Feds reach deal with online cigarette company

$3.1 million settlement linked to other cases

Associated PressMay 9, 2013 

LOUISVILLE — Federal prosecutors have reached a $3.1 million settlement with the owners of an online cigarette dealership over taxes owed on the smokes, just days after one of the owners pleaded guilty to taking part in a scheme to avoid paying the tariffs.

The agreement released Wednesday requires 48-year-old Israel Chavez of Louisville and his ex-wife, Pam Chavez, to turn over the contents of 12 financial accounts, as well as more than 10 million assorted tobacco products and a variety of warehouse equipment.

Israel Chavez pleaded guilty last month to buying cigarettes from another Kentucky dealer and falsifying invoices through an out-of-state company. Prosecutors say the invoices were an attempt to avoid more than $2 million in excise taxes. Israel and Pam Chavez owned two companies, Chavez, Inc., and Cigarettes Direct to You.

The case is linked to the ongoing criminal proceedings against a Florida businessman, who has been in the crosshairs of federal investigators for more than a decade, and two others who have pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged tax avoidance scheme.

Prosecutors have said that Chavez did business with 43-year-old Pedro "Peter" Bello of Miami and his business, GT Northeast of St. Louis. Bello, his sister, Caridad Bello, and her husband, Juan Hernandez, both of St. Louis, have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. The case against them is pending.

Chavez's sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 7 and prosecutors are recommending 33 months.

Pam Chavez, who lives in California, was not criminally charged.

Bello's criminal trial is set for June 3 in Louisville. Bello's attorney, Kent Westberry of Louisville, declined to comment on Chavez's plea.

Investigators have been tracking Bello since at least 2002. He was linked to several large-scale investigations and named in a civil lawsuit brought by the city of New York over untaxed cigarettes.

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