A New York man who led of one of the largest cigarette smuggling operations in Virginia history pleaded guilty to charges in Henrico County Circuit Court Friday.
Police said Ebrahim Saif Alsaidi, 30, of Richmond Hill, N.Y., paid cash for more than $30,800,000 worth of cigarettes - over 600,000 cartons - tax-exempt. The cigarettes were sold illegally in New York, causing Virginia to lose over $1.5 million in sales tax revenue.
Cigarette trafficking is a highly profitable illegal racket made possible by the difference between low cigarette taxes in states like Virginia and high ones in places like New York. Virginia taxes cigarettes at 30 cents a pack while the combined city/state tax in New York City is $5.85 a pack.
Alsaidi pleaded guilty Friday to six felonies, including possession with the intent to distribute tax-paid cigarettes, and racketeering offenses. He was sentenced to 85 years, with all but 3.5 years suspended and fined $500,000.
Police said additional civil penalties and payment of taxes were levied against people whose names he used to set up and conduct his front businesses.
The convictions followed a three-year investigation by Henrico County police and Commonwealth's attorney’s office.
Authorities said Alsaidi's trafficking organization employed 24 people to buy tax-exempt cigarettes in Virginia and transport them to New York City, where they were sold for large profits. He set up at least 35 fictitious businesses, using other peoples’ identities, false business forms, and forged IRS documents to facilitate the illegal activity.
"This criminal enterprise was extremely sophisticated and well organized. Mr. Alsaidi brought associates to Henrico County from Michigan, North Carolina, and New York to work for him, he utilized polygraphs on his subordinates to insure loyalty, and tracked his shipments with GPS tracking devices," said a statement Friday by the Henrico police.
Police added that several violent crimes have been tied to members of the organization, including carjackings and armed robbery.