January 5, 2016: Two Defendants Sentenced to Prison in Conspiracy to Distribute Over $6.6 Million in Contraband Cigarettes
Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles, Jr. sentenced Nikolay Zakharyan, age 24, of Owings Mills, Maryland, and Zarakh Yelizarov, age 53, of Pikesville, Maryland, today to a year and a day in prison, and 18 months in prison, respectively, each followed by three years of supervised release, for conspiracy to receive, possess, sell and distribute over $6.6 million in contraband cigarettes, that is, cigarettes on which the applicable state taxes have not been paid. Judge Quarles entered an order requiring Yelizarov to pay restitution of $2.5 million to New York City and the state of New York and to forfeit $56,000, proceeds of the offense. Judge Quarles also entered an order requiring Nikolay Zakharyan to pay restitution of $9,659,880.
The sentences were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Kevin Perkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Chief James W. Johnson of the Baltimore County Police Department; Acting Special Agent in Charge Glen A. McElravy of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations’ Metro Washington Field Office; and Special Agent in Charge Nicholas DiGiulio, Office of Investigations, Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.
According to their guilty pleas, Elmar Rakhamimov was the leader and organizer of the scheme, and he coordinated with Ilgar Rakhamimov (no relation) and Artur Zakharyan to collect the money to purchase the contraband cigarettes, and to arrange for the storage and transportation of the contraband cigarettes to Brooklyn, New York. Elmar Rakhamimov, Ilgar Rakhamimov, and Artur Zakharyan purchased contraband cigarettes on 18 occasions between December of 2011 and November of 2013 from an undercover FBI agent operating in the Baltimore County, Maryland area.
According to court documents and testimony at the five day trial, Artur Zakharyan recruited his son, Nikolay Zakharyan, to participate in the scheme. Nikolay Zakharyan assisted in the unloading, accounting, bagging, moving and loading of the master cases of contraband cigarettes. Nikolay Zakharyan traveled to the home of Elmar Rakhamimov to assist during no less than 10 deliveries of contraband cigarettes. Nikolay Zakharyan unloaded the cases of cigarettes from the truck into Elmar Rakhamimov’s garage and counted the number and types of cigarettes delivered to ensure that the delivery was complete. Nikolay Zakharyan also traveled to Elmar Rakhamimov’s home in the days following the delivery of the cigarettes to load them into the vehicle used to transport the contraband cigarettes to Brooklyn, New York, where the cigarettes were sold at a profit to conspirators in New York, who further distributed the contraband cigarettes.
Zarakh Yelizarov and Elmar Rakhamimov laundered the proceeds of the contraband cigarette sales through an international money laundering operation that wired funds from banks located in Latvia, Cyprus, Estonia, and New York, to a bank in Maryland, disguising the money as legitimate business payments for medical equipment or supplies. According to court documents, during the time he was a member of the conspiracy Yelizarov laundered $700,000 of cash he received from Rakhamimov, through 12 wire transactions from overseas bank accounts into a bank account in the United States.
The cigarettes were sold and distributed in quantities of 10,000 cigarettes or more, and bore no evidence of the payment of applicable state sales taxes. At the time of the indictment the cigarette tax in Maryland was $2.00 per package of cigarettes ($20 per carton of cigarettes) and the cigarette tax in New York was $4.35 per package of cigarettes ($43.50 per carton of cigarettes). The total tax evaded over the course of the conspiracy was more than $2.5 million.
Judge Quarles sentenced Artur Zakharyan, age 54, of Reisterstown, Maryland, to one year of home detention, as part of four years’ probation and entered an order requiring Artur Zakharyan to pay restitution of $2,500,000 to New York City and the state of New York and to forfeit $50,000 believed to be proceeds of the offense, $11,947 and a five troy ounce gold bars and a gold coin seized during searches.
Co-defendants Elmar Rakhamimov, a/k/a “Eric Rakhamimov,” age 42, of Owings Mills, Maryland, and his brother, Salim Yusufov, age 44, of Reisterstown, Maryland; Ilgar Rakhamimov, age 41, and Adam Azerman, age 60, both of Pikesville; and Shamil Novakhov, age 59, and Ruslan Ykiew, age 40, both of Brooklyn, New York, previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy and are awaiting sentencing.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the FBI, Baltimore County Police Department, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations and Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Investigations for their work in the investigation and the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office for its assistance in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Paul E. Budlow and John W. Sippel, Jr., who are prosecuting the case.