It’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill captioned court filing: “United States of America versus Seventeen Thousand Five Hundred Thirty Dollars in United States currency and one diamond ring.”
The $17,530 in cash and ring, worth about $800, are bribery proceeds that have been held in evidence by the FBI since the mid-2000s when several Baton Rouge restaurateurs, a convenience store owner and an accountant were indicted on federal charges in the bribery of a city-parish tax auditor.
The six-year investigation resulted in seven men, including the tax auditor, admitting they defrauded state and local government agencies in East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes of more than $1.2 million in sales and payroll taxes.
Now, the federal government, through the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baton Rouge, wants the bribery proceeds forfeited to the U.S. government.
U.S. Attorney Walt Green said Tuesday the cash, once forfeited, would be placed into the federal treasury. The ring would likely be auctioned by the U.S. Marshals Service, and those proceeds also would be put in the treasury, he said.
A civil forfeiture complaint, filed June 3 by Green’s office, states that the $17,530 in bribe money was paid by former Baton Rouge accountant Hassan Abousoayd, former Baton Rouge restaurateurs Jamal Roman and Rostom Laymon, and former Baton Rouge convenience store owner Khoa Dinh Chau.
Abousoayd paid then-City-Parish Auditor Jerome Shore $1,500 in 2004 and gave him the diamond ring to lower the sales tax liability for Laymon and his restaurants, according to the forfeiture complaint.
Laymon operated two Arzi’s Express restaurants — one in the Mall of Louisiana and the other on Government Street — and Cajun Cafe in the mall.
Abousoayd also paid Shore $2,000 in 2004 to lower Roman’s sales tax liability and $750 for creating a false audit letter, the complaint says.
In Baton Rouge, Roman owned Papacito’s Restaurant on Bluebonnet Boulevard, Roman’s Cafe on Perkins Road, Roman’s Mediterranean Restaurant on Airline Highway and Roman’s Lebanese Greek Market on Government. He also owned Papacito’s Restaurant in Prairieville.
Roman paid nearly $11,000 in bribes to a cooperating source in 2004 to further lower his tax liability, the forfeiture complaint states.
Chau, who owned Lee’s Grocery on Foster Drive and Weller’s Grocery on Weller Avenue, gave a $1,500 bribe to the same cooperating source in 2004, according to the complaint.
Laymon gave $800 in 2005 to an undercover FBI agent posing as a city-parish auditor. He also offered the agent a trip to Costa Rica. Laymon wanted to reduce the amount of taxes he owed to the city-parish, the complaint says.
Abousoayd pleaded guilty in 2006 to charges of bribery and use of a telephone in aid of racketeering, and was sentenced to eight months of home confinement and three years of probation. He also was ordered to pay restitution of $134,000 and a fine of $20,000.
Roman pleaded guilty in 2011 and was sentenced to 53 months in federal prison after he admitted owing $726,476 in sales and payroll taxes to state and local agencies in Baton Rouge and Prairieville. Roman, who admitted he funneled $700,000 of his cash to Syria, was ordered to repay all of the $726,476. He also was fined $20,000 and ordered to serve two years of post-prison federal supervision.
Chau pleaded guilty in 2006 to mail fraud and bribery charges and was sentenced in 2009 to a three-year prison term, fined $30,000 and ordered to pay restitution of $98,695.
Laymon pleaded guilty in 2007 and was sentenced to 33 months in prison and ordered to pay $140,000 in restitution for sales taxes that were never paid to state and local governments in East Baton Rouge Parish. He also was fined $70,000.
Shore, who cooperated with authorities, was sentenced to four months in a halfway house and two years of probation. He was ordered to pay restitution of $60,000 to East Baton Rouge Parish for his role in the fraudulent scheme.
The federal probe also snared former Baton Rouge businessman Humam Al-Alousi, who was sentenced in 2008 to five years in prison, fined $100,000 and ordered pay more than $220,000 in restitution to tax authorities. He owned Side Stop, a convenience store on Florida Boulevard, and General Goods of Louisiana, a wholesale food distributor on Greenwell Springs Road.
Mohamed Ruman, a nephew of Roman, worked at several of his uncle’s restaurants and admitted he helped underreport taxable payrolls to the Louisiana Workforce Commission. He was sentenced in 2011 to four months in prison, four months at a halfway house and two years of post-prison supervision.
Green said he does not foresee anyone filing a claim for the bribery proceeds. He added there is no dispute between his office and the FBI, and said the civil forfeiture complaint is the proper legal avenue to achieve the forfeiture.