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Multi-million dollar modern-day cigarette bootlegging gang arrested in New York

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modern-day cigarette bootlegging gang

Eight members of a US modern-day bootlegging gang have been charged with grand larceny, conspiracy and other crimes after they were arrested in connection with a plot to smuggle cheap cigarettes into New York to sell with counterfeit tax stamps.

The gang members, who are said to have made millions out of the conspiracy, were arrested on Monday after police raids resulted in the seizure of 6,267 cartons of untaxed cigarettes, as well as $2.3 million.

Speaking after the defendants were charged, Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown said: “The defendants in this case are modern-day bootleggers who allegedly peddled untaxed cigarettes to enrich themselves.

“This smuggling ring raked in millions of dollars at the expense of New Yorkers.

“Purchasing cheaper cigarettes from out of state and applying counterfeit tax stamps on them cheats both the state and city out of much-needed tax revenue.

“The defendants now face prison time as a result of their alleged greed.”

“I want to acknowledge the exceptional work of the multiagency Strike Force that investigated this illegal operation. My office will continue to work diligently with our law enforcement partners to root out those who set up illegal operations in Queens County.”

Prosecutors allege that Nasir Jafri purchased over 37,000 cigarette cartons from retailers in Virginia and Maryland before driving them to New York, where tobacco products are subject to additional taxes.

Defendants Ahmad and Hassan Abualrub are then said to have bought the cigarettes from Nicholas Galafano before transporting them to Brooklyn, where they sold them on to customers.

A search of Beatrice Villafane’s home, which prosecutors allege was used by the gang as a “stash house”, led to investigators recovering more than 3,500 cartons of untaxed cigarettes, nearly 100,000 counterfeit New York State tax stamps, paraphernalia used to remove and affix stamps, counting machines and more than $200,000 cash.

Last year, a report from Washington DC-based think tank the Tax Foundation revealed that New York was the US capital of illicit tobacco.

The study found that an estimated 56.8% of cigarettes smoked in New York in 2015 were smuggled into the state.

That figure represented a 35.8% increase on the amount of smuggled tobacco smoked in 2016 in New York, which levies the highest rate of state cigarette tax in the US.

“Growing cigarette tax differentials have made cigarette smuggling both a national problem and in some cases, a lucrative criminal enterprise,” the report authors wrote.

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US border guards arrest 14-year-old boy with three packages of methamphetamine taped to his stomach

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14-year-old boy with three packages of methamphetamine

Customs officers in the US state of California have arrested a 14-year-old boy after discovering he had three bags of methamphetamine taped to his midriff under his clothing.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said the boy was stopped at the State Route 94 checkpoint in a vehicle with three companions on Monday night.

After pulling over the car in which the four suspects were traveling, CBP officers searched the vehicle with the help of a sniffer dog, which gave its handlers a positive response, indicating there were drugs present.

Customs investigators then sent the vehicle and its four occupants for further inspection.

Agents conducting pat-downs on the four found three bags of suspected methamphetamine wrapped round the 14-year-old’s stomach before taking all of them inside the checkpoint.

In total, the packages taped to the boy’s torso were found to contain just over 1.5kgs of methamphetamine.

A more detailed search of the vehicle the four suspects were travelling in resulted in the discovery of three backpacks containing 49 plastic-wrapped packages in the back of the car that contained more than 23kgs of methamphetamine.

The drugs seized from the suspects and their vehicle had an estimated street value of some $102,000.

The driver of the car, who investigators identified as a 34-year-old male US citizen, was taken into custody with three juvenile males, including a 16-year-old US citizen and two Mexican nationals aged 14 and 16.

CBP said that its San Diego Sector has seized approximately 500kgs of methamphetamine since 1 October last year, which had a total estimated street value of $2,088,100.

In a statement, CBP said: “To prevent the illicit smuggling of humans, drugs, and other contraband, the US Border Patrol maintains a high level of vigilance on corridors of egress away from our nation’s borders.”

In a separate seizure last Friday, Californian customs workers took a man into custody after finding more than 90 packages of methamphetamine stashed in various parts of his car.

After flagging the man down in his Green Ford Explorer on Interstate 15 near Temecula, a border agent engaged him in conversation while a sniffer dog gave the vehicle the once over.

When the dog signalled that drugs were likely in the car, investigators conducted a detailed search, finding 96 packages containing nearly 46kgs of methamphetamine estimated to be worth some $191,900.

San Diego Chief Patrol Agent Douglas Harrison commented: “I am very proud of the dedication displayed by these agents.

“They are committed to protecting America and keeping dangerous narcotics like these from reaching our communities.”

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British pharmacist jailed for selling opiate painkillers, tranquillisers and cancer drugs to organised criminals

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British pharmacist jailed for selling opiate painkillers

A crooked British pharmacist has been handed a 28-month jail sentence after being convicted of supplying controlled drugs with an estimated street value of almost £280,500 ($366,557) to members of an organised crime network.

Jaspar Ojela, 56, from West Bromwich, purchased controlled opiate painkillers, tranquillisers and medications intended for the treatment of cancer from drug wholesalers in 2016 before selling them on to his underworld contacts.

Ojela pleaded guilty to supplying the drugs during a hearing at Wolverhampton Crown Court after he was caught in a successful operation conducted by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates medication and medical devices in Britain.

The agency said cancer drugs are valuable to organised crime gangs as they are taken illicitly by bodybuilders to counteract the unwanted effects of other hormone medications.

An investigation was launched into Ojela after inspectors noticed that his pharmacy was buying suspiciously large quantities of controlled drugs that are popular on the black market, such as Diazepam, Zolpidem and Zopiclone.

Investigators were able to establish that Ojela illegally sold more than 200,000 doses of these drugs to his criminal contacts between February and September 2016.

When brought in by police for questioning, Ojela admitted that he had bought the medication with the intention of selling it on to organised criminals, and that he did so while knowing that he did not hold the necessary MHRA and Home Office licences.

Ojela’s defence barrister told the court he made less than £2,000 from the conspiracy and that he was at a “low ebb” when he agreed to participate in it.

The court was told that Ojela sold his criminal associates 213,000 pills for a total of just £5,600.

As well as pursuing his prosecution and jailing, the MHRA is also seeking to recover the proceeds of Ojela’s crimes, while the General Pharmaceutical Council is pursuing disciplinary proceedings against him.

In a statement, Mark Jackson, MHRA Head of Enforcement, commented: “It is a serious criminal offence to sell controlled drugs which are also prescription only medicines without a prescription.

“We work relentlessly with regulatory and law enforcement colleagues to identify and prosecute those involved.

“Those who sell medicines illegally are exploiting vulnerable people and have no regard for their health. Prescription-only medicines are potent and should only be taken under medical supervision.”

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Bungling British cyber hacker jailed for nine months after making £5 in attack on UK National Lottery

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British cyber hacker jailed for nine months

A hapless hacker from Britain has been jailed for nine months after being paid the princely sum of £5 ($6.50) for providing fellow cyber criminals with a tool to attack the UK’s National Lottery website.

Londoner Anwar Batson, 29, was handed the prison term at Southwark Crown Court after admitting four offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and one fraud charge.

Batson used a widely available hacking tool dubbed Sentry MBA to create a file that allowed other hackers to launch an attack on the National Lottery website back in November 2016, which at the time held nine million separate account profiles.

In July 2018, Daniel Thompson, 27, and Idris Kayode Akinwunmi, 21, were jailed for eight months and four months respectively at Birmingham Crown Court after they were convicted of using the tool to bombard the website with thousands of attempts to log in to customer accounts.

Batson, who used the name “Rosegold” online, provided the username and password of one lottery player to Akinwunmi, who stole £13 from the account before sending Batson £5.

Batson denied all knowledge of the scam when he was arrested back in May 2017, telling investigators from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) that he was the victim of trolling and that his devices had been hacked.

Detectives were able to disprove Batson’s claims after discovering conversations on devices seized from him that related to the hacking, buying and selling of username and password lists, configuration files and personal details.

Investigators were also able locate a conversation with Akinwunmi in which Barton discussed the theft of the £13 from the compromised National Lottery account.

In an interview given to police after his arrest, Akinwunmi said: “I was just being silly and naïve really… It was just a naïve act to make a little bit of cash.”

Jailing Barton for nine months, Judge Jeffrey Pegden said the gravity of his offending did not result from the amount of money he obtained by deception, but from the fact he had targeted “a large honourable organisation”.

Speaking after sentencing, NCA Senior Investigating Officer Andrew Shorrock said: “Even the most basic forms of cyber crime can have a substantial impact on victims.

“No one should think cyber crime is victimless or that they can get away with it.

“The NCA will pursue and identify offenders and any conviction can be devastating to their futures.”

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