Thursday, January 9, 2003

Warehouse owner: I'm innocent

Questions about drugs, immigration of Yemenis follow food theft charges

By Janice Morse and Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BEAVERCREEK, Ohio - Ali Kareem Aladimi, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Yemen, says Wednesday's federal charges involving a stolen shipment of baby food at his Butler County warehouse are false.

"I am totally innocent. This is (an) over-reaction," he told The Cincinnati Enquirer on Wednesday. "I need some fairness. I need some justice. This is destroying me."

Mr. Aladimi, who is being held in federal custody in Cincinnati, was on the telephone with his American-born wife of nearly 15 years, Mary, when he agreed to talk to a reporter, who was at his home in this Dayton suburb.

The federal indictment makes no mention of terrorist links. But Mr. Aladimi's lawyers, Max and Janet Kravitz of Columbus, wonder whether their client's Middle Eastern origin is a factor in his legal troubles.

Even though Yemen has been an ally of the United States in its war against terrorism, Yemen is "a hot country right now," Mr. Kravitz said.

Federal authorities allege Mr. Aladimi and three other men unlawfully transported and possessed the stolen cargo, 45 pallets of Gerber baby food. But Mr. Aladimi said he would have had no way of knowing that the items had been stolen when the trailer arrived at his West Chester Township warehouse Dec. 30. Mr. Aladimi's business, Twins Wholesale Inc., distributes baby products and toiletries to convenience stores.

[photo] Ali Kareem Aladimi owns Twins Wholesale Inc.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
A U.S. magistrate judge on Monday ordered that Mr. Aladimi remain in detention. The judge cited several reasons, including evidence that Mr. Aladimi was "involved in (a) scheme to violate immigration laws."

Mr. Aladimi owns a U.S. patent on a stained-glass process, and he says he was working with immigration officials to obtain appropriate visas for 25 "skilled artisans" to come from Yemen to do that work - a process he says was derailed because of post-Sept. 11 immigration restrictions.

No charges have been filed involving the 25 Yemenis, but an assistant U.S. attorney has said the government found nothing that showed Mr. Aladimi intended the men to work for his business.

Mr. Aladimi said he was just beginning to recover from the damage to his reputation since May 1999, when the government seized $784,000 from his Beavercreek home. The money was packed into resealed Clairol shampoo boxes, federal officials say. Forfeiture action on that money and his home was put on hold this past June.

Mr. Aladimi said he had a legitimate business purpose for collecting that large sum of cash and that he has documents to prove he obtained that money legally through sales of pseudoephedrine, an active ingredient commonly used in over-the-counter cold medications. Federal charges pending against him in California allege he knew or should have known that it would be used to manufacture methamphetamine in an illegal drug lab.

Federal authorities also searched his suburban Dayton home Saturday.

Mr. Aladimi's wife said she and their six children, ages 5-13, were in their pajamas when agents arrived around 8 a.m.

As for Mr. Aladimi's alleged involvement with the stolen baby food, federal court records give this account:

On Dec. 30, Hamoud H. Zaid checked into the Red Roof Inn on East Sharon Road. A hotel staff member alerted a multiagency drug unit that Mr. Zaid seemed suspicious. He had no reservation, paid in cash and said he didn't know how long he would be in the Cincinnati area. Drug agents began watching Mr. Zaid. They saw him meet with a tractor-trailer driver, then witnessed that truck being unloaded at Mr. Aladimi's warehouse off Ohio 747 on Interstate Drive in West Chester Township.

Further checking revealed the trailer had been reported stolen.

Authorities obtained a search warrant and raided the warehouse. They found "all of the stolen goods described by Gerber" as missing since Dec. 29 from Marshall County, Miss.

Agents also found 15 bottles of the sexual enhancement drug Viagra, and "no permits were produced or found for the Viagra." Officials also reported finding khat, an East African shrub that is chewed and contains ephedrine-like compounds said to make users feel happy, chatty and energetic.

The federal indictments issued Wednesday named Mr. Aladimi; Mr. Zaid, 42, of Hamtramck, Mich.; Richard Shorter, 47, and his son, Derwand Shorter, 25, both of Memphis, Tenn.

Each man is accused of two charges: transporting the stolen trailer and its contents across state lines, then possessing the items.

Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 plus restitution.

All four suspects were arrested after the Dec. 30 warehouse search, federally charged the next day and are being held at the Hamilton County Justice Center. They will appear in court Jan. 16.

Dan Horn and Robert Anglen contributed.

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