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Virginia gas station owner ordered to pay $3 million for cigarette trafficking

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RICHMOND, Va. — A Fredericksburg gas station owner was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay $3 million in restitution for his role in a cigarette trafficking conspiracy.

According to a plea agreement, Bernard Ekelemu, 60, admitted to making sales-tax-free purchases of more than $7.1 million worth of cigarettes to sell to cigarette traffickers.

Prosecutors say Ekelemu directed another individual to purchase a Gulf gas station in Fredericksburg in November 2013.

That’s when he obtained a “Certificate of Registration for the Collection of Virginia Sales and Use Tax” that exempted him from paying sales and use tax when making business purchases.

“Ekelemu opened business memberships at various wholesale clubs and with wholesale cigarette distributors in Virginia, and subsequently used those business memberships to make sales-tax-free purchases of more than $7.1 million worth of Virginia-stamped cigarettes between March 2014 and November 2016,” prosecutors said in a plea agreement.

The 60-year-old would then sell those cigarettes to cigarette traffickers who sold them as contraband on the black market, officials said.

The traffickers sold the illegal contraband in New York among other states.

Ekelemu was also ordered to forfeit $1.42 million for his role in the conspiracy.