FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT
AUSA VICKIE E. LEDUC or
MARCIA MURPHY at 410-209-4885
March 27, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SNOW HILL CONVENIENCE STORE OWNER SENTENCED FOR
Conspirators Sought to Bribe Government Officials to
Abate State Taxes and Provide Green Cards, and to Launder Money to Pakistan
Baltimore, Maryland - U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis sentenced Mohammad Riaz Gujjar, age 55, of Snow Hill, Maryland, today to 70 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for racketeering conspiracy arising from three separate schemes involving money laundering and attempts to illegally obtain tax abatements and green cards, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein. Gujjar has agreed to forfeit $432,787 and his ownership interests in two convenience stores.
“A key component of our homeland security mission is protecting the integrity of the United States immigration system,” said Scot R. Rittenberg, Acting Special Agent in Charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Baltimore. “This case clearly demonstrates our resolve to identify, arrest and bring to justice those involved in illegal schemes who seek to exploit our immigration system.”
According to Gujjar’s guilty plea, from 2003 to 2004, a cooperating witness who held himself out to be involved in large-scale international drug trafficking and international smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes, sold small quantities of cigarettes he represented to be counterfeit to Gujjar and Gujjar’s associates.
In January 2005, Gujjar asked the cooperating witness to help bribe a Maryland state tax official to abate approximately $788,000 in state sales and use taxes assessed against Gujjar’s convenience store, Your Stop Food Market (Your Stop) and his brother Mohammad Ijaz’s convenience store, Chicken Man Food Store (Chicken Man). The cooperating witness, acting at the direction of ICE and FBI agents in Maryland, represented that he would facilitate payment of the bribes to his alleged contacts in the Maryland State Comptroller’s Office. From April 7 to May 31, 2005, Gujjar, Ijaz and defendant Javed Iqbal met with the cooperating witness at the convenience stores and Gujjar’s residence where they gave the cooperating witness a total of $200,000 to give to an official in the Comptroller’s Office. The Comptroller’s Office provided false letters directed to Gujjar and his brother, advising them that their state sales and use taxes had been abated.
This scheme was repeated in October 2006, when Gujjar and Ijaz introduced defendant Saeed Ahmed to the cooperating witness. Ahmed represented that he controlled five other businesses for which state tax abatements were being sought. Ahmed subsequently paid the cooperating witness a total of $300,000 as a bribe to be provided to the Comptroller’s Office. The cooperating witness subsequently provided letters from the Maryland Comptroller’s Office to Ahmed to falsely confirm abatement of the taxes in response to the bribe.
In March 2005, Gujjar also asked the cooperating witness if he could obtain green cards, otherwise known as lawful permanent resident cards, in exchange for bribes. The cooperating witness, acting at the direction of federal law enforcement, represented that he would facilitate payment of the bribes to his alleged contacts in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. From May 2005 to September 2007, Gujjar and his conspirators gave the cooperating witness over $500,000 to pass on to an Immigration official to illegally issue green cards and other immigration documents for the defendants, their family members, employees and associates. Gujjar was the point of contact and organizer of all of the co-defendants who sought to fraudulently obtain green cards. A number of the bribe transactions took place at the two convenience stores and Gujjar’s residence. In many instances, Gujjar paid for the green cards himself, totaling at least $220,000 in payments.
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 above two schemes.
Finally, in May of 2005, Gujjar and the cooperating witness traveled to New York to meet co-defendant Mohammad Akhtar, whom Gujjar indicated could help the cooperating witness get money out of the country. The cooperating witness then introduced Akhtar to an undercover officer who, from July to October 2005, acting at the direction of law enforcement, gave Akhtar a total of $58,600 to transfer to Pakistan through an informal money transfer system called a “hawala,” using a network of persons and/or businesses to transfer money across domestic and international borders without reliance upon conventional banking systems and regulations. The undercover officer represented that the monies were the proceeds of his illegal drug trafficking. Between December 2005 and March 2006, the cooperating witness provided a total of $150,000 of allegedly illegitimate drug trafficking proceeds for additional hawala transactions in Pakistan. Gujjar remained involved in the money transactions, contacting associates by phone and returning to the cooperating witness some money that Akhtar had improperly skimmed from one of the money transactions.
Mohammad Ijaz, age 43, of Snow Hill, Maryland; Mohammad Akhtar, age 52, of Jersey City, New Jersey; Javed Iqbal, age 40, of Snow Hill, Maryland; and Saeed Ahmed, age 46, of Salisbury, Maryland, all pleaded guilty to the racketeering conspiracy. Ijaz was sentenced on June 25, 2008 to four years in prison and ordered to forfeit $249,132.06, the amount he paid or assisted in paying to bribe government officials, and to forfeit his ownership interest in the Chicken Man store. Iqbal was sentenced on September 9, 2008 to three years in prison and ordered to forfeit $323,565. Akhtar was sentenced on March 3, 2009 to 33 months in prison. Co-defendant Mohammad Asif, age 33, formerly of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was sentenced on September 25, 2008 to 33 months in prison for racketeering conspiracy. To date, 24 defendants have pleaded guilty to their participation in one or more of these schemes.
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 are prosecuting the case.