YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Federal agents said they watched as three brothers sold $135,000 worth of black-market baby formula delivered to their Union City supermarket. Before long, the investigators were onto a multi-million-dollar money trail that leads to Jordan, Antigua, Israel, Palestine — and Middlesex County.
Federal agents recorded at least 10 deliveries of the stolen formula to Los Hermanos in personally-owned vans, SUVs and even a BMW.
The formula was stolen from retail outlets in the South and sold from September through December of last year at the Bergenline Avenue store, off 26th Street, federal agents said.
An unnamed co-conspirator admitted selling the formula to the proprietors, Hamad, Ali and Rawhi Siyam, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Hamad Siyam, 42, was arrested this morning at his North Bergen home, Ali Siyam, 49, also of North Bergen, was picked up at the family’s Fine Fare grocery store, also on Bergenline Avenue, in West New York, and Rawhi Siyam, 44, of West New York, was arrested at the Los Hermanos grocery store in Union City, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said.
Just last month, Hamad Siyam was convicted for organizing a cargo-theft ring that stole loaded tractor-trailers of merchandise from trucking yards in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
As a result, Hamad Siyam remains in federal custody, while his brothers were each released on $250,000 bond following appearances in U.S. District Court in Newark this afternoon.
Others accused of participating in the ring were arrested in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Some have told agents they observed or participated in the deals — all made in cash, investigators said.
“One of the participants informed members of law enforcement that the sale of stolen goods at Los Hermanos has been ongoing for several years,” said Special Agent Trevor O’Reilly.
Various middle men drove the stolen containers to New Jersey from a packaging facility in North Carolina using private vehicles — all with North Carolina license plates, O’Reilly said, in a complaint issued Wednesday.
As the agents watched, deliveries were made to Los Hermanos employees, who carried the cases into the store basement. In at least one instance, the delivery man went into an office with one of the brothers.
Most of the deliveries were of 500 cans, which, at $30 a container, put the amount of black-market formula for each of those drop-offs at $15,000, the agents said.
Federal agents began tightening the loop just before Christmas: Two men parked a BMW 750 across the street from the store and went in with five cans of baby formula, they said. One of them later spilled the beans on the operation.
At that point, the agents had enough to make a case — only there was more:
Homeland Security investigators said they’ve found that Hamad Siyam — who owns several stores with his brothers — had been making cash deposits of less than $10,000 at the local TD Bank for the past year and a half in an attempt to avoid IRS reporting requirements on more than $200,000 worth of laundered money.
What’s more, TD Bank told agents that the extended Siyam family “has been suspected of structuring, excessive levels of suspicious cash activity, excessive movement of funds between family members’ accounts, and excessive moving of funds to countries such as Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Antigua,” O’Reilly said.
From January 2002 through March 2003, his complaint says, Siyam family members “moved $1,343,245 through 9 of the 28 accounts they maintained at [what was then] Hudson United Bank.”
Last September, Ali Siyam cashed two checks — one for $32,432.05 and the other for $32,432.06 — and used the money to buy a pair of bank checks payable to an A.M. Title Agency (Inc.) in Monroe Township, O’Reilly said. Then, during a three-week period in July, the Siyams deposited a total of $106,869 through a series of cash transactions at TD Bank, he said.
The government not only wants criminal sentences for the defendants. It’s looking to seize the business itself at 2602-2606 Bergenline Ave.
This truly was a “federal case,” as Fishman praised the “outstanding work” of agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI) unit, as well as direct assistance from the IRS; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General; Union City and High Point, N.C., police; New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, the New Jersey State Police Cargo Theft Unit, and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office. Fishman also cited help from CVS and Weis Markets “in supporting the investigation.”