Tax fraud prosecution became a family affair Wednesday when a man who was in court watching his brother being sentenced was himself arrested in the federal courthouse.
Authorities say Khaldoun "Tony" Khalil Khawaja paid pennies on the dollar at his Tampa convenience store for more than $1.8 million in fraudulent tax refunds, then sent the checks to his brother in Virginia. The brother, Muawia "Mike" Khalil Abdeljalil, also owned three convenience stores in the Roanoke area.
Investigators found evidence of 442 refund chucks deposited in accounts controlled by Abjeljalil in an eight-month span in 2010, according to federal court documents.
Abjeljalil, who was in court Wednesday for his brother's sentencing hearing on a weapons offense, was arrested in the lobby of the federal courthouse on a federal complaint out of Virginia. The complaint accuses him of bank fraud, structuring cash transactions to evade federal reporting requirements, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and entering into a fraudulent marriage for immigration fraud.
Authorities say they were investigating Khawaja when agents saw two guns in his store, Main Street Groceries, also referred to as Tony's Groceries.
Khawaja was sentenced Wednesday to 37 months in federal prison for being a felon in possession of a weapon. Federal prosecutors wouldn't say why Khawaja is not facing tax fraud charges because, they said, they don't discuss ongoing investigations.
"It is not a coincidence that undercover officers went into Tony's Groceries that day," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mandy Riedel told U.S. District Judge William J. Castagna during Khawaja's sentencing hearing. "Mr. Khawaja has been a scourge of this community for many years … a known perpetrator of fraud on this community long before we went in undercover."
Khawaja was recorded buying bogus U.S. Treasury checks from undercover detectives, according to evidence introduced in his trial in January. On the recording, Khawaja can be seen paying $280, representing 20 percent of the face value, for a bogus Treasury check.
When investigators searched Khawaja's store on May 20, they found four U.S. Treasury checks in his front pocket, according to a federal court affidavit. He told agents he often negotiated Treasury checks and sent them to Abdeljalil in Roanoke, Va.
Agents obtained FedEx Express records of 36 packages sent by Khawaja to Abdeljalil between February and July 2010. In addition, agents analyzed 399 of the checks worth almost $1.7 million deposited into Abdeljalil's accounts, and found a majority of them were payable to out-of-state residents, primarily people in Tampa.
At least three of the checks in Abdeljalil's accounts were prepared by Shawntrece Sims, who was sentenced in December to nine years in federal prison for committing more than $670,000 in tax fraud and mail fraud.
Riedel told Castagna that Khawaja is in this country illegally from Jordan. And Abdeljalil is accused of entering into two fraudulent marriages in an effort to remain in the U.S. The arrest affidavit says Abdeljalil's real wife, the mother of his children, married a gay sex offender in an attempt to stay in the U.S.