By Kathy Jefcoats
ATLANTA — The owner of a Forest Park business pleaded guilty and was sentenced this week for his role in an extensive tobacco trafficking ring, said federal officials.
Shaukat Sayani pleaded guilty in DeKalb County Superior Court for violations of state law involving the illegal possession, sale and distribution of contraband cigarettes. Sayani was among 50 defendants who federal officials said avoided the payment of state excise taxes on cigarettes by knowingly purchasing untaxed cigarettes which had counterfeit excise tax stamps.
Judge Gail Flake sentenced Sayani to five years probation, with the first 11 months to be served under house arrest. He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $8,821 Sayani owns Sunny Wholesale with locations in Decatur and Forest Park.
Attorney General Sam Olens said Sayani was the last of the defendants to dispose of their charges, ending an 18-month prosecution of an extensive tobacco trafficking ring spanning several counties. The successful prosecution has resulted in the collection of more than $1.3 million in unpaid tobacco taxes.
Assistant Attorney General Greg Lohmeier prosecuted the case on behalf of the state of Georgia, which involved 22 indictments or accusations covering Hall, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties.
Olens was pleased with the successful collaboration of multiple agencies.
“This successful prosecution is the result of a collaborative effort among local, state and federal law enforcement,” said Olens. “It sends a strong message that law enforcement in Georgia will work together to detect and prosecute those who cheat by not paying tobacco taxes. I applaud prosecutor Greg Lohmeier for his swift and aggressive prosecution of this complex case.”
A three-year investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Atlanta Field Division, uncovered the illegal tobacco trafficking ring, said officials. The defendants were arrested on and shortly after Oct. 19, 2011, for violations of state law involving the illegal possession, sale and distribution of contraband cigarettes.