From: Sun Sentinel
By Paula McMahon
In hindsight, the offer seems too good to be true – more than 4 million cigarettes for sale at the knockdown price of less than $500,000 and without having to pay those pesky cigarette taxes.
Turns out it was an undercover sting featuring federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives who made a series of 19 sales to three Broward County businessmen between March 2006 and July 2008, prosecutors said.
On Friday the three men, who all worked at a Fort Lauderdale gas station, pleaded guilty to conspiring to buy and sell contraband cigarettes bearing counterfeit State of Florida cigarette tax stamps. The undercover agents told the men the cigarettes were hijacked out of state and bore fake tax stamps.
Syed Fareed Ali, 36, his brother, Syed Mohsin Ali, 28, and an acquaintance, Mohammad Mohsin Ali, 27, who are known as Ali, Moe and Bobby, all pleaded guilty to a single count. They face a maximum punishment of five years in federal prison when they are sentenced later this year.
As part of their plea agreements, the trio must pay a total of $92,340 in unpaid cigarette taxes to the state of Florida and forfeit $251,544 to the federal government, as well as a 2006 Lexus SUV.
Syed Fareed Ali, who has been jailed since he was arrested in January, broke down and wept as he pleaded guilty on Friday afternoon in federal court in West Palm Beach while several family members cried too.
“At the time of the offense, Mr. Ali was a hardworking young man and master’s degree student who unfortunately got caught up in an ATF sting operation,” said Ali’s attorney, Jason Kreiss, who said his client was enrolled in computer studies courses. “Prior to encountering the ATF’s paid informant, Mr. Ali had no prior criminal history.”
The other two men are free on bail.
All three, who are originally from Pakistan but have lived in the U.S. for many years, may also face deportation.
The cigarettes had a wholesale value of $717,690, prosecutors said. The federal excise tax was 39 cents per pack of cigarettes and the Florida state excise tax was 33.9 cents per pack at the time of the sting, according to court records.