BERLIN – A Snow Hill man, who was one of dozens rounded up in a federal sting operation in Worcester County and across the Lower Shore last September for providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to undercover federal agents for illegal green cards and tax abatements, was sentenced this week in U.S. District Court to four years in jail.
Mohammed Ijaz, 43, of Snow Hill, this week entered a plea arrangement with federal prosecutors resulting in four years in prison followed by three years of supervised release for his part in a massive racketeering conspiracy uncovered by the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials last year. In addition, U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Garbis ordered Ijaz to forfeit the nearly $250,000 he paid to bribe government officials and that he forfeit his interest in the Chicken Man food store in Snow Hill, which was one of several businesses raided by federal officials last September.
Last September, FBI and ICE agents 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 linked to Ocean City, Snow Hill and other locations across the lower shore. Raided at the time were the Chicken Man store and the Your Stop convenience store in Snow Hill as well as a residence. The raids were carried out just as U.S. District Court officials announced indictments for as many as 39 defendants, many of whom were operating in Snow Hill, Ocean City and other locations on the shore.
The indictments arose from Operation Cash-Out, a months-long undercover sting operation exposing extensive money-laundering and bribery schemes. According to the indictments, an undercover operative working with FBI and ICE officials told Ijaz and other co-conspirators he had the capability of funneling bribes to U.S. immigration officials for illegal permanent residency, or “green,” cards.
From March 2005 to September 2007, Ijaz and his co-conspirators agreed to pay $495,000 to the undercover agent they believed was a corrupt U.S. immigration official to illegally issue green cards for the co-conspirators, their family members, employees and associates.
During one meeting in November 2006, Ijaz met with the undercover agent and arranged to purchase illegal green cards for 10 individuals for $25,000 each, and told the agent he was tacking on an additional $5,000 to the cost of the cards to keep a little money for himself. On another occasion, Ijaz paid $10,000 to the agent for an ink pad and blank immigration forms to be used for obtaining illegal green cards.
The bribes-for-green cards scheme was only part of the vast racketeering conspiracy uncovered by the sting operation. In January 2005, Ijaz and other co-conspirators approached the undercover agent to make arrangements to get bribes to an individual they believed worked for the Maryland Comptroller’s Office to abate roughly $788,000 in sales and use taxes that had been assessed against the Chicken Man store and another convenience store.
Over a period from January 2005 to September 2007, Ijaz and his co-conspirators agreed to pay $450,000 in bribes to who they believed was a corrupt Comptroller’s Office official to make $1.8 million in Maryland sales and use taxes levied against their various holdings go away. Fake letters from the Comptroller’s Office acknowledging the acceptance of the bribes and the abatement of the back taxes were even provided to Ijaz and the other suspects.
Ijaz, a Pakistani national who became a U.S. citizen in 1997, was the first of many who will be prosecuted for their parts in the vast racketeering conspiracy. Over the course of the scheme, Ijaz helped facilitate a number of the bribes and met with the undercover agent and his co-conspirators at his store in Snow Hill. It’s important to note there never was any corrupt immigration and state officials involved in the scheme and all of the bribes were handed over to federal law enforcement officials.