Baltimore, Maryland – Zarakh Yelizarov, age 52, of Pikesville, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to a conspiracy to distribute over $6.6 million in contraband cigarettes. Yelizarov’s role in the scheme was to help launder the proceeds of the conspiracy.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Chief James W. Johnson of the Baltimore County Police Department; Special Agent in Charge Antoinette V. Henry of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations; and Special Agent in Charge Nicholas DiGiulio, Office of Investigations, Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.
According to his plea agreement, Yelizarov’s cousin, Elmar Rakhamimov, conspired with other family members and associates to receive, possess, sell and distribute contraband cigarettes, that is, cigarettes on which the applicable state taxes have not been paid. Rakhamimov, who was the leader and organizer of the scheme, purchased contraband cigarettes on 18 occasions between December of 2011 and November of 2013 from an undercover FBI agent operating in the Baltimore County, Maryland area.
According to his plea agreement, Yelizarov joined the conspiracy in October 2012. Prior to that time, the first nine contraband cigarette transactions were for cash, and the number of cigarettes and amount of cash increased. Yelizarov and Rakhamimov laundered the proceeds of the contraband cigarette sales through an international money laundering operation that wired funds from banks located in Latvia, Cyprus, Estonia, and New York, to a bank in Maryland, disguising the money as legitimate business payments for medical equipment or supplies. During the course of the scheme, Yelizarov used his mobile phone to call his contacts and to discuss the amount and the timing of the wire transfers into the Maryland account. Many of these calls were captured on a court ordered wiretap.
From December 27, 2012 through September 5, 2013, Yelizarov and Rakhamimov wired a total of $649,500 through 12 transactions. Yelizarov and Rakhamimov received a fee of approximately 8% for the money laundering transactions, totaling $56,000.
Rakhamimov used his residence and his restaurant, Europe, to conduct the illegal transactions of contraband cigarettes and the money laundering.
Yelizarov faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes. U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles, Jr. has scheduled sentencing for July 14, 2015, at 1:00 p.m.
Elmar Rakhamimov, a/k/a “Eric Rakhamimov,” age 42, of Owings Mills, Maryland; his brother, Salim Yusufov, age 43, of Reisterstown, Maryland; Adam Azerman, age 59, of Pikesville; and Shamil Novakhov, age 58, and Ruslan Ykiew, age 39, both of Brooklyn, New York, previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme and are awaiting sentencing.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the FBI, Baltimore County Police Department, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations and Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Investigations for their work in the investigation and the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office for its assistance in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Paul E. Budlow and John W. Sippel, Jr., who are prosecuting the case.