By Carlotta Mohamed
Seven Queens individuals were indicted Wednesday in a massive untaxed cigarette ring in the east coast evading over $3 million in taxes, according to New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood.
The defendants are Mohammed Alsaidi, 36; Yaheya Ghaleb, 40; Wail Asseadi, 27; Bakil Adlehelfri, 38; Naser Alsaidi, 41; Adnan Alsayedi, 41; and Tawfiq Aziz, 43.
“We have zero tolerance for those who try to game the system and cheat New Yorkers — and we won’t hesitate to hold them accountable,” said Underwood.
The takedown was dubbed “Operation Big Wheels” after investigators identified numerous Ford F-350 and F-150 pickup trucks that had been after-market-modified, allegedly utilized by the defendants to transport the cartons of cigarettes across state lines, said Underwood.
The Queens men were among 17 individuals who conducted an untaxed cigarette trafficking enterprise — from on or about and between Oct. 24, 2017, and July 31, 2018 — in Queens, Kings, Bronx, New York, Westchester, and Nassau Counties, as well as in New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina, according to Underwood.
According to Underwood, Alsaidi acted as the ring leader of “Alsaidi Untaxed Cigarette Distribution Enterprise.” His “employees” or “associates” allegedly illegally trafficked over 18 million cigarettes from low-tax states, such as North Carolina and Virginia, to various parts of New York City — without paying New York State and New York City tobacco taxes, the indictment states.
According to the indictment, Alsaidi allegedly set prices for customers and distributors and negotiated prices with the suppliers in the criminal enterprise. He directed members, received and placed orders, scheduled deliveries, and prescribed the times and locations at which his customers exchanged money for untaxed cigarettes.
The untaxed cigarettes were stored in various locations in Queens and throughout New York City and New York State, the indictment states.
The New York State Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) and the New York City Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau led the investigation and utilized court-authorized wiretapping, GPS tracking, covert cameras, and undercover operations.
According to Underwood, wiretaps intercepted the defendants allegedly discussing their illegal transactions in a cryptic and coded manner in hopes of avoiding detection by law enforcement, referring to Virginia as “V” and North Carolina as “the North” to indicate which state they preferred to source their cigarettes from.
According to the indictment, none of the members were licensed or registered New York State Cigarette Stamping Agents, Retailers, Wholesale Dealers of Cigarettes, nor do they possess Certificates of Registration to sell cigarettes within the State of New York.
The 242-count indictment charged all 17 individuals with enterprise corruption, criminal tax fraud in the first degree, and money laundering in the second degree — all of which are class B felonies, each carrying a sentencing range of 1 to 3 or 8 1/3 to 25 years in state prison, said Underwood.
Additionally, all the defendants were charged with counts of possession or transport for the purpose of sale of 30,000 or more unstamped cigarettes, and with conspiracy.
The ring leader, Alsaidi, is facing 165 separate charges, including enterprise corruption, criminal tax fraud, money laundering, and related tax crimes, said Underwood.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha