BERLIN – More details emerged this week in the case regarding several local residents caught up last week in the federal sting operation now targeting 45 suspects in an extensive money-laundering and bribery scheme including possible penalties and forfeitures of property for the defendants.
Last Thursday, federal officials including the FBI and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), raided two businesses and a private residence in Snow Hill in connection with a years-long undercover sting operation targeting as many as 45 suspects including 24 linked to Ocean City, Snow Hill and other locations across the lower Eastern Shore. Raided were the Your Stop convenience store and the Chicken Man restaurant on W. Market Street in Snow Hill as well as a private residence.
The raids were carried out shortly before U.S. District Court officials announced four indictments involving 39 defendants, many of whom were operating in Snow Hill, Ocean City and other locations on the lower Eastern Shore. The indictments arose from Operation Cash-Out, a months- long undercover sting investigation involving extensive international money laundering and bribery schemes. One of the indictments was connected to a suspect who allegedly attempted to conceal terrorist financing.
One of the four separate indictments specifically implicates several Snow Hill residents as well as residents of Salisbury and Parsonsburg. Two of the defendants named in the indictments owned and operated the two businesses targeted during yesterday’s raid in Snow Hill and other defendants worked in the businesses.
Mohammed Gujjar, a Pakistani native who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, has owned and operated the Your Stop Food Market in Snow Hill since 1995. Also named was Mohammed Ijaz, the brother of Gujjar, who has owned and operated the Chicken Man store in Snow Hill since 1993.
According to the indictments, an undercover operative working with FBI and ICE officials told the defendants he had the capability of funneling funds to terrorism cells around the globe and also had the capability of funneling bribes to U.S. Immigration officials for illegal permanent residency, or “green” cards, according to the formal indictment.
This week, more information came to light about the amount of money in phony bribes to immigration officials the Lower Eastern Shore defendants funneled through the undercover operative. According to court documents, Gujjar and his associates in Snow Hill and Ocean City provided bribes totaling $495,000 to the operative for illegal green cards.
In addition, Gujjar and his brother Mohammed Ijaz also provided another $450,000 in bribes to an individual they believed was a corrupt official of the Maryland Comptroller’s Office in order to induce the fake official to make $1.8 million in Maryland sales and use tax assessments levied against their businesses disappear. The penalties facing the 24 defendants from Snow Hill and Lower Shore are severe and varied.
All of the defendants face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy to bribe public officials and 22 of the local residents nabbed in the sting face a maximum of 15 years for actually bribing public official. In addition, Gujjar, Ijaz and three other defendants, Saeed Ahmed, Mohammed Akhtar and Mohammed Asif face 20-year maximum sentences for racketeering conspiracy under stringent federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws.
However, the most stringent penalties could hit the local defendants in the wallet. For Gujjar and Ijaz, the indictment seeks the forfeiture of at least $945,000 and their ownership interests in the two convenience stores raided in Snow Hill last week.