Owings Mills man convicted of laundering drug money U.S. says accountant aided Md. smuggling ring

April 05, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

An Owings Mills accountant has been convicted of laundering $177,500 in drug money for one of Maryland's largest marijuana and hashish smuggling rings, federal prosecutors said yesterday.

Ira Joel Sugar, 47, was found guilty of 15 money-laundering charges after a six-day trial and six hours of jury deliberations. Sugar could receive three to five years in prison without parole when Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz of the U.S. District Court sentences him May 21.

Sugar claimed he didn't realize the cash was tied to a drug ring headed by David Basta, a confessed smuggler responsible for running nearly 6 tons of marijuana and hashish between 1986 and 1992. Basta, who testified against Sugar, is awaiting sentencing.

"My client was duped," said Sugar's attorney, Robert P. Thompson. "Basta held himself out to be a legitimate businessman."

Prosecutors say Sugar should have known better.

"Businessmen cannot escape criminal liability, close their eyes, and fail to make appropriate inquiries as to the source of the cash," U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said.

Prosecutors Jefferson M. Gray and Brent J. Gurney told jurors that Sugar used two schemes to launder money for Basta. In one, they said he took $71,500 from Basta and wrote checks from his personal account to New Day Enterprises, a dummy company set up by Basta.

In the second scheme, prosecutors said Sugar took $106,000 from Basta, and then issued checks from an interior design firm he owned to New Day Enterprises.

For jurors, it was a complicated case. Two agents with the Internal Revenue Service -- Ron Ege and Greg Haga -- pieced together the paper trail from bank statements and canceled checks. Prosecutors presented the case with the help of charts tracking the cash flow between Sugar and Basta.

Basta ran one of the largest known marijuana and hashish rings in Maryland, according to court documents. Drugs from Texas and the West Coast were shipped to Sparks in Baltimore County, where they were parceled out along the East Coast.

Basta had a broad network of smugglers. One of them was Robert Michael Pate, a convicted drug trafficker now serving an 18-month sentence at the Federal Prison Camp in Pensacola, Fla. Earlier this year, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Kay filed a forfeiture claim against Pate, claiming that the drug dealer's frequent-flier miles should be confiscated by the government.

Mr. Kay claims that Pate racked up 117,705 miles on USAir during the course of his drug trade -- enough for three domestic trips. The forfeiture request is pending in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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