CONYERS -- A man who pleaded to selling fake cigarettes and cigarettes with bogus tax stamps was defrauding the state of Georgia out of money, according Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation.
Jawed Dostmohammad Lakhani, 49, of Lawrenceville made an offered plea Friday, March 18, before the judge to one count of possession of counterfeit cigarettes and one count of possession of counterfeited tobacco excise tax stamps. The two charges stemmed from a February 2010 incident at Lakhani's store, the Texaco located at 1410 Klondike Road.
Complaints about the quality of Newport Menthol 100s cigarettes led to the discovery that the cigarettes were counterfeit.
"And the (tax) stamps that were on the counterfeit product were also found to be counterfeit," Assistant District Attorney Dabney Kentner said.
Georgia Department of Revenue agents went to the store and seized 69 packs of various brands of cigarettes with fraudulent tax stamps.
Two weeks after the Texaco bust, Kentner said Clayton County Police confiscated 215 cartons of Newport cigarettes that didn't have tax stamps. More than 400 additional cigarette cartons were also seized and linked to the 215.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was alerted and the bogus cigarettes were ultimately traced back to three African nationals.
"Some of the cigarettes that were seized in the March 4 raid had the same product code as those cigarettes that Mr. Lakhani had," Kentner said. "There is a nexus between the cigarettes in his store and the cigarettes that were later seized from the African nationals that were counterfeit."
Kentner said officials caught "the big fish," with the Clayton County case and officials have seen a decrease in counterfeit cigarettes.
"Unfortunately, this has become a growing problem in Georgia, as the revenue is so great for counterfeiters," Kentner said.
David LaMalva represented Lakhani and said his client is a naturalized citizen who had no prior criminal record and owned the Texaco for about eight years. He asked to be treated as a first offender.
Nation sentenced Lakhani to five years probation and ordered the man to pay $4,000 in associated fines, fees, and surcharges.
The judge reminded him that the maximum sentence was 15 years in prison.
"He's a naturalized citizen. He's been welcomed to this country ... he's enjoying bounty of America. If he comes back before me in the next five years, selling some bogus cigarettes, beating the state of Georgia out of money, taking advantage of his position in this glorious country that we live in because he's been permitted to come here -- I am going to put him under the penitentiary," Nation said. "Does he understand that?"
"To the point of tears, judge," LaMalva said.
Lakhani told the court that he did not know the cigarettes were counterfeit, but admitted that he was ultimately responsible for what was sold in the store.
Georgia Department of Revenue is deciding whether Lakhani could possibly lose his license to sell cigarettes.