Guilty plea, more indictments in Gwinnett-connected tobacco ring

LAWRENCEVILLE -- One man connected to an alleged tobacco trafficking ring with strong local ties pleaded guilty in Gwinnett County Superior Court last week, officials said, and three more suspects were indicted.

Representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Georgia Department of Revenue and Attorney General Sam Olens held a press conference last October announcing dozens of arrests. At the time, 50 suspects had been charged in what officials called "pure and simple organized crime" -- the suspects, many gas station owners or tobacco wholesalers, were obtaining counterfeit tax stamps for cigarettes and cigars.

By selling them at "tax paid prices," they were able to skirt the law and turn a significant profit, officials said at the time.

On Friday, Cajetan Ferio Fernandez -- described as "a former employee of an alleged trafficker of contraband cigarettes" -- pleaded guilty to one count of possession of cigarettes with counterfeit stamps in front of Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Ronnie K. Batchelor. Batchelor sentenced Fernandez to 11 months, 29 days imprisonment, the Attorney General's office announced Monday.

A DeKalb County grand jury also returned indictments on three other suspects last week: Shaukat Sayani, Leslie Charles and Amin Hudda.

The sting was a multi-year, multi-departmental operation based out of Gwinnett County because of a good working relationship in past cases, officials said last year. While many arrests were local, other hotbeds also included the Macon area and regions "north of Gwinnett County." One suspect was tracked down in Guam.