Defendants plead guilty in cigarette smuggling case

John Charles Taveras, left, sits beside his attorney David Downes during circuit court proceedings on Monday. Taveras pleaded guilty to a money laundering charge arising from a Sheriff's Office undercover investigation into the smuggling of untaxed cigarettes. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Two New York City men pleaded guilty Monday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court to single charges of money laundering in a cigarette smuggling case.

John Taveras received a longer jail sentence, 90 days, than his co-defendant, Thaer Nimer Khashman, who will serve 30 days. Both were also sentenced to two years supervised probation.

Taveras and Khashman each could have been sentenced to a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a $500,000 fine on the money laundering charges.

The plea agreement ended a prolonged legal battle in which their defense attorney, David Downes of Front Royal, sought to learn the details of an elaborate undercover investigation conducted by the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office into cigarette smuggling.

Downes filed three freedom of information requests, one of which led to Sheriff Timothy C. Carter revealing that his office had received more than $11 million and spent almost $10 million as a result of the sting operation during a three-year period from Jan. 1, 2011 until Dec. 31, 2013.

Shenandoah County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Hupp listens to an attorney during circuit court proceedings. Hupp has announced his plans for retirement. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Taveras’ case was initially scheduled for a two-day jury trial that was to begin Monday. Khashman’s case was to have been scheduled for a trial or a final disposition after Taveras’ case had been decided.

Each defendant still faces dozens of additional charges that were not included in Monday’s plea agreements. Those cases also involve money laundering charges as well as charges of the purchase, sale and transport of untaxed cigarettes in Virginia.

The plea agreements call for the remaining charges to be scheduled for a jury trial or disposed of on Nov. 4.

John Charles Taveras, left, stands beside his attorney David Downes during circuit court proceedings on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Tax labels are stamped with the Virginia label on these boxes of cigarettes at an area retail store on Monday. The Shenandoah County Sheriffs Office has been conducting sting operations selling cigarettes without the tax stamp. Rich Cooley/Daily