one year of supervised release.
- Zafer Ramadan Kafozi, 48, of Charlotte, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
- Hesham Rahman, 46, of Charlotte, was sentenced to 21 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
- Murad Ayyad, 33, of Charlotte, was sentenced to one year of probation.
Defendants Qazah, Alquza and Tha’er Ayyad are currently in federal custody. The remaining defendants will be ordered to self-report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility. All federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole.
U.S. Attorney Tompkins thanked ATF, IRS-CI and CMPD for their investigation of the case. The prosecution was handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Mike Savage and Jennifer Dillon of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.