18 indicted on Hezbollah-related charges

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The 18 people arrested on charges of smuggling cigarettes out of North Carolina to raise money for the Islamic militant group Hezbollah were indicted Monday.

A federal grand jury returned the 36-count indictment, which included 34 counts charging violations of immigration laws and one count each of conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes and money laundering conspiracy.

Not every defendant was charged with every count.

Sentences on each charge range from six months, a $250,000 fine or both to 20 years, a $500,000 fine or both.

In an affidavit filed July 21, officials allege the suspects used sham marriages to get around immigration laws, then set up a smuggling business in Charlotte to buy cases of cigarettes in North Carolina, which has a low cigarette tax, and sell them at a profit in high-tax Michigan.

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