4th man guilty in check-cashing scheme

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Federal prosecutors today secured a guilty plea from the fourth and final defendant involved in an illegal check-cashing scheme, as former fugitive Aref S. Hamdah appeared before U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone.

Mr. Hamdah, 43, who said he has been living with relatives in Detroit, was the official owner of Shuman's East Liberty News and Variety, though he told authorities that the real controlling party was Yasin Shuman. The business was not licensed to cash checks, but did so anyway, charging anywhere from 1 percent to 10 percent of the face value of the check. The business cashed some $200,000 in checks per month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Rivetti told the court.

Internal Revenue Service examinations of the business led to warnings, and then prosecutions, Mr. Rivetti said. Illegal check cashing businesses often facilitate money laundering for drug dealers, but Mr. Rivetti said there was no evidence tying Mr. Hamdah to such activity.

Mr. Hamdah missed a prior court hearing but recently turned himself in, and he was incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail prior to today's hearing. He can return to Detroit until he is sentenced here on April 6. He could get as much as five years in prison, though sentencing guidelines suggest he may serve six months or less.

Cases against the co-conspirators, completed in 2008, indicate that they may have helped people to evade requirements that transactions of $10,000 or more be reported to the federal government.

Mr. Shuman was sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release. A relative, Eyad Shuman, got 15 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and payment of restitution totaling $162,470. Eid Ghanem got one year of probation.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542


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