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Woman gets probation for part in alleged cigarette ring

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

A Stephens City woman convicted of money laundering as part of a ring accused of illegally selling cigarettes received two years probation and a $1,000 fine Thursday under a sentencing order filed by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Urbanski.

The sentencing came after Zobina Gillani, of 124 Cedar Mountain Drive and 114 Blackburns Drive, pleaded guilty to money laundering in February. The prosecution agreed to drop one count for conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes and six other counts of money laundering, according to online court documents.

Court records show Gillani was one of six defendants in a case involving crimes spanning 2009 to November 2011.

Court records describe huge sums of money and sales volume in the operation -- 103,272 cartons of cigarettes purchased by the defendants from undercover law enforcement officers and retail sales totaling $9.3 million in New York state and $11.3 million in New York City. The retail sales value of the cigarettes in Virginia was estimated at $3.7 million.

A statement of facts filed by the prosecution and signed by Gillani describes her as involved with the other defendants in a "scheme" to buy cigarettes in Virginia and sell them in New York state and New York City.

"The difference in the price of a carton of cigarettes in Virginia as compared to South Carolina, New York and other high cigarette tax states is such that individuals engaged in the illegal trafficking of cigarettes can make a substantial amount of money by buying cigarettes in Virginia and selling them in other states that levy a greater tax," according to the statement of facts.

The document states that the defendants in the case paid more than $2.6 million for contraband cigarettes from undercover agents and "amassed substantial profits, primarily in the form of cash" by selling them in New York and other places with higher cigarette taxes.

Gillani and another defendant, Mohammad Atif, tried to "conceal and disguise the source of these illegal profits," according to the statement of facts.

The goal was to conceal the source, ownership and control of the money they were taking in, federal authorities said.

"In particular, Zobina Gillani -- at the direction of and instigation of Mohammad Atif -- held bank accounts, safety deposit boxes and other assets in her name to disguise and conceal the ownership interest of Mohammad Atif and to conceal the source of such assets," the statement of facts said.

Gillani also used financial institutions to exchange small denomination bills for $100 bills that were kept in a safety deposit box, authorities said.

The court documents say that most of the illegal sales were transacted at American Market Inc., described as a combination of grocery and tobacco retail store at 201 Centre Drive, Suite 105 in Stephens City. The court records identify Atif as the owner of American Market.

The court records also mention Carter's Store in Middletown as the site of numerous transactions between Atif and an unidentified undercover law enforcement officer.


So she has two houses in a fairly expensive neighborhood??? Seems like a few more stones could have been turned.. or maybe she is just independently wealthy. Not judging, just making an observation.

Fined $1,000 ? So she probably still turned a nice profit on this deal. Cost to the taxpayers to investigate, incarcerate, and prosecute? Much more than $1,000. So the lesson we take away from this is that crime pays, but enforcement of laws meant to protect honest citizens is a loss! Good job everybody!!

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