Three men, including two former New Orleans police officers — one of them known from his appearances on the A&E true-crime series “Nightwatch” — pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday (April 26) for their roles in an interstate cigarette and cigar trafficking scheme aimed at evading taxes, according to the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans.
Officers Justin Brown and Joshua Carthon have both resigned from the NOPD, effective immediately, following their appearances in court, NOPD spokeswoman Dawne Massey said in an email Wednesday evening. The two had just returned to active duty in late January, following the end of their emergency suspensions in relation to the case, according to officials. The 30-year-old Brown and 32-year-old Carthon, both of New Orleans, each pleaded guilty to charges of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises in the scheme, which reportedly had at least six participants, including a third law-enforcement officer. The cigarettes and cigars were illegally purchased to avoid paying taxes and to increase profits from retail sales in North Carolina and other states with higher tobacco taxes, authorities said.
According to court documents, Brown, Carthon and former Orleans Parish Sheriff’s deputy Garrett Partman “were utilized to protect and transport the shipments of contraband cigarettes across state lines.”
The three provided illicit security and transportation for thousands of cartons of untaxed contraband cigarettes and cigars, according to prosecutors. One of the non-officers accused in the federal case, 29-year-old Anwar “Tony” Abdelmajid-Ahmad of Gretna, also pleaded guilty Wednesday to interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises, as well as conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes, conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute at least 1 kilogram of heroin, and federal gun violations. The guilty pleas came less than one week before the May 1 scheduled start of their trial in U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt’s courtroom.
Trial for the third former law-enforcement officer charged in the case, Partman, is scheduled for Aug. 14. Co-defendants Jadallah Saed and Atalla Atalla are also scheduled for trial on that date. Partman resigned from the Sheriff’s Office in September, just days after he was indicted in the case, according to OPSO spokesman Philip Stelly. The government says the tobacco products were delivered from Louisiana to North Carolina, where another defendant, Atalla Atalla, also known as “Tommy,” sold them for enhanced profits in North Carolina and other states with tobacco taxes higher than Louisiana’s.
In a superseding indictment handed up by a federal grand jury Jan. 27, U.S. prosecutors said the conspiracy had been operating for at least a year, and detailed a series of “overt acts” which included:
– Abdelmajid-Ahmad and co-defendant Saed, also of Gretna: taking possession in October 2015 of 1,800 cartons of cigarettes and 350 cases of cigars that bore no state tax stamps on the packages. The same two men in January 2016 are accused of taking possession of 5,760 cartons of cigarettes (more than 1.1 million cigarettes) and 30 cases of cigars, similarly untaxed.
– Brown and Carthon: transporting the contraband cigarettes from Louisiana to North Carolina on Jan. 14-15, 2016, where they were purchased and received by Atalla.
– Abdelmajid-Ahmad and Saed: taking possession in March 2016 of 2,430 cartons of cigarettes and 260 cases of cigars bearing no state tax stamps.
– Brown, Carthon and Partman: transporting those contraband products from Louisiana to North Carolina on March 16-17, 2016, where they were purchased and received by Atalla.
– Abdelmajid-Ahmad and Saed: obtaining two more similarly untaxed shipments – 2,700 cartons of cigarettes in July 2016 and 2700 cartons of cigarettes and 300 cases of cigars in September 2016 – and again arranging their transport from Louisiana to Atalla in North Carolina. At the time of their arrests last September, Brown was a four-year NOPD veteran most recently assigned to the Special Operations Division. He had became one of the NOPD’s most recognizable officers after being featured in the first two seasons of “Nightwatch,” a docudrama series that kept camera crews embedded with New Orleans first-responders.
Carthon was a seven-year veteran assigned to patrol duty in the 7th District, which encompasses much of New Orleans East. He was one of two officers involved in a 2015 fatal officer-involved shooting of an armed robbery suspect outside of a Dollar General inNew Orleans. The department ruled the shooting was in self-defense, and he was returned to full duty. Brown and Carthon initially pleaded not guilty and were released from jail on $25,000 bonds, with special stipulations that precluded them from leaving Louisiana without court permission, possessing a firearm or having any contact with witnesses and co-defendants in their case, including each other. Engelhardt additionally barred the officers from obtaining new employment as a law enforcement or corrections officer, or as a security officer, including for private companies.
Following the Jan. 27 end of their emergency suspensions from NOPD, Brown and Carthon were assigned to restricted desk duty for the administrative unit at the department’s headquarters. Both were prohibited from contact with the public and from carrying a badge or firearm, Massey said in mid-February. Following their convictions, Brown and Carthon each face up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. As to the contraband cigarette trafficking and weapons charges, Abdelmajid-Ahmad also faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years supervised release. As to the drug conspiracy charge, Abdelmajid-Ahmad faces 10 years to life in prison, a $10 million dollar fine and a minimum of five years supervised release.
Engelhardt set sentencing for Brown, Carthon and Abdelmajid-Ahmad for Aug. 2.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tracey N. Knight and Irene Gonzalez are in charge of the prosecution.
Staff reporter Ken Daley contributed to this report.
GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian stocks hover near 2-year highs on U.S. optimism, euro steady
* Euro firm near 5-1/2-month high vs dollar after French vote
Nikkei nears one-month highs as yen slips
TOKYO, April 26 Japan’s Nikkei share average rose to near one-month highs on Wednesday, buoyed by a weaker yen and record high for the Nasdaq Composite.
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A former Weather Underground radical who drove a getaway car in a bungled 1981 Brinks armored-car robbery that left three people dead was denied parole on Friday despite the fact Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised her behavior as a prisoner when he commuted her sentence last year. Judith Clark has served 35 years of a 75-years-to-life sentence for the suburban New York heist, which led to the deaths of two police officers and a security guard. She won’t be eligible for parole again until April 2019. Cuomo, a Democrat, commuted Clark’s sentence in December to make her eligible for parole, saying she had become a repentant, “impressive” and community-spirited prisoner. Before the commutation, Clark, who’s 67, would not have been eligible for parole consideration until she was 106.
In announcing the commutation last year, Cuomo’s office noted that Clark “received one of the longest sentences of her six co-defendants, the majority of whom are either deceased or no longer in custody” and “received the same sentence as one of the known shooters.”
The Weather Underground was a 1960s group of increasingly violent anti-war activists. Clark called herself a freedom fighter, insisted on representing herself at trial and then refused to go to court, remaining in a cell. In a 2002 sworn statement, she expressed regret and said she had rejected her radical beliefs. Behind bars, she has helped found an HIV/AIDS education program and done other charitable work. But law enforcement groups opposed Clark’s release, and Republican state senators said nearly 10,000 people signed a petition urging the state Board of Parole to keep her locked up.
Clark’s lawyer Steve Zeidman said the decision to deny her parole ignores her record of achievement and transformation behind bars, which included earning a master’s degree, training 11 dogs for service and working with incarcerated mothers and their children. He said more than 1,000 people have written letters calling for her release. The three-member parole board, in explaining its unanimous decision to deny release, said it weighed public support and opposition and Clark’s good prison record. It said it was persuaded against releasing Clark by statements from officials, survivors and affected parties. Clark’s daughter said the decision sent a discouraging message to inmates who worked hard to transform their lives so they could return to their families.
“My mother did not kill anyone, and it’s hard for me to understand who is served by making her die in prison,” Harriet Clark said.
Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said Clark deserved the opportunity to make her case for parole and the commutation gave that to her. She said the governor respects the parole board’s decision. The governor’s decision to commute Clark’s sentence had outraged Michael Paige, whose father, Brinks security guard Peter Paige, was killed in the $1.6 million holdup. Less than an hour after Paige’s killing, two Nyack police officers, Waverly Brown and Sgt. Edward O’Grady, stopped a truck at a roadside checkpoint and were killed in an ambush. Michael Paige said 35 years wasn’t enough time in prison for Clark.
“No,” he said in December. “It’s never enough time.”