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Feds Raid Tulsa Used Car Dealership In Terrorism Investigation

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Tulsa Police officer checking on vehicle's VIN number. Tulsa Police officer checking on vehicle's VIN number.
Despite the American flags on almost every car, federal agents say Ace Auto Mart is laundering money for a deadly terrorist group. Despite the American flags on almost every car, federal agents say Ace Auto Mart is laundering money for a deadly terrorist group.
Ace Auto Leasing/Auto Mart is located at 11th and Sheridan. Ace Auto Leasing/Auto Mart is located at 11th and Sheridan.
TULSA, Oklahoma -

The U.S. Justice Department says a Tulsa used car dealership is one of about 30 U.S. car buyers that are part of a money-laundering scheme which used the U.S. financial system to benefit the militant group Hezbollah.

The allegations came out late Thursday in New York - claiming the Ace Auto car lot at 11th Street and Sheridan is part of a huge network that is selling cars - and drugs - and using the money to support terrorism against the United States.

According to a complaint filed in a New York City federal court, the scheme involved funds sent from Lebanon to the U.S. to buy used cars, which were then transported to West Africa.

Cash from the sale of the cars, along with proceeds of narcotics trafficking, were then funneled to Lebanon through Hezbollah-controlled money laundering channels.

Despite the American flags on nearly every car, federal investigators say Ace Auto used car dealership is really a money laundering operation that benefits Hezbollah - the second most deadly terrorist group behind Al-Qaeda.

Police officers were checking VIN numbers of all the cars at the business, while FBI agents were in the offices.  Federal agents hauled out documents, questioned employees - and took inventory of the cars.

It wasn't clear if anyone was arrested onsite.

"They're making big time money and it's going right into weapons, training, funding, things need to carry out terrorist attacks around the world," said Rusty Payne, DEA.

Ace Auto Mart has several distinct businesses, with separate bank accounts, and investigators say the money was moved between them as part of the laundering operation.

"Some of that money is flowing back to the United States, back to these used car companies, to buy more used cars and ship them to West Africa to sell them at a profit and then mix that money in with the drug dollars," Payne said.

In the federal complaint, Ace Auto Leasing is listed as making wire transfers of $20,241,183.

"What's happening is that the amounts are so large it raised red flags with investigators. There's no way the used car industry in the US and West Africa could produce these kind of revenues," said Rusty Payne, DEA.

The complaints list Mohammad K. Soukieh and Sami H. Nasreddine on bank accounts connected to Ace Auto. No arrests were made onsite.

Read the complaint.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the civil case reveals a massive international scheme in which Lebanese financial institutions, including banks and two exchange houses linked to Hezbollah, passed money through the U.S. financial system to launder proceeds from narcotics trafficking and other criminal enterprises through West Africa and back into Lebanon.

"The intricate scheme laid out in today's complaint reveals the deviously creative ways that terrorist organizations are funding themselves and moving their money, and it puts into stark relief the nexus between narcotics trafficking and terrorism," Prett Bharara said.

"Today, we are putting a stranglehold on a major source of that funding by disrupting a vast and far-flung network that spanned three continents."

The government said substantial portions of the cash were paid to Hezbollah, which has been designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization since 1997.

View the New York Times graphic that explains how the feds say the scheme worked.

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