RALEIGH, N.C. – 31 people face charges after a law enforcement operation called “Southern Lights” reportedly uncovered the illegal transportation and smuggling of cigarettes through East Coast states, including, North Carolina and Virginia.
According to federal officials, the operation based out of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was assisted by Justin Brent Freeman through his wholesale business Freeco, Inc. from at least October 2018 until arrests were made in July last week.
Freeman, who was arrested on July 16, allegedly would get cash for helping provide cigarettes from his wholesale business that were taxed in North Carolina, but illegally transported to Virginia, where they then would be put in cars and transported to New York. This is when they would be illegally distributed across the state.
Federal authorities say that the 31 people involved took part in this because of the profitability of it. There were also cigarettes purchased at additional wholesales stores, such as Sam’s Club.
In North Carolina, the tax on a carton of cigarettes from 2018-2019 was $4.50. But in New York from 2018-2019, it was $43.50 per cartoon, with an additional $15 per cartoon added to that if the cigarettes are to be sold in New York City.
Along with Freeman and his company FreeCo, a federal grand jury indicted the following people with criminal conspiracy and money laundering: Malek Hamoud Alsaidi, Ibrahim Ahmed Alsaidi, Sadek Dahan Shahbain, Ayed Yahya Ali Alshami, Alshami Yahya Ali Alshami, Mohamed Hafed Abdou, Mohamed E. Ould El Bechir, Akram Ali Amer, Mohamed Yeslem Ould Izid Bih, Mohammed Saaid Darweesh, El Hassen Hamadi, Musheer Mohammed Hazam Alnaqeb, Ali Mohammed Mashli Al Qadhi, Mohamed Mounir, Aiedaw Ad Shibli, Shibli Abu Issa Shibli, Manar Mohammad Talalmustafa, Mohammed N. M. Khalayfa, Saleh Mohammad Abdeljawad, Kaid M. K. Addailam, Amr Mousa Alhalemi, Ahmad (Khalayfa, Rawhi Abdel Jabbar Khams Awad, Ali Aied Shibli, Amchad Rawhi Khamis Awad, Wachdi Awad, Abdallahi Mohamed Elhafedh, Ahmed Elhoussein, Dedde Cheikh, and Arafat A. I. Abuhammoud.
Those who face additional charges for the smuggling of contraband and transporting the cigarettes include Mohamed E. Ould El Bechir, Mohamed Hafed Abdou, Shibli Abu Issa Shibli, Mohammed Saaid Darweesh, Kaid M. K. Addailam, Amr Mousa Alhalemi and El Hassen Hamadi.
Cities that cigarettes were transported to and smuggled through in Virginia include Arlington and Richmond, according to federal documents.
In one of the more recent transactions between Freeman and co-conspirators in May, 1020 cartons of cigarettes were purchased from Freeco, Inc. for $58,479.
Three of the 31 people charged in this case were arrested in Virginia, and six are still wanted by authorities, according to officials.