By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK -- Hearings in Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Thursday on three cases involving defendants facing a long list of charges linked to cigarette smuggling shed new light on an extensive investigation mounted by the county Sheriff's Office against illicit cigarette sales.
The charges against John Charles Taveras and Thaer Nimer Khashman, both of New York City, and Harvey Saul Luna, of Elizabeth, N.J., include selling more than 3,000 cigarette packages without a tax stamp and money laundering. Taveras and Khashman are also charged with several counts of racketeering.
Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp scheduled another hearing for April 30 to set a trial date for Taveras and Khashman. Hupp also scheduled another court appearance for Luna on May 28.
The dates listed in court records for the alleged offenses encompass a period from early 2011 to mid-2013. Court records contain little information from law enforcement officials about the investigation, but written filings and open court arguments from the defense and prosecution make clear that the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office played a leading role in the case.
None of the defendants appeared in court. All are out on bail. David Downes, a defense attorney representing Khashman and Taveras, made several motions, including an effort to identify which of three scenarios apply to their prosecution.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Louis Campola, in reply to one of Downes' motions, said Taveras is accused of traveling back and forth between Shenandoah County, where he allegedly purchased the cigarettes, and New York City, where authorities say he sold them at a profit before returning to Shenandoah County to buy more cigarettes.
Campola said the prosecution could have charged Taveras with many more counts but chose not to do so, which was a benefit to the defendant.
Campola's comments drew a sarcastic reply from Downes.
"My client is left speechless by the generosity and consideration of the commonwealth in not indicting him on more than 20 counts under one statute," Downes told Hupp.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org