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Plea deal reached in illegal cigarette ring

By Candace Sipos csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Another local man who was arrested in early November for his role in a more than $33 million contraband cigarette trafficking ring entered into a plea agreement last week at the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Virginia.

Farman Ali, age and address unknown, was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States relating to contraband cigarettes, trafficking in contraband cigarettes and money laundering.

He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to sell or distribute more than 10,000 contraband cigarettes and one count of distributing more than 10,000 contraband cigarettes, according to Brian McGinn, public affairs specialist with the Western District of Virginia's U.S. Attorney's Office.

Both crimes could lead to a maximum sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000, according to McGinn.

Ali's plea agreement states that all other charges will be dismissed and that the United States will recommend that the judge grant Ali a reduction in the level of his offenses if he complies with the agreement.

According to an online statement of facts, Ali arrived in the United States in April of 2009 to visit Mohammad Kashmiri, another defendant who owned the 340 Quick Mart in Berryville.

Ali began working at a convenience store in New York for two months, then got married in Indiana before returning to Berryville to manage Kashmiri's store. Ali traveled back and forth to India and Berryville.

The document states that while working at Kashmiri's store, Ali helped Kashmiri and others transport untaxed cigarettes that had been purchased from undercover federal agents at an undercover operation in Shenandoah County. Ali went to New York to deliver the cigarettes on a few occasions, the document states.

The van he drove there held about 40-45 cases of untaxed cigarettes in one trip, according to the document.

Ali told police that most customers who came to the Berryville store to buy contraband cigarettes in bulk were from New York and New Jersey.

"Ali was involved in the purchase of at least 5,648 cartons of untaxed cigarettes... from law enforcement on numerous occasions between 2009 and 2011," the document states.

In one instance, according to the document, in August of 2009, Ali paid undercover agents $70,000, with more than $22,000 still owed, for more than 3,700 cartons of contraband cigarettes.

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