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Cigarette smuggling said to fund terrorists

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CATTARAUGUS, N.Y. - Two women from the Seneca Nation of Indians' Cattaraugus reservation are linked to a cigarette-smuggling ring that sent funds to a terrorist organization, federal authorities said.

The money allegedly went to Hezbollah, the Islamic militant group. Hezbollah, a terrorist organization is said to be responsible for the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. In November 2001, the United States put Hezbollah on the list of foreign terrorist organizations whose assets can be seized.

Authorities allege the leader of the smuggling ring, Elias Mohamad Akhdar, a native of Lebanon, who has taken part in Hezbollah incidents in Lebanon - hid on the Cattaraugus reservation while being sought.

Brady Jo Bowman, was charged in the indictment Feb. 4 when she was identified as the companion of alleged ringleader Akhdar, 30, of Dearborn, Mich. Bowman's grandmother, Carole Thompson Gordon, 58, is accused of heading the New York-based operations of the group. Agents said she hired her daughter, granddaughter and others from the reservation to transport untaxed cigarettes to Michigan for resale. The indictment shows a number of wire transfers between Michigan and New York by Gordon for cigarette sales she made as "Indian Trader Carole Gordon" to Akhdar.

Prosecutors say Akhdar used Bowman, whom he has two children with - to ensure a supply of cigarettes from the Seneca reservation to his group, using phony credit cards, he and others bought thousands of dollars of cigarettes from Seneca smoke shops, The Buffalo News reported.

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Cigarette sales on the Seneca reservation, as well as any mail order and Internet sales, are legal as long as they originate from the sovereign reservation. The group sold them to retail shops by manufacturing phony Michigan tax stamps and putting them on contraband cigarettes, where each carton smuggled meant a savings of $12.50 in Michigan taxes, prosecutors said.

The charges in Detroit describe a criminal venture that includes contraband cigarette trafficking, possession of counterfeit cigarette stamps, credit card fraud, money laundering, arson and witness tampering. Eleven people face charges that include conspiracy to commit a pattern of racketeering activity, including arson in the fire at Bowman's Indian Express Smoke Shop in Irving, N.Y. They are accused of shipping the cigarettes to Michigan from the smoke shop, then burning down the building Sept. 24, 2001, and filing a phony insurance claim.

After being arraigned on in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, Gordon and Bowman were released on bond.

Akhdar has now been called a flight and security risk. He is being held without bail in Detroit. Akhdar had sent part of the profits to help finance the Hezbollah military group in Lebanon, prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors also said that Akhdar had been involved in more than a half-million dollars worth of cash transactions with Mohamad Hammoud, who was convicted in North Carolina last summer in a cigarette-smuggling ring that helped finance Hezbollah.

According to a report from the Buffalo News, in addition to the charges related to the Cattaraugus reservation the group is accused of buying thousands of cartons of cigarettes from North Carolina, where taxes are 50 cents a carton.