LAWRENCEVILLE -- A Gwinnett judge ordered one of 50 alleged conspirators in an extensive, illegal tobacco trafficking ring to pay $46,000 in restitution and to leave the country following a guilty plea this week, officials said.
Emmanuel Joseph pleaded guilty Monday in Gwinnett Superior Court to possession of cigarettes with counterfeit stamps. Joseph knowingly sold cigarettes affixed with bogus stamps as a means to skirt paying taxes, the Georgia Attorney General's office said.
Judge Ronnie Batchelor sentenced Joseph to spend a year on house arrest, followed by four years probation. The house arrest and remaining sentence will be suspended if Joseph pays restitution of $46,276 and departs the United States for his native India, the judge ruled.
The case against the alleged tobacco trafficking ring, which officials have called "organized crime", entered a new phase last week when a Gwinnett County grand jury indicted 41 people, including Joseph.
Indictments handed down in Gwinnett include charges of racketeering, possession of cigarettes with counterfeit stamps and possession of unstamped cigarettes. Charges for the suspects -- mostly gas station owners or tobacco wholesalers -- varied based on each person's role in a scheme that spanned multiple Georgia counties, officials said.
Attorney General Sam Olens has said the ring defrauded Georgia out of millions in tobacco tax revenue.
After a three-year investigation led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Atlanta division, 50 arrests were announced in October. The suspects were accused of obtaining counterfeit tax stamps for cigarettes and cigars, then selling them at "tax paid prices" to net substantially higher profits.
While many arrests were local, other hotbeds included the Macon area and regions "north of Gwinnett County," officials said. One suspect was tracked down in Guam.
One man connected to the ring, Cajetan Ferio Fernandez, a former employee of an alleged contraband cigarette trafficker, pleaded guilty in Gwinnett Superior Court earlier this year to one count of possession of cigarettes with counterfeit stamps. He was sentenced to one year in confinement.
A DeKalb County grand jury has returned indictments on three other suspects.