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Deposits lead to federal charges

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Deposits lead to federal charges

Posted on Fri, Jun. 25, 2004

NEVY KAMINSKI, Herald Staff Writer


TAMPA – Federal authorities say a Bradenton man deposited more than $60,000 cash within two days at eight Manatee County banks and wired the cash to his native Jordan to avoid paying taxes.

Belal Al-Thabteh, 27, a naturalized U.S. citizen, told an undercover agent and a bank official that he was sending the money to Jordan because he was planning to move back there to find a wife, Ed Wrage, an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement testified in federal court Thursday.

Al-Thabteh faces a charge of structuring monetary transactions, according to court records.

Federal law requires that all deposits of more than $10,000 be reported. It is against federal law to break up deposits to avoid reporting. Al-Thabteh faces up to 21 months in prison if convicted of the charge.

“It’s a form of money laundering, or you sometimes hear it called smurfing,” said ICE spokeswoman Pamela McCullough. “By depositing the money like this you avoid having a currency transaction report created.”

FBI and ICE agents searched Al-Thabteh’s home in the 8700 block of 44th Avenue Drive West Wednesday afternoon and arrested him during a raid that brought a dozen agents to the house and lined the quiet neighborhood’s streets with cars, according to neighbors and Al-Thabteh’s family. Al-Thabteh’s older brother, Mohamod, who owns the home, said the raid was an overreaction considering that his brother is not a violent or dangerous person.

“For the way they came in and for the amount of people that came in and the cars, it was way too much,” Mohamod Al-Thabteh said.

Ahmed Bedier of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Tampa said he is concerned that the arrest was a case of racial profiling.

“Ever since 9/11, there has been this paranoia and fear to prevent the next 9/11,” Bedier said after attending the hearing. “The paranoia and fear are so high that agents don’t want to take chances. . . . Other people that do the same thing aren’t treated like this.”

Federal agents said their investigation revealed no link to terrorism.

At a preliminary hearing Thursday in Tampa’s federal courthouse, Wrage testified about the investigation that led to Al-Thabteh’s arrest and Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo ordered Al-Thabteh released on a $200,000 bond pledged by his brother.

Pizzo ordered Al-Thabteh to turn over his Jordanian and American passports to authorities. Pizzo also appointed the federal public defender’s office to represent Al-Thabteh pending a review of his financial status.

Bank officials alerted authorities when they noticed that on June 16, Al-Thabteh deposited $16,000 at three Bradenton Bank of America branches, according to Wrage. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Munch said bank records show Al-Thabteh made similar deposits at Gold Bank, SouthTrust and SunTrust banks in Manatee County.

Wrage testified that on June 17, agents from several federal, state and local agencies, including the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, tracked Al-Thabteh as he drove to six Bank of America branches in Bradenton, Longboat Key and Sarasota to deposit $7,000 cash at each bank.

According to Wrage’s testimony, Al-Thabteh told an undercover agent that he was making the deposits like this to avoid paying taxes.

Al-Thabteh moved to the U.S. six years ago and became a citizen in January. He is studying at Manatee Community College and once worked at the convenience store his brother owns on Longboat Key.


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