FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
THURSDAY - April 24, 2008
GLENDALE MAN CONVICTED IN CIGARETTE SMUGGLING CONSPIRACY
LOS ANGELES - The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, George E.B. Holding announced yesterday that a federal jury in Los Angeles, California, found AVEDIS DJEREDJIAN, 39, of Glendale, California, guilty on 15 counts for conspiring to traffic in contraband cigarettes, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371; conspiring to violate Title 18, United States, Code, Section 1956 (a)(1)(A)(I) by conducting financial transactions with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h); and structuring financial transactions and aiding and abetting, in violation of Title 31, United States Code, Sections 5324(a)(3) and 5324 (d).
The jury, however, could not come to a unanimous decision regarding charges against the two other defendants, CARMEN BADRIAN, 36, and ROOBIK OHANIANSAKI, 50, also of Glendale, California.
This matter was originally indicted by a Federal Grand Jury sitting in the Eastern District of North Carolina on October 25, 2006, as much of the criminal activity took place within this federal district. However, the defendants moved to transfer the matter to California. On May 16, 2007, after lengthy hearings and over the objection of the United States, the Court in the Eastern District of North Carolina transferred the matter to the Central District of California.
The case focused on the efforts of the defendants to purchase cigarettes at a lower cost in North Carolina, transport them to California to sell, and avoid payment of higher cigarette taxes in California. According to the evidence presented at the trial of this matter, from January, 2002, to June, 2005, DJEREDJIAN and his wife, CARMEN, and OHANIANSAKI purchased more than 530,000 cartons of cigarettes from North Carolina, which is considered to be one of the states with a low cigarette tax rate, and other sources, and shipped and sold the contraband in California, a state considered to have a high cigarette tax. However, according to the evidence, the defendants had purchased only enough legitimate California tax stamps from the California Board of Equalization for 2,040 cartons. These tax stamps are required by California to be placed on each individual pack to show that the state tax had been paid before any pack could be sold in the state. As a result, during the time period alleged in the indictment (2002 to 2005), purchases in the State of North Carolina were used to defraud the State of California of more than $9.5 million in cigarette taxes revenue.
Mr. Holding commented on the important nature of this case: “An important part of our system of Government is a recognition of the sovereignty of states when it comes to setting tax rates and managing the sale and distribution of goods within a state’s boundaries. Here, North Carolina was used by these defendants to break the laws of California. I am pleased that we could work hand in hand with the United States Attorney for the Central District of California and with investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Internal Revenue Service and the California Board of Equalization to put a stop to this criminal activity.”
The maximum penalty for conspiring to traffic in contraband cigarettes is 5 years’ imprisonment, 3 years supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Conspiring to violate Title 18, United States, Code, Section 1956 (a)(1)(A)(I) by conducting financial transactions with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activityis punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, 5 years supervised release, and a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater. The maximum penalty for structuring financial transactions and aiding and abetting is 10 years’ imprisonment, 3 years supervised release and a $500,000 fine. Sentencing in this matter is set for August 4, 2008.
As noted in Mr. Holding’s comments, the investigation of the case in the Eastern District of North Carolina was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Internal Revenue Service. In the Central District of California, the investigative agencies included the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the California Board of Equalization. Assistant United States Attorneys Clay Wheeler and Joshua Royster of the Eastern District of North Carolina handled this matter for the United States.
News releases are available on the U. S. Attorney’s web page at www.usdoj.gov/usao/nce within 48 hours of release.