Illegal Alien Pleads Guilty to Racketeering Conspiracy

Sought to Pay Bribes to Government Officials to Obtain Green Cards

October 24, 2008

Baltimore, Maryland - Mohammad Akhtar, age 52, pleaded guilty today to a 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, 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, who held himself out to be involved in large-scale international drug trafficking and international smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes, acting at the direction of federal law enforcement, represented that he would facilitate payment of the bribes to his alleged contacts in the Maryland State Comptroller’s Office and USCIS. Between April and May of 2005, Akhtar’s associate gave the cooperating witness four bribe payments totaling $200,000 with the understanding that the monies would be provided to a Maryland state tax official to abate the sales and use taxes for the businesses. The Comptroller’s Office subsequently provided false letters which the cooperating witness gave the associate to confirm abatement of the taxes in response to the bribe.

On May 11, 2005, the cooperating witness traveled to New York to meet with Akhtar, after being told that Akhtar 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, he was asked if he 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.

As part of his plea agreement, Akhtar has agreed to forfeit $278,600.

Akhtar faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the racketeering charge. U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis has scheduled sentencing for January 23, 2009 at 10:00 a.m.

Mohammad Ijaz, age 43, of Snow Hill, Maryland, and Javed Iqbal, age 40, of Snow Hill, Maryland, pleaded guilty to the racketeering conspiracy and were sentenced to four years and three years in prison, respectively. 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 are prosecuting the case.



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