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Posted May 16, 2012 | comments 1 Comment

Front Royal man pleads guilty in cigarette scheme

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

A Front Royal man could face prison time for his role in an illegal cigarette trafficking operation.

Mohammad Irfan Butt, age not available, pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke to committing one count of conspiracy to sell more than 10,000 untaxed cigarettes. Butt entered into a plea agreement reached between his legal counsel, Kathleen M. Todd and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeb Terrien.

Conspiracy to sell contraband cigarettes carries a maximum penalty of five years in a federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the agreement.

U.S. Judge Michael F. Urbanski accepted the plea agreement. Under the deal the court then would dismiss Butt's remaining charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, trafficking contraband cigarettes and money laundering.

Butt and other co-defendants, including Mohammad Kashmiri, engaged in a scheme to buy untaxed cigarettes and then sell the items in states charging higher tax levies to make a profit, according to information filed in the case.

Butt and other defendants paid undercover law enforcement agents more than $8.68 million for contraband cigarettes and members of the ring sold the items to buyers in New York and other localities, the information states. Butt participated in more than one purchase of contraband cigarettes during the scheme which authorities say took place between April 2009 and November 2011.

Butt, on Dec. 17, 2009, bought approximately 1320 cartons of untaxed cigarettes at a warehouse set up by undercover law enforcement agents. During the delivery, the defendant told agents he planned to take the cigarettes to New York, according to the information document. Butt paid undercover agents $37,160 in cash for the cigarettes. Butt and another person bought contraband cigarettes from the warehouse a few days later, the information states. Butt and another person went to a gas station near Middletown on Dec. 28, 2009, and paid an undercover agent $180,300 for previously purchased contraband cigarettes, the document states.

Butt told the agent he had previously taken cigarettes to an individual in New York. Butt said the buyer paid him $200 per trip but when he asked for more money, the person fired him. Butt then went to work for another trafficker, according to the document.

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