By Michael Williams
SALEM — A city store owner charged in an alleged $9.6-million conspiracy to obtain and sell contraband, untaxed cigarettes was denied bail in federal court Friday.
Wael “Wally” Khasharmeh, 38, of Gibbstown, and owner of the AMW Supermarket, located at 136 W. Broadway, was denied bail by U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider in Camden federal court, according to authorities.
Khasharmeh was arrested Tuesday along with five others in connection with the alleged conspiracy, but is the only one who remains in custody without bail, authorities said.
The other five men have all been released on $100,000 bail, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The other men arrested were: Melido Fortuna, 34, and his brother Jose Fortuna, 29, both of Camden; Muhammad Shafique, 41, and his son, Kamran Khalid, 22, both of Egg Harbor Township; and Mohammad Rafiq, 62, of Atlantic City.
According to Rebekah Carmichael, spokeswoman with the attorney’s office, four of the men were released Tuesday on bail. Rafiq was released Thursday.
Khasharmeh appeared Friday for a bail hearing, and remains in custody. He will have no additional bail hearings, said Carmichael.
The attorney’s office could not provide further details on where Khasharmeh is being held, or why he is the only one of the six men involved in the alleged scheme who remains in custody.
According to the complaints unsealed earlier this week, prior to September 2010, law enforcement officers began investigating a cigarette smuggling operation in which the men allegedly purchased contraband cigarettes — which either did not bear the New Jersey State cigarette excise tax stamp, or bore a counterfeit stamp — and resold them at a profit while avoiding state taxes of $27 per carton.
During the course of the investigation, which lasted from September 2010 until February 2012, the men allegedly purchased contraband cigarettes from a confidential informant and two undercover law enforcement officers.
During that time, the men allegedly bought approximately 253,741 cartons of cigarettes for $9,680,197, resulting in a tax loss of approximately $6,851,655, authorities said.
Within those totals, Khasharmeh allegedly purchased 12,123 cartons of cigarettes in 32 transactions between September 2010 and February 2012 for $524,973, resulting in a state tax loss of $327,321.
Also, on separate occasions, Khasharmeh allegedly paid for cigarettes with a Mossberg pistol grip shotgun and a Chevrolet box truck.
He allegedly sold the contraband cigarettes out of his AMW Supermarket here, which he opened in April 2010, according to authorities.
On Tuesday, armed agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were on West Broadway, seen entering and exiting Khasharmeh’s store for more than three hours.
Agents remained posted at the store’s entrance during the investigation, turning away customers and saying that the business was closed.
Despite the raid the afternoon before, the market was reopened Wednesday morning.
According to authorities, the contraband cigarette conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.
When Khasharmeh opened the store on West Broadway, the new business filling an empty storefront was welcomed, but complaints grew in the following months about alleged loitering outside the business and litter some claimed was left on sidewalks by store patrons.