FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT
AUSA VICKIE E. LEDUC or
MARCIA MURPHY at 410-209-4885
March 3, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ILLEGAL ALIEN SENTENCED FOR RACKETEERING CONSPIRACY
Sought to Pay Bribes to Government Officials to Obtain Green Cards
Baltimore, Maryland - U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis sentenced Mohammad Akhtar, age 52, today to 33 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for racketeering conspiracy related to a scheme to bribe officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to illegally obtain green cards and the Maryland Comptroller’s Office to receive abatement of state taxes, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein. Akhtar is a Pakistani national illegally residing in Jersey City, New Jersey.
According to the plea agreement, in January 2005, Mohammad Riaz Gujjar, an associate of Akhtar who owned and operated convenience store/gas stations in Snow Hill, Maryland sought to have a cooperating witness assist with the payment of bribes to abate $788,000 in Maryland sales and use taxes assessed against the convenience store/gas stations and to fraudulently obtain green cards for associates. The cooperating witness held himself out to be involved in large-scale international drug trafficking and international smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes, but was acting at the direction of federal law enforcement.
On May 11, 2005, Gujjar and the cooperating witness traveled to New York to meet with Akhtar, whom Gujjar had indicated could help the cooperating witness get money out of the country. During their meeting, the cooperating witness indicated that all of his monies were from illegitimate sources. Akhtar and another individual agreed to transfer the cooperating witness’s monies outside the United States through the “hawala” system of money transfer.
The cooperating witness subsequently introduced Akhtar to an individual represented to be an associate by the name of “Tariq.” This individual was, in fact, an officer with the New York City Police Department acting in an undercover capacity. During his meetings with Akhtar, the undercover officer represented that his monies were the proceeds of drug trafficking. Between July 2005 and March 2006, Akhtar received a total of $258,600 of allegedly illegitimate money from the undercover officer and the cooperating witness for hawala transactions in Pakistan. Monies were subsequently picked up in Pakistan on behalf of the undercover officer and cooperating witness in amounts equivalent to the monies provided to Akhtar and his associate, minus commissions kept by Akhtar and his associate for handling the transactions.
Soon after the cooperating witness had met Akhtar, Gujjar asked if the cooperating witness could obtain a green card for Akhtar’s son through payment of a bribe. The cooperating witness subsequently told Akhtar that Tariq (the undercover officer) would take care of his immigration bribes. In subsequent meetings, Akhtar agreed to pay a total of $45,000 in bribes in order to fraudulently receive green cards for himself, his son and his daughter. Akhtar and his children received their fraudulent green cards between July and December 2006.
The payments for the bribes were all made to the cooperating witness, who provided the money to federal law enforcement agents. There were in fact no corrupt immigration and state officials involved in the scheme.
Gujjar, age 54, of Snow Hill, Maryland, pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy arising from three separate schemes involving money laundering and attempts to illegally obtain tax abatements and green cards. Gujjar faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison at his sentencing on March 27, 2009 and has agreed to forfeit $432,787, and his ownership interests in the convenience stores. To date, 21 defendants have pleaded guilty to their participation in this scheme.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein thanked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation for their investigative work and expressed appreciation to the Maryland Comptroller’s Office for its assistance in this case. Mr. Rosenstein commended Assistant United States Attorneys Christine Manuelian and P. Michael Cunningham, who prosecuted the case.