Tobacco

35 Indicted in Cigarette Raid

Interstate scheme to sell untaxed cigarettes alleged

ST. LOUIS -- Federal prosecutors indicted 35 individuals who allegedly used their ties through ownership or employment in convenience stores and grocery stores in Missouri to sell untaxed cigarettes in Illinois, New Jersey and other venues where the city and state taxes are higher.

The indictment shed light on a highly publicized raid of several St. Louis-area c-stores on May 23.

Most of the cigarettes were purchased in St. Louis-area Sam’s Clubs, with the named individuals allegedly buying and selling product, arranging the deals and transporting both product and currency across state lines.

Over about a three-year period, Mohammed Almuttan, Saddam Mutan and Yadgar Barzanji allegedly purchased large amounts of cigarettes on a daily basis and arranged to sell them to other individuals named in court documents. The buyers allegedly organized another set of named individuals to act as couriers. In one incident, officials stopped Mohammed Mustafa with 5,420 cartons of Missouri-stamped cigarettes, according to the indictment. In another, officials stopped Najeh Muhana in an SUV in Indiana for allegedly transporting $240,000 in cash earmarked for cigarettes, officials said.

The scheme allegedly involved rebates from Winston-Salem, N.C.-based R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. that those involved used to partially bankroll their operations.

The indictment also noted how taxes in the city of St. Louis are 24 cents per pack compared to $6.16 in Chicago and $2.70 in New Jersey.

Included in the case was the sale of synthetic drugs that the defendants allegedly made from materials imported from China and other sources. The defendants allegedly sold the product under multiple brand names, including “Bob Marley,” “Green Giant,” “Sexy Monkey,” “AK-47,” “24 Karat Gold” and “Scooby Snax,” according to the indictment.

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