RICHMOND, Va. – A Fredericksburg man was sentenced today to two years in prison, ordered to pay $3 million in restitution, and ordered to forfeit $1.42 million for participating in a conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes.
According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Bernard Ekelemu, 60, directed another individual to purchase a Gulf gas station in Fredericksburg in November 2013. Ekelemu then registered a Virginia corporation to operate that gas station, and obtained a “Certificate of Registration for the Collection of Virginia Sales and Use Tax” that exempted Ekelemu from paying the Virginia sales and use tax when making business purchases. Ekelemu opened business memberships at various wholesale clubs and with wholesale cigarette distributors in Virginia, and subsequently used those business memberships to make sales-tax-free purchases of more than $7.1 million worth of Virginia-stamped cigarettes between March 2014 and November 2016. Ekelemu stored those cigarettes at several locations, to include storage units in Fredericksburg and Springfield, where Ekelemu would sell those cigarettes to cigarette traffickers. The traffickers thereafter smuggled the cigarettes to New York State (among other locations), where they were sold as contraband cigarettes on the black market.
Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Michael B. Boxler, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Washington Field Division, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge M. Hannah Lauck. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Garnett prosecuted the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 3:17-cr-46.
Department of Justice
Office of the U.S. Attorney
Eastern District of Virginia