Says his businesses are suffering because of siblings’ criminal charges
OCEAN CITY — Copyright 2013 The Daily Times
The brother of two accused cigarette smugglers said banks are shutting him out of his own accounts and hurting his business interests, based on his brothers’ criminal charges and the publicity surrounding the case.
Mohammad “Mike” Salah Ramadan, 31, is the younger brother to Basel Ramadan, 42, and Samir Ramadan, 39, both of West Ocean City. The two older brothers have been indicted with serious tax evasion charges in New York stemming from an operation that moved thousands of cartons of cheap Virginia-bought cigarettes into New York City.
“The consequences have literally crippled me already,” said Mike Ramadan in an interview. “Let alone the fact that these are my brothers. Then being accused of terrorism, accused of everything with them. It’s very dangerous when people think that you are allegedly in dealings with that stuff.”
Mark Cropper, Mike Ramadan’s attorney, said his client is “suffering significant consequences” because of the publicity his brothers have received. Vendors are talking about not doing business with him, and he’s received threats against himself and his business interests, Cropper said.
According to the Organized Crime Task Force with the office of the New York state Attorney General’s Office, Mike Ramadan has never been suspected of being involved, or in any way implicated, in the crimes for which Basel and Samir have been charged.
“There are a lot of Ramadans in the Ramadan family who have nothing to do with this alleged criminal activity,” Cropper said. “Mike’s not involved in the prosecution of his two brothers. If they had any reason to believe that his businesses had any connection, you can rest assured he’d be in jail right now. But that is not the case.”
In a 303-page indictment, New York authorities allege Basel Ramadan was the boss of an illicit untaxed cigarette distribution-based money laundering operation. Investigators seized more than 20,000 cartons of cigarettes from defendants’ homes, cars and storage facilities last month.
The indictment alleges Basel Ramadan oversaw a group of 15 people, including Samir Ramadan, who bought cigarettes in Virginia, had them stored in Delaware, and then sold them in New York City. The enterprise generated millions of dollars in illicit proceeds, police said, and criminal charges in part stem from $80 million in unpaid cigarette taxes to the state of New York.
Terror ties disputed
Police in New York also said that while it hasn’t yet been established where the illicit proceeds ended up, they are concerned because similar schemes have been used in the past to help fund terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah.
Mike Ramadan disputes his brothers in any way have been funding such groups.
“My brothers, they might be allegedly involved in cigarette smuggling, but I would never believe one bit that they’re terrorists. That’s just insanity. That’s just a jab … we’re from a certain part of the world. We’re an easy target,” Mike Ramadan said.
Law enforcement told reporters that in the course of the May 15 raid at Basel Ramadan’s home in the Oyster Harbor neighborhood of West Ocean City, police found more than $1 million in cash — some of it stashed in plastic bags, some in a safe, some bundled on a coffee table in plain sight.
When asked, Mike Ramadan said he never saw that kind of cash in his brothers’ homes.
“It’s a surprise to me. Did I ever see that? No. Never,” he said. “I would like to, however, just say that they have a lot of cash businesses. They must have cash businesses that accumulated that much. But I never saw it.”
Cropper said “numerous” banks have terminated his client’s operating accounts, and “it is virtually impossible” to get new accounts “merely because of the articles.”
Government records and officials have indicated business connections between Mike Ramadan and his brothers. In one case, however, the information was incorrect and in another, Mike Ramadan says there is no link.
A May 26 story appearing in The Daily Times reported that the beer and wine store at the Gold Coast Mall in Ocean City was operated by Basel Ramadan. That information as received from the source, Worcester County Department of Liquor Control Director Bobby Cowger, was incorrect.
A representative from the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners confirms that Mike Ramadan is the license holder of that beer and wine store.
Mike Ramadan said his older brother, Basel, did help him launch that business there, but was never an owner. Cropper said Mike Ramadan has always been the exclusive business license holder of 114 Beer & Wine, Inc., doing business as Gold Coast Beer & Wine.
Mike Ramadan also said a now-expired business license for Atlantic Ice Cream Inc. was never connected to his brothers.
When asked why the business address for Atlantic Ice Cream was the same as the Village Market shopping center in Ocean City, which is owned by one of Basel Ramadan’s corporate entities, BSM Ocean City Properties, Mike Ramadan said that arrangement was made in order for him to have a physical location to receive business-related mail.
Mike Ramadan said each of his six Dairy Queen franchises are now under separate corporations, and his office is established at 5700 Coastal Highway in Ocean City. Mike Ramadan is the sole shareholder of those businesses, and only he manages those businesses, he said.
For now, he is trying to operate his own businesses even as his brothers’ complicated case may take months if not years to resolve in the criminal courts.
“I’m afraid for my businesses, and also for my employees,” he said. “Because we don’t want somebody who might have lost his mind to go into one of my locations and harm my location itself, or harm one of the employees, because of the nature of the allegations.
“And on top of that, it’s just hurtful, because we had absolutely nothing to do with it. This was a shock for us.”
Mike Ramadan also said his family’s lineage in the United States dates to 1890, when an ancestor came to Pennsylvania from Jerusalem. He grew up here, attended grade school in Worcester County public schools, and later attended Salisbury University as a business major.