By Nancy Powell and Zack Hoopes, staff writers
(May 17, 2013) Two West Ocean City men are being held in the Worcester County jail after being denied bond yesterday on fugitive warrants from New York.
Brothers Basel Ramadan, 32, and Samir Ramadan, 39, are believed to be ringleaders of a group involved in cigarette smuggling with possible ties to terrorist organizations.
Altogether, the group is believed to have spent as much as $55 million buying cigarettes last year, while keeping $10 million in profit.
The Ramadans were the subjects of raids Wednesday by Homeland Security officers and investigators from New York. The Ramadan family owns a number of businesses in Berlin and Ocean City.
An apartment above the Subway franchise on Coastal Highway at Sunset Drive, which according to state tax records is owned by Shireen Ramadan, was the site of one of the raids. The Ramadan residences in Oyster Harbor were also raided, property was removed and men were taken into custody.
In addition to that property, Basel Ramadan is the registered agent for BSM Ocean City Properties LLC, which tax records show owns the Village Market at 1816 Philadelphia Ave.
According to an article in New York Daily News, the Ramadans were among 16 defendants who “flooded the market with more than 1 million cartons of tax-free cigarettes.” Some of those defendants, the article stated, may have ties to Hamas and Hezbollah.
The New York City Police Department has reportedly been tracking one of the defendants, Youssef Odeh, 52, of Staten Island, in conjunction with his support for terrorist activities.
Odeh is allegedly an adherent of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheik serving a life sentence for his part in a foiled 1993 plot to blow up landmarks in New York, according to Daily News reports.
However, according to the newspaper, the Ramadans are considered to be the leaders of the smuggling operation itself and are likely to be charged as such by the New York Attorney General.
Wednesday’s raids took place up and down the East Coast. Cigarette smuggling schemes typically involve purchasing large quantities of cigarettes in southern states where tobacco taxes are low, such as Virginia and North Carolina, and shuttling them north for resale in states where tobacco taxes are several times higher.
Given that the combined state and municipal tax on cigarettes in New York City is $4.35 per pack, black market cigarette sellers can raise their margins considerably and still offer a bargain price.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has frequently pressed that cigarette smuggling is a more serious crime than many in the state assume.
“This is a troubling reminder that we aren’t dealing with friends and neighbors who are just trying to save a few bucks on a carton of cigarettes,” Franchot said yesterday regarding the raids.
“We are dealing with rings of organized crime that, in certain instances, are even funneling profits from cigarette trafficking into terrorist operations. It further highlights why the Comptroller’s Office needs to have all the tools and legal backing necessary to combat contraband trafficking,” he said.
Comptroller’s field enforcement agents have made 150 arrests, seizing nearly 316,000 packs of cigarettes valued at more than $2 million in the past year.