Earlier this week, authorities in New York announced the indictment of 16 men accused of smuggling more than $55 million worth of cigarettes from Virginia to New York. Fifteen of the men are in custody while one is at large, believed to be in Jordan. One of the accused is also believed to have sold the gun used in the 1994 murder of Ari Halberstam in Brooklyn.
Several of the men in the smuggling ring are reportedly suspected of having ties to Hamas and other militant groups. Although authorities do not yet know where the revenue was directed, they noted that, in the past such operations have been used to finance Hamas and Hezbollah.
While fundraising for terrorist organizations is not limited to cigarette smuggling, there have been several cases within the United States in recent years, including:
- A group of approximately 20 men ran a criminal enterprise in Dearborn, Michigan, trafficking in contraband cigarettes, cigarette papers and Viagra, as well as stolen infant formula and toilet paper. Prosecutors contend that the ring diverted some of the funds to Hezbollah. Naturalized U.S. citizen Karim Hassan Nasser pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in September 2006, as did Theodore Schenk of Miami Beach, Florida and Imad Hamadeh of Dearborn Heights.
- Dearborn resident Elias Mohamad Akhdar was sentenced in January 2004 to nearly six years in prison for his role in a cigarette-smuggling ring designed to finance Hezbollah. Another Dearborn resident, Hassan M. Makki, received a sentence of nearly five years in prison in connection with the scheme.
- Carole Gordon and her granddaughter Brandy Jo Bowman were among eleven people charged in January 2003 for their involvement in a cigarette smuggling ring that funneled its proceeds to Hezbollah. Both Gordon and Bowman pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.
- Mohamad Hammoud was charged in March 2001 for raising funds and conspiring to provide "a variety of items that Hizballah [sic] would use to engage in violent attacks and to film such attacks for use in Hizballah [sic] propaganda efforts," according to court documents. Hammoud allegedly procured dual-use technologies for Hezbollah, including goggles, global positioning systems, stun guns, naval equipment, nitrogen cutters and laser range finders. Hammoud and his brother, Chawki, were convicted the following year of providing material support to Hezbollah through their cigarette-smuggling ring that knowingly directed money to the terrorist organization.
- At least three naturalized U.S. citizens – Said Mohamad Harb, Bassem Youssef Hammoud and Hussein Chahrour – and U.S. citizen Angela Georgia Tsioumas are among a group of nine individuals who bought cigarettes in North Carolina, shipped them to Michigan and sold them at a price lower than the tax-inflated Michigan price. From 1995 to 2000, the scheme generated over $7 million used to procure dual-use technologies for Hezbollah. Items were reportedly purchased for Hezbollah in both the U.S. and Canada, including goggles, global positioning systems, stun guns, naval equipment, nitrogen cutters and laser range finders. Harb pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorists and racketeering charges. Tisoumas pleaded guilty to racketeering and money laundering charges. Chahrour pleaded guilty to racketeering charges. Bassam Youssef Hammoud pleaded guilty to trafficking in contraband cigarettes.