Friday, April 15, 2005

Cleveland mosque leader accused of laundering money

John Caniglia
Cleveland Plain Dealer Reporter
A leader of a Cleveland mosque was indicted Wednesday on charges of laundering $286,000 in what federal agents say were stolen cigarette profits.

West Park accountant Abrar Haque, his wife, Nuzaira, and two others are accused of conspiracy in their attempt to shield one of Haque's business clients from federal agents. In February, FBI and IRS agents searched Haque's office, his home in Berea and a building containing the Islamic Mosque and a school.

Within weeks after the search, Haque left the area, and authorities are uncertain whether he is still in the country. His attorney, Mark DeVan, declined to comment.

Haque, 43, is a certified public accountant and financial planner who helped launch the Islamic Mosque on Lorain Avenue 15 years ago. It has since moved to Rocky River Drive, where it hoped to revitalize a neighborhood.

Federal prosecutors are seeking to seize, through forfeiture, $60,000 taken during the searches, as well as Haque's home on Weatherstone Drive in Berea, which is worth $225,000.

Prosecutors said he paid for his home with cash from the laundering scheme.

Two business clients of the accountant, Mohammad Shahabuddin and Omar Abedrabbo, also were charged with conspiracy.

In documents, federal prosecutors said one of Haque's clients said he owned a business, Carnation Inc. The business gave the accountant $330,000 between 2003 and 2004. Carnation Inc. is not charged with any crime.

The indictment said nearly all of the money involved proceeds from cigarettes stolen in North Carolina that were transported to Ohio; $44,000 came from other illegal activity, the indictment said.

Haque wrote checks on various accounts and kept 10 percent for himself, according to the charges.

By cashing checks from an accountant, the business would avoid drawing the attention of bank officials when depositing large amounts.

Haque wrote one check, for $28,000, from an account of the Islamic Mosque, the indictment says.

Julia Shearson, director of the Cleveland office of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said: "Just like all other Americans, the defendants are presumed to be innocent. Their case should be given all due-process considerations, as are granted under our judicial system."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

jcaniglia@plaind.com, 216-999-4128
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