The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland issued a press release on December 11, 2013 notifying the public that a grand jury has indicted 11 individuals on charges related to a conspiracy to traffic over $6.6 million in contraband cigarettes.

Charged in the indictment are:

Elmar Rakhamimov, a/k/a “Eric Rakhamimov,” age 41, of Owings Mills, Maryland;
Zarakh Yelizarov, age 51, of Baltimore, Maryland;
Salim Yusufov, age 43, of Baltimore;
Artur Zakharyan, age 52, of Owings Mills;
Ilgar Rakhamimov, age 39, of Owings Mills;
Timur Yusufov, age 35, of Baltimore;
Nikolay Zakharyan, age 23, of Owings Mills;
Adam Azerman, age 59, of Pikesville;
Shamil Novakhov, age 58, of Brooklyn, New York;
Yuliya Rakhamimov, age 33, of Owings Mills; and
Ruslan Ykiew, age 38, of Brooklyn, New York.

The 42-count indictment alleges that the defendants are family members and associates who primarily live in northwest Baltimore County and New York City and operate businesses in the Pikesville area of Baltimore County, and in Baltimore City, including Healthway Pharmacy and Europe Restaurant. In addition to allegedly trafficking in contraband cigarettes, that is, cigarettes on which the applicable state taxes have not been paid, the indictment alleges that some of the defendants also have distributed oxycodone, sold drug samples and laundered money.

According to the indictment, the cigarette tax in Maryland is $2.00 per package of cigarettes ($20 per carton of cigarettes) and the cigarette tax in New York is $4.35 per package of cigarettes ($43.50 per carton of cigarettes). Specifically, the indictment alleges that since December 2011, Elmar Rakhamimov has paid approximately $5.4 million for contraband cigarettes, which were received and stored at his residence in Maryland. The conspirators then transported the cigarettes to the New York area and resold them for a profit. According to the indictment, Elmar Rakhamimov, Artur Zakharyan and Ilgar Rakhamimov acted as a broker, middleman and distributor of contraband cigarettes and Nikolay Zakharyan, Adam Azerman, Shamil Novakhov and Ruslan Ykiew transported contraband cigarettes to New York and other cities for resale. Elmar Rakhamimov and Yuliya Rakhamimov sometimes paid for the contraband cigarettes with prescription and counterfeit prescription drugs as well as other controlled substances. Elmar Rakhamimov and other conspirators used Rakhamimov’s residence and his restaurant to conduct the illegal transactions of contraband cigarettes and drugs. The indictment alleges that Salim Yusufov, who owned Healthway Pharmacy, received more than $81,000 in kickbacks for the contraband cigarette transactions.

Further, the indictment alleges that Elmar Rakhamimov and Zarakh Yelizarov conducted financial transactions involving the proceeds of the contraband cigarette sales, in order to conceal the nature, source, ownership and control of the proceeds of the illegal activity. Specifically, the indictment alleges that Rakhamimov and Yelizarov conducted wire transfers of cash from bank accounts they controlled in Latvia, Cyprus and Estonia.

In a separate indictment, Salim Yusufov, who owned and operated Healthway Pharmacy in Pikesville, is charged with illegally providing unapproved prescription drugs from Germany and Eastern Europe and sold them to customers. According to the indictment, Corvalol, also referred to Corvalolum, and Valocordin, is not approved by the FDA for distribution in the United States, although it is sold in Eastern European countries, where it is used to treat elevated blood pressure and as a tranquilizer and sedative. Valocordin and Corvalol contain large amounts of phenobarbital, a prescription drug regulated by the FDA. The indictment alleges that from July 23, 2010 through July 14, 2011, Yusufov imported and distributed Valocordin, dispensing the drug without a prescription.

All the defendants except Yuliya Rakhamimov face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes and for each of 18 counts of trafficking in contraband cigarettes. Elmar and Yuliya Rakhamimov face a maximum of 20 years in prison for each of 10 counts of distribution of oxycodone; and Elmar Rakhamimov and Zarakh Yelizarov face a maximum of 20 years in prison for each of 12 counts of money laundering. Elmar Rakhamimov also faces 10 years in prison for sale of a drug sample.

Salim Yusufov also faces a maximum of three years in prison for each of five counts of receipt and delivery of misbranded drugs, and for each of five counts of dispensing prescription drugs without a prescription.

The indictment was unsealed on December 11, 2013 upon the arrest of 8 of the 11 defendants.  The federal government also executed 12 search warrants in connection with this case.  The defendants are all facing federal charges because the offenses involved interstate commerce and drugs primarily regulated by the FDA, a federal agency.  Most of the defendants are also being charged as part of a conspiracy, a favorite tactic of federal prosecutors.  Charging federal crimes as part of a conspiracy enables the government to bring together at a single trial all defendants who were allegedly part of the conspiracy, including minor participants against whom the evidence may be weak.  In such a situation, a defendant should attempt to have his case severed from the larger case. A defendant should also try to convince the prosecution that they were not in fact part of the conspiracy even if that defendant committed substantive offenses.

As a minor participant, a defendant who successfully severs their case can limit the scope of relevant and admissible evidence that can be used against him. Separating oneself from the conspiracy may also limit the applicability of co-conspirator statements that can be used against the defendant at trial and can reinvigorate a defense based on the statute of limitations, if applicable.

This post is authored by Ferrari & Associates, P.C., a law firm specializing in federal criminal defense matters. Feel free to contact us at (202) 280-6370 or info@ferrariassociatespc.com.