WRAL Investigates

Nine sentenced in cigarette-smuggling ring

Posted September 10, 2010 9:52 a.m. EDT

— Nine people have been sentenced on federal charges that they smuggled cigarettes from North Carolina throughout the northeast U.S. in effort to evade state taxes.

Prosecutors said that three suppliers – Ghassan Dahir, 51, of Raleigh, Darrel Brigman, 64, of Kannapolis, and Nicholas Oxendine, 32, of Rowland – sold cigarettes with total retail value of $4.2 million over six years. They also created counterfeit tax stamps that other states require as proof that taxes have been paid, prosecutors said.

The six buyers, identified as two women and four men from Connecticut and Pennsylvania, transported the cigarettes in large vans throughout the northeast and sold them without paying taxes.

Prosecutors said that Oxendine deposited profits from the scheme in different accounts in amounts just under $10,000 in an effort to avoid triggering a review of the transactions.

"Those who traffic in contraband cigarettes pose a danger to our financial infrastructure," Jeannine A. Hammet, a criminal investigations agent with the Internal Revenue Service, said in a statement.

Dahir, Brigman and Oxendine and their six co-defendants were arrested in November 2009 and pleaded guilty in April to conspiring to ship, transport, receive, possess, distribute and purchase contraband cigarettes.

As well, Oxendine and Kenny Salcedo, 36, of Bethel, Conn., pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting money structuring, and Ana Rodriguez, 53, of Danbury, Conn., also pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting interstate transportation of stolen goods, money laundering and aiding and abetting the counterfeiting of cigarette tax stamps.

Chief U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan on Wednesday handed down the following sentences:

  • Dahir: 20 months in prison, $500,000 in restitution
  • Brigman: three years on probation, $250,000 in restitution
  • Oxendine: 16 months in prison, $250,000 in restitution
  • Ana Rodriguez: six-and-a-half years in prison, nearly $5.2 million in restitution
  • Salcedo: two-and-a-half years in prison, $60,000 in restitution
  • Alphonso Rodriguez, 24, of Danbury, Conn.: six months in prison, $20,000 in restitution
  • Carlos Rodriguez, 25, of Danbury, Conn.: six months in prison, $20,000 in restitution
  • Heidi Rodriguez, 29, of Bethel, Conn.: three years on probation, $20,000 in restitution
  • Willard Perez, 27, of Bethel, Conn.: 16 months in prison, $20,000 in restitution

The case was investigated by the IRS and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"We owe these people for the long, tireless hours they put in so that we could secure this prosecution," U.S. Attorney George Holding said in a statement.

The ATF has investigated several high-profile cigarette smuggling cases in North Carolina in the past few years. The state General Assembly has considered legislation requiring tax stamps in effort to snuff out cigarette smuggling.