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Maryland man convicted in major NY cigarette-smuggling case, acquitted in witness-murder plot


NEW YORK — A Maryland man accused of spearheading the smuggling of more than a million cartons of untaxed cigarettes into New York state was convicted Tuesday of racketeering but acquitted of charges that he plotted behind bars to get witnesses killed.

Basel Ramadan faces a potential sentence of up to 30 years in prison on his conviction, which authorities say involved more than $10 million in illegal profits and at least $80 million in tax evasion. Ramadan was convicted of nearly 200 counts including money laundering, tax crimes and enterprise corruption, New York's version of racketeering, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.

"This individual led a criminal enterprise that stretched from Maryland to New York, flooded our state with millions of cheap cigarettes and cheated New Yorkers out of tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue" and denied local businesses a level playing field, Schneiderman said in a statement.

Defense lawyer Marc Agnifilo said the case was not the sprawling criminal enterprise prosecutors portrayed, nor the murder scheme they alleged.

"This was a cigarette case that was straining to be something more," Agnifilo said.

Ramadan is considering an appeal, he said.

Ramadan, 44, was initially arrested in May 2013, along with 15 other people. The attorney general's office and the New York Police Department said Ramadan led a smuggling ring that bought cigarettes in Virginia, stored them in Delaware and distributed about 20,000 cartons a week for sale at markets throughout New York City and at grocery stores upstate.

Investigators found $1.5 million stashed in black plastic garbage bags in Ramadan's car and home in West Ocean City, Maryland, authorities said. They said they seized more than 65,000 forged New York City and state cigarette tax stamps — required on all packs of smokes sold in the city — and nearly 20,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes during the investigation.

Ramadan was charged with conspiracy and criminal solicitation in October 2013. Prosecutors said that he had given an informant details about two people he believed were cooperating with authorities and he wanted dead and that he then told an undercover officer posing as a hit man that he had "one of those problems."

Agnifilo said at the time that any comments Ramadan had made was just him venting frustration, not actually planning a murder for hire. Ramadan was acquitted of the conspiracy and criminal solicitation charges.

Several other defendants have pleaded guilty, and some are awaiting trial.

Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.

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