May 11, 2006 — U.S. government attorneys argued their appeal Thursday of a judge's 2005 ruling to throw out evidence implicating supermarket owners facing 76 federal charges of wire fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.
In 2005, Judge Raymond Finch suppressed evidence gathered in a 2001 search warrant that allowed FBI agents access to three Plaza Extra stores and three homes.
The agents gained the search warrant by saying Fathi Yusuf Mohammed and his family, owners of the stores in St. Thomas and St. Croix, reported more than $100 million less in taxes than they should have.
The agents later admitted their information was flawed and alleged Yusuf and family had made a $7.1 million discrepancy.
During the searches, agents rifled through children's backpacks, descended into a cistern and seized a cookbook, eventually filling 450 boxes with evidence, said Leon Friedman, an attorney for Yusuf.
S. Robert Lyons, an attorney for the U.S. government, told the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that the agents were not acting unreasonably and that agents called the magistrate that issued the warrant to ensure they were entitled to search for and seize items in the house.
Government attorneys argued that the agents had received incorrect information from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, despite double-checking with the bureau five times.
The 2001 raids resulted in a 76-count federal indictment two years later. Indicted were Fathi Yusuf, 62, owner of Plaza Extra Supermarkets; Waleed "Wally" Hamed, 41, and his brother, Waheed "Willie" Hamed, 38; Maher "Mike" Yusuf, Fathi's son; Isam "Sam" Yousuf, a relative and store manager; and United Corporation, which does business as Plaza Extra Supermarkets.
The indictment alleged each Plaza Extra store had a "cash room" where unreported cash was kept and to which only the defendants and certain other employees had access. The conspirators allegedly sent employees to local banks with the unreported money to purchase cashiers' checks, travelers' checks and money orders made out to unrelated individuals or entities.
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