A 33-year-old Pakistani man who was caught in Glen Burnie with $180,000 in cash that he intended to channel into a secretive finance network with links to terrorism has been sentenced to 39 months in federal prison and possible deportation, the Maryland U.S. attorney's office announced yesterday.
Raja Ansar Mohammad, also known as Raja Mehmood, was based in New York and living in the United States illegally as part of an international money laundering scheme known as "hawala," an informal system of hand-to-hand money transfers that crisscrosses the globe and is virtually untraceable, U.S. attorney Rod. J. Rosenstein's office said.
Mohammad was arrested in September as part of a sting that netted indictments of 39 people, including several Pakistani operators of convenience stores on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Many were involved in hawala, which has been linked to illegal activities around the world and U.S. officials suspect of funding terrorist groups.
Although the system is not in itself illegal, U.S. law demands that large money transfers to overseas locations be reported to federal officials and that such businesses have commercial licenses.
"The hawala system can be used by criminals to launder money without using financial institutions, by giving the money to a person in the United States and then picking it up in a foreign county," Rosenstein said in statement.
He added in an interview, "Obviously, we hope the sentence will be sufficient to deter anybody else from engaging in similar conduct."
The yearlong investigation that culminated in Mohammad's arrest and guilty plea was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations, and police departments in Spain, Australia the Netherlands and Belgium.
According to a statement from Rosenstein's office, a "cooperating witness" who was working with U.S. authorities provided $1.6 million to Mohammad and two other men who planned to launder the money outside of the country. The unidentified informant told Mohammad that the cash was drug money, according to the release.
Mohammad was involved in a June 2007 transfer of $100,000 in New York, according to one incident detailed in a news release. Directions were given via text message from a Pakistani number to the informant's cell phone. The text message also included a serial number for a dollar bill, and the informant received a dollar bill with that serial number during the transaction.
On the evening of Sept. 19, Mohammad and another man met the same informant in Glen Burnie to exchange $180,000 and said they would exchange more the next day. The men were arrested shortly thereafter, with the money they had hidden in their vehicle, according to the press release.