- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Four men charged with funneling profits from a cigarette-smuggling operation to the militant group Hezbollah pleaded guilty yesterday.
Bassam Youseff Hammoud, Mohammed Atef Darwiche, Ali Hussein Darwiche and Mehdi Hachem Moussaoui entered their pleas at a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Graham Mullen.
All four pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy. Hammoud and both Darwiches also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
That leaves three defendants in a trial that starts April 15. They include Said Mohamad Harb, who is charged with providing material support to a known terrorist organization.
Moussaoui agreed to testify against his co-defendants.
Mr. Harb will be among the first persons prosecuted under a 1996 law that forbids providing material support to known terrorist organizations. He is the only defendant indicted on the material support charge who is in U.S. custody.
A Lebanon-born naturalized U.S. citizen, Mr. Harb, 31, is charged with planning to provide Hezbollah with cash and supplies, including stun guns, blasting equipment, night vision goggles and mine detection equipment.
Mr. Harb, who has been held without bail since his arrest in 2000, could get up to 60 years in prison if convicted.
Among Mr. Harb's co-defendants is Mohamad Youssef Hammoud, described in court documents as well-connected to Hezbollah members in Lebanon.
A federal indictment charges that millions of dollars' worth of cheap cigarettes were smuggled out of North Carolina to resell in states where higher taxes push the price up.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Bell filed guilty plea agreements with two other men, Ali Fayez Darwiche and Angela Tsioumas, and said he was awaiting paperwork from one more, Sam Chahrour. Mr. Bell told Judge Mullen last month that the three would plead guilty to racketeering.

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