Fredericksburg Gas Station Owner Pleads Guilty to Cigarette Trafficking
RICHMOND, Va. – A Fredericksburg man pleaded guilty today to participating in a conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes.
According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Bernard Ekelemu, 60, directed another individual to purchase a Gulf gas station in Fredericksburg in November of 2013. Ekelemu then registered a Virginia corporation to operate that gas station, and obtained a “Certificate of Registration for the Collection of Virginia Sales and Use Tax” that exempted Ekelemu from paying the Virginia sales and use tax when making business purchases. Ekelemu opened business memberships at various wholesale clubs and with wholesale cigarette distributors in Virginia, and subsequently used those business memberships to make sales-tax-free purchases of more than $7.1 million worth of Virginia-stamped cigarettes between March 2014 and November 2016. Ekelemu stored those cigarettes at several locations in Virginia, to include storage units in Fredericksburg and Springfield, where Ekelemu would sell those cigarettes to cigarette traffickers. The traffickers thereafter smuggled those Virginia cigarettes north to New York State (among other locations), where they were sold as contraband cigarettes on the black market.
Ekelemu faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison when sentenced on August 16. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Michael B. Boxler, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Washington Field Division, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge M. Hannah Lauck accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Garnett is prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 3:17-cr-46.