Pitt County Men Convicted In Cigarette Smuggling Ring

Two men, one from Greenville, the other from Winterville, have been convicted in a federal investigation. Prosecutors say they helped traffic contraband cigarettes from North Carolina to four other states.

The U. S. Department of Justice says 39-year-old Emad Hasan Tawfiq Wshah of Winterville and 40-year-old Mamoun Hasah Wshah of Greenville were busted in "Operation Smoke Screen," a two year undercover investigation of Middle Eastern men suspected of trafficking cigarettes. Also indicted were 55-year-old Sobhi Sulieman Shehadeh of Roanoke Rapids, 26-year-old Nabil Nafiz Mustafa of Greensboro and 24-year-old Omar M. Nijim of Brooklyn, New York.

The group was indicted in February 2011 on forty counts. Authorities say the group purchased what they thought were stolen cigarettes and "export only" cigarettes, and shipped $21 million worth through North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey and New York. Taxes on cigarettes in North Carolina are lower compared to New York and New Jersey.

According to the Department of Justice, "agents seized approximately $1.9 million dollars in cash, approximately $10 million dollars in bank accounts, including an ATF churning account, a 1999 Ferrari F355 Spider, a 2008 BMW X5 SUV, a 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe and a 2010 Ford F-150."

Emad Wshah of Winterville and Mamoun Wshah, of Greenville pled guilty to conspiring to transport stolen goods valued at more than $5,000 in interstate commerce, as did Sobhi Shehadeh of Roanoke Rapids. Emad Wshah was sentenced to 26 months in prison. Sentences are pending for and Shehadeh.

Investigation of this case was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the National Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB); the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement (NC ALE); the Wake County Sheriff's Office;
the Raleigh Police Department; the Zebulon Police Department; the Rocky Mount Police Department; the Durham Police Department; the Greenville Police Department; and the New Jersey Treasury Enforcement.