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Two men convicted of murder and extortion of Ozone Park business owner

Police at the Ozone Park crime scene where Garden Valley owner Hani Kasem was shot and killed in October 2017. (Photo by Robert Stridiron)

Two outer borough men have been convicted in the 2017 slaying of an Ozone Park businessman.

A federal jury in Brooklyn convicted Ppassim “Big Sam” Elder, 42, of Staten Island, and Wilbert Bryant, 57, of Brooklyn, on extortion, bank fraud, firearms and murder offenses on Friday, Oct. 1, in the fatal shooting of 64-year-old Hani Kasem, owner of Garden Valley Distributors, according to federal prosecutors.

The verdict followed a three-week trial before U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz. When sentenced, the defendants face up to life in prison.

As proven at trial, on the morning of Oct. 23, 2017, Bryant and two other perpetrators walked into Garden Valley on 99th Street near 101st Avenue, a family-owned distribution business in Ozone Park. The perpetrators said that “Big Sam” sent them to collect his money.

Earlier that year, Elder had given Kasem’s son money, which the son used to support the business. When Elder demanded full repayment, the son was unable to repay his debt because much of the money had been used to purchase merchandise for Green Valley. Elder began a campaign of intimidation against the son and the family, according to prosecutors.

On one occasion, Elder paid co-conspirators to throw a rock through the window of the victim’s home. On another, Elder barged into the family home, intimidating members of his family, prosecutors said. Finally, Elder dispatched Bryant and two co-conspirators into Garden Valley where the perpetrators brandished a firearm, pistol-whipped the son and fatally shot the father in the face.

In addition to the Kasem murder, Elder extorted another person whose brother had stolen the proceeds of a fraud scheme committed by Elder. Although the victim was not involved in the theft, Elder nonetheless punched him in the face in front of his daughters, breaking and bloodying his nose in order to “send a message” to the victim’s brother.

Elder and Bryant were convicted of bank fraud conspiracy for lying to banks about the true owner of several bank accounts, which permitted Elder to defraud innocent victims across the country, including an elderly gentleman who lost more than $30,000 when he was tricked into believing he was purchasing a car and another individual who lost more than $150,000 when he was defrauded into believing he was purchasing two real estate properties.

Elder was also convicted of crimes committed after his arrest in this case, including stealing his attorney’s identity and lying to federal officials, prosecutors said.

“A jury has held the defendants accountable for their heinous crimes, including the murder of a Queens business owner while attempting to collect a debt they claimed was owed by the victim’s son,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Jacquelyn M. Kasulis said. “This office and our law enforcement partners are working tirelessly to protect the communities in our district from violent criminals like the defendants who will now face very serious consequences for their actions.”

The case was brought as part of the Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. As part of the program, U.S. attorneys’ offices work in partnership with federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement and their communities to develop effective, locally based strategies to reduce violent crime.

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