Two metro-east men were among 35 individuals indicted last week in connection with an illegal cigarette and synthetic drug ring.
Maher Hamed, also known as Abu Alazara, 33, of Swansea, faces one count of conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes. Hassan Abdelatif, 29, of Collinsville, faces one count of conspiring to distribute synthetic drugs.
The May 24 indictment follows May 23 raids on convenience stores in St. Louis.
The defendants are accused of buying cigarettes in St. Louis, where taxes are lower, and distributing them in Chicago and New Jersey, where taxes are higher on cigarettes. The individuals allegedly set up several convenience stores to make it look like they were selling cigarettes legitimately.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
Hamed is accused of transporting contraband cigarettes out of Missouri, and Abdelatif is accused of working at one of the convenience stores and distributing synthetic drugs.
The convenience stores were also used as a front to launder profits from the sales, according to the indictment.
Synthetic drugs, including the synthetic cannabis drug known as K-2, were also sold at some of the convenience stores. Prosecutors say the defendants purchased the product from a national distributor but also manufactured it themselves using chemicals from China.
Special Agent in Charge James M. Gibbons of Homeland Security Investigation said in a statement that collaboration between federal and local law enforcement is “key to breaking criminal enterprises in this area.”
James P. Shroba, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration St. Louis Division, said the indictments and arrests “reflect the commitment of the DEA and our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to dismantle these types of unprincipled business operations that are profiting from human frailty.”
If convicted, the defendants face maximum penalties of five to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million.
Homeland Security Investigations, the DEA, IRS Criminal Investigation, the FBI, Illinois State Police, Illinois Department of Revenue, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
Also indicted were the following individuals:
▪ Mohammed Almuttan, aka Abu Ali, 35, St. Louis
▪ Rami Almuttan, aka Abu Louay, 33, St. Louis
▪ Hisham Mutan, aka Abu Mohamed, 41, St. Louis
▪ Saddam Mutan, aka Abu Ali, 24, St. Louis
▪ Mazin Abdelsalam, aka Abu Mohammad, 38, St. Louis
▪ Najeh Muhana, aka Abu Yazan, 41, Fairview, N.J.
▪ Fares Muhana, aka Abu Yamama, 40, Cliffside Park, N.J.
▪ Ayoub Qaiymah, aka Abu Faysal, 23, Richmond, Va.
▪ Naser Abid, 23, Chicago
▪ Yadgar Barzanji, aka Abu Siver, 47, St. Louis
▪ Wafaa Alwan, 50, St. Louis
▪ Ahmed Abuali, aka Bazilla, 31, North Bergen, N.J.
▪ Mohammed Kayed, aka Mohammed Fayez, 21, Clifton, N.J.
▪ Momen Abuali, 20, Little Ferry, N.J.
▪ Firat Sevindik, 42, Cliffside Park, N.J.
▪ Mohammed Mustafa, 30, North Bergen, N.J.
▪ Mohammad Karashqah, aka Abu Yazid, 47, North Bergen, N.J.
▪ Fayez Sheikha, 46, Mishawaka, Ind.
▪ Jihad Shihadeh, aka Abu Malik, 58, Chicago Ridge, Ill.
▪ Ismael Abadi, 57, Carol Stream, Ill.
▪ Abed Hamed, aka Abed Fawzan, 39, Greenville, N.C.
▪ Abdel Adi, 25, Oak Lawn, Ill.
▪ Muhanad Khatib, aka Abu Alamin, 36, Chicago
▪ Eyad Awad, 38, Chicago
▪ Dale Garbin, 60, Kankakee, Ill.
▪ Hayder Al Fatli, 40, St. Louis
▪ Kutlay Guvener, 35, Chicago
▪ Saad Al Mallak, 30, Dittmer, Mo.
▪ Mahajir Naz, 32, St. Louis
▪ Talal Abuajaj, 23, St. Louis
▪ Basem Hamdan, aka Abu Ramiz, 57, St. Louis
▪ Zainal Saleh, 29, St. Louis
▪ Ibrahim Awad, 39, St. Louis