A federal grand jury has charged six people, including three New Orleans law enforcement officers, with smuggling "contraband" cigarettes and cigars across state lines and selling the tobacco products in North Carolina and other states in a scheme to evade federal and state excise taxes, authorities said Thursday.
Two New Orleans Police Department officers, Justin Brown and Joshua Carthon, and an Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office deputy, Garrett Partman, are accused of accepting bribes and agreeing "to protect and transport the shipment of contraband cigarettes across state lines," according to a seven-count indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court.
The grand jury handed up the indictment Sept. 22, but the defendants were not taken into custody until Wednesday. All three lawmen were stripped of their badges.
Federal prosecutors say the conspiracy began in September 2015, when two Gretna men, Jadallah Saed, 30, and Anwar "Tony" Abdelmajid-Ahmad, 29, started buying thousands of cartons of cigarettes considered by the authorities to be contraband because they had no state tax stamps on their packaging.
Authorities said the racket involved at least 15,000 cartons of cigarettes. It was unclear where they obtained the cigarettes.
Beginning in January, the indictment says, the two police officers, joined by Abdelmajid-Ahmad, would transport the cigarettes to another co-defendant in North Carolina, Atalla Atalla, a 38-year-old Wilmington man known as "Tommy." The officers made their second trip in March but were joined this time by Partman, the indictment alleges.
The defendants face a host of charges, including conspiring to traffic contraband cigarettes, evading federal excise tax and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises.
Partman, 31, resigned from the Sheriff's Office on Wednesday, said Philip Stelly, an agency spokesman. Stelly said Partman was hired in January 2010, but it was not clear whether he had been assigned to the city's jail or the Sheriff's Office's civil division.
Meanwhile, the two officers, Brown and Carthon, were placed on emergency suspension without pay this week, officials said. Brown, 29, has been with the New Orleans Police Department for four years and most recently was assigned to the Special Operations Division.
Carthon, 32, is a seven-year veteran and most recently served in the 7th District, which covers New Orleans East. He previously was suspended for 25 days following an April 2014 drunk-driving incident in which he crashed his pickup while driving with a blood-alcohol content of .131. He also was involved in a fatal officer-involved shooting following an armed robbery last year, which the authorities deemed to be justified.
"I expect NOPD officers to serve our community with integrity and to follow the law, our departmental policies and our training," New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said in a statement.
The case was investigated by a host of law enforcement agencies, including the Police Department's Public Integrity Bureau, the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Criminal Investigative Service.