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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 20, 2024


The owner of the territory's two Plaza Extra supermarkets entered a guilty plea Thursday in U.S. District Court on St. Thomas to charges of employing illegal aliens that stemmed from a raid on the stores and another establishment last summer.
Federal agents raided the supermarkets on St. Thomas and St. Croix last August in an operation staged by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Plaza Extra owner Fathi Yusef was arrested along with five other persons. At the time authorities said the arrests were part of an investigation into the smuggling of Arab nationals into the United States.
Yusef, a naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived on St. Croix for three decades, pleaded guilty to three counts of employing illegal aliens.
Four remaining co-defendants — Ali Abu Ahmad, Abu Hussein, Amjad Muhyeddin and Taliai Mustafa — are scheduled to go to trial Monday on charges of conspiracy to smuggle illegal aliens and related charges in each individual case.
The third store raided in August was a convenience market in Lindbergh Bay operated by Ahmad, who now runs the Friendly Grocery and Gas Station on Crown Mountain Road.
The early evening swat-style raids reportedly stemmed from the February 1999 arrest in San Juan of two Arab nationals illegally in the country as they attempted to board a commercial airliner for Miami. At that time investigators said the pair had been assisted by six other Arabs in making their way to Puerto Rico from St. Maarten.
An INS news release issued the morning following the raids stated that all of those charged were U.S. citizens except for Hussein, who had permanent residency status. It also said that the arrests were related to a scheme whereby illegal aliens smuggled into the territory were "employed in local businesses owned and/or operated by Arab nationals who for an additional fee allegedly would find them spouses to become legal residents."
Since that time, federal law officials in the Virgin Islands have been reluctant to provide details about the investigation.
On Thursday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hugh P. Mabe said Yusef would be sentenced after the proceedings involving the other four defendants are concluded. He declined to comment on the pending trial of the other defendants.

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