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Fighting terror

Cigarette smugglers sentenced

©Associated Press

March 1, 2003

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A 155-year sentence for the first person convicted under a law that bars aid to terror groups demonstrates the U.S. law sees no difference between terrorists and those who help them, a prosecutor said Friday.

Mohamad Hammoud, 29, was convicted in June of leading a group that smuggled cigarettes from North Carolina to Michigan, where they were resold without paying that state's higher taxes. Hammoud also was found guilty of sending $3,500 to the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah.

"Terrorist acts cannot be carried out without the wherewithal of those who fund them," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Bell said after the sentencing of Mohamad Hammoud and his older brother Chawki Hammoud, who received more than four years for his role in the ring.

In a rambling 20-minute statement before he was sentenced, Mohamad Hammoud described himself as a lover of peace and freedom who had hoped to live in the United States.

"Perhaps I went in the wrong way to achieve my goal," he said. "I admitted that and I'm sorry for that."

His lawyer, Stanley Cohen, said he will appeal.

Hammoud was convicted on 16 separate counts, and U.S. District Judge Graham Mullen sentenced him to a series of consecutive prison terms that add up to 1,860 months, or 155 years.

The Hammouds were among 18 people charged in what the government has said was a Charlotte-based cell of Hezbollah, which fought the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. All other defendants pleaded guilty.

Mohamad Hammoud's wife, Angela Tsioumas, 29, pleaded guilty to racketeering and money-laundering and is free on bail while awaiting sentencing. She testified for the government at the Hammouds' trial on the advice of her lawyer and husband, and said she and Mohamad Hammoud intend to remain married.

Chawki Hammoud, 38, was sentenced on six counts related to the cigarette-smuggling and faced a prison term of up to nine years. His lawyer, Jim McLaughlin, said he would appeal his 51-month sentence.

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