Sc Man Charged With Cigarette Trafficking, Money Laundering}

Submitted by: Liss Brawn

A Mount Pleasant man fronted cash in a multimillion-dollar cigarette trafficking and money laundering scheme that crossed state borders and hid cash within South Carolina businesses, according to federal court documents unsealed last week.

Nasser Alquza, 56, was president of the Central Mosque of Charleston until after his arrest Nov. 30.

Investigators nabbed Alquza and 10 other men in a 26-count indictment filed in North Carolina, accusing them of crimes ranging from conspiracy to receiving stolen property.

Court records say the men bought nearly 7,000 cases of “stolen” cigarettes, each containing 60 cartons, from undercover officers in exchange for about $7.5 million.

Federal agents searched Alquza’s home, a three-story yellow house on Oakhurst Drive in the upscale Rivertowne community in Mount Pleasant, shortly after 7 a.m. on Nov. 30. They left with computers, cameras, money, check books, receipts, business records, passports and identification documents.

Officials asked a judge to seal the court records as the investigation continued, but the documents became public last week.

Alquza declined to speak about the case without his lawyer’s approval. His Columbia-based attorney, Jack Swerling, said his client would plead not guilty, but declined to comment further.


Imad Musallam, a council member and head of security at the Central Mosque of Charleston, on King Street, said Alquza resigned his position as president.

“That’s his personal problem,” Musallam said. “We cannot judge someone, and we cannot say anything until he’s found guilty.”

Musallam said Alquza resigned for personal reasons in December, not because of the investigation.

Tax exempt

Criminal organizations profit off cigarettes by buying them in bulk from states with a low tax, then shipping them to states with a higher tax.

South Carolina charges $5.70 per carton in state tax, for example, while New York City charges $5.75 per pack — not carton — in state and city taxes.

Only the Carolinas and North Dakota do not require that wholesalers stamp their cigarettes to indicate that they paid taxes. Criminal rings often buy cigarettes without stamps from wholesalers, then deliver them to states with higher tax rates.

Retailers there slap on counterfeit stamps and sell the cigarettes at a discount. Authorities estimate that state and federal governments lose $5 billion annually to cigarette trafficking.

This is how the federal agents’ investigation unfolded, according to unsealed documents:

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer first connected with a man named Khaled Fadel Ibrahim in September 2009 and told Ibrahim he stole cigarettes from trucks in Virginia.

The officer introduced Ibrahim to another undercover officer working for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the two officers later met Kamal Z. Qazah, Alquza’s nephew.

The agents told Qazah that they stole cigarettes from Virginia, and Qazah said he could turn a profit of $300 to $600 per case, according to court filings. After developing a relationship with Qazah, the agents asked him about money laundering, court records show.

In April Qazah introduced the officers to his uncle, Alquza, who could launder $100,000 every few months, court records say. Alquza agreed to write the officers checks in exchange for cash, giving himself a 6 percent cut, according to court records.

In the year that followed, Qazah and Alquza laundered $275,000 in money given to them by the undercover officers, and Qazah paid more than $1 million for 810 cases of Marlboros that his uncle helped unload, according to court records.

Alquza wrote checks from a Mount Pleasant Subway store, court records say, and Qazah wrote checks from his 7 Stars Auto Sales in Lugoff. The undercover officers met with the men several times at Alquza’s pizza parlor, Milanos, in Columbia.

Investigators wrote in court papers that they believe the two men have spent the past decade involved in illegal activity, including money laundering, interstate transportation of stolen property, marriage fraud, alien smuggling, bank fraud, Social Security fraud, identity theft and operating an unlicensed money service business.

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About the Author: I wrote this article because Id like to mention this problem, this major and unexpected problem that swallowed each second person from all over the world.And Id like you to write your opinion, suggestion or an advice for this article; if each of us wouldnt be indifferent well have more chance to save this unfair world.Each person have a choice to smoke or not and what is your choice?


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