By Robert Caliendo, Esq.
Mr. Qasem Saleh is a married father of three, who has never before run afoul of the law. But because of this case – and how harshly he’s being treated – he faces severe, life-altering consequences. The DA wants a felony conviction, plus jail time, plus a significant forfeiture of assets. Any of those penalties alone would be overkill.
Essentially, the Bronx DA alleges that Saleh sought to profit from “untaxed cigarette distribution.” See, Count 3. The defendants allegedly “import[ed] cigarettes from outside of New York State into New York State, New York City and Bronx County while avoiding and failing to pay any New York State or New York City excise or sales tax on those cigarettes.” Allegedly, “Saleh primarily imported the cigarettes from the Commonwealth of Virginia, and as such sold cigarettes bearing only Virginia Tax Stamps (and not New York City/State Tax stamps as required by law) throughout New York City.” Allegedly, “[f]rom April to November of 2016, Saleh worked with multiple distributors, … all of whom would transport the cigarettes to the Bronx, and take a per-carton price that was higher than what they paid out-of-state, but significantly lower than what Saleh could sell the cigarettes for in the state of New York.”
The DA contends that Saleh is responsible for improperly importing 26,356 cartons of cigarettes, translating to $1,757,945 in unpaid cigarette taxes. (I dispute that number, and the DA is willing to resolve the case based on the 922.5 cartons actually recovered, translating to only $61,623 in taxes.) But even using the higher numbers, it’s worth noting that the DA spent months wiretapping the defendants, essentially watching them do the same alleged act over and over. They did that precisely so the tax figure would mushroom, allowing them to get more jail time by charging a higher level crime. Had they intervened when they first learned of what was going on, the alleged unpaid taxes would be miniscule in comparison and we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. Taking that into account, it’s fair to say that any alleged tax loss is somewhat artificial.
While the indictment contains ominous terms like money laundering, fraud, and conspiracy – the allegation is very straightforward and Saleh will not plead guilty to those particular charges. There is no violence of any sort in this case. This is Saleh’s first brush with the law. There is no reason this can’t be treated as a regulatory infraction. By contrast, the DA wants a criminal felony conviction, state prison time, and has sued civilly to forfeit large amounts of money and property. Saleh is in this country lawfully, but he is not a citizen, so any conviction potentially means deportation to Yemen. As you likely know, Yemen is currently plagued by a war that one U.S. Senator describes as “hell on earth.” (https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/06/opinions/us-involvement-yemen-war-murphy-opinion/index.html ). “To date, an estimated 85,000 children under the age of 5 in Yemen may have died from starvation and disease.” Id. Even if Saleh gets a plea that is considered to likely be “immigration-safe” – he might easily be deported once the civil war ends. And it also might make him unable to become a citizen, which again might ultimately mean he has to leave and take his children to live in a foreign land. Of course, that doesn’t even account for the attitude of this presidential administration when it comes to the Middle East.
Robert Caliendo, Esq.
810 Seventh Ave., Suite 620
New York, NY 10019
917 689 0114
Parkchester Times publishes this appeal for leniency on behalf of Qasem Saleh. Mr. Saleh along with his colleagues at Al Shaibi Community Center in the Bronx, have been a part of grassroots crime and violence prevention programs in the Bronx. They have donated funds in support of gang recruitment preventions. They host monthly community dinners that are attended by former gang members, formerly incarcerated and the youth susceptible to gang related violence. For this and other humanitarian reasons, we urge our honorable Bronx District Attorney to show leniency to Mr. Qasem Saleh so that he can continue to a benefactor to Bronx resident affected by crime and violence, especially those resulting from gang activities. Yours truly, Monthly Public Safety Networking Dinners at Al Shaibi Community Center