ST. LOUIS — Eight St. Louis-area men have pleaded guilty to federal charges for selling stolen goods at convenience stores and funneling part of their profits to the Palestinian territories.
Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Reap said the men bought stolen goods at low prices and then sold them for a large profit at five convenience stores. The amount of money they made, and how much they sent to Palestine, was not released.
The men pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. A spokeswoman for Reap said Wednesday that there was no evidence the money supported terrorist activities.
But officials said illegal activity raised questions about where the money was going and for what purpose.
"The investigation and prosecution of organized criminals engaging in raising money to finance terrorism overseas is a top priority," said Roland Corvington, special agent in charge of the FBI office in St. Louis. "The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force is dedicated to not just arresting such individuals, but disrupting and dismantling all such operations."
The men were caught by an investigation that started in 2000. Reap said they were involved in a conspiracy that included bank fraud and receipt of stolen property including cigarettes, baby formula, computers and GPS devices.
Reap's office said the men were all part of the "Hamed Organization," led by 34-year-old Bassam Hisham Hamed. But Hamed's attorney, Neil Bruntrager, said there was no organization or organized criminal activity, though the eight men are friends and relatives.
He stressed the men were not funneling the money to Palestine for any wrongdoing.
"We have every single check they're talking about — they're written to family members," Bruntrager said. "It went to family members for medical purposes."
Reap said that in addition to Bassam Hisham Hamed, his brother, Ghandi Hisham Hamed, 32, was a leader of the group, along with Said Jarabaa, 36.
Others involved were Suhail Jarabaa, 29, Mohammed Badwan, 35, Mazen Badwan, 37, and Nael Abdeljabbar, 49.
The men included three sets of brothers, and all lived in Florissant except for Ayoub Hisham Hamed, 28, of Hazelwood.
Bassam and Ayoub Hamed and Suhail Jarabaa pleaded guilty to conspiracy to structure the exportation of monetary instruments to avoid reporting requirements. The others pleaded guilty to racketeering.
Sentencing is set for March 2.
Bruntrager said some of the men are U.S. citizens. He said the non-citizens will not face deportation.