As two of the three Jersey City men arrested in Florida last week in a federal sting operation that centered on international arms dealing and money laundering head to court today, details about who the trio are continue to emerge.
One contributed to Mayor Bret Schundler's bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination while another was once considered an up-and-coming mover and shaker in the black business community. Background on the third, however, remains sketchy.
Mohammed Rajaa Malik, 52, a local businessman and former Jersey City Zoning Board member, donated $1,000 to Schundler's primary campaign in the name of his store, One Stop Shop Market, also known as Grove Liquor and Deli, on Grove Street, election records show.
Malik, also known as "Mike," and Diaa Mohsen, 57, were arrested June 12 by federal agents after they attempted to buy weapons, including Stinger missiles, from undercover officers, officials said.
Mohsen faces possible charges of arms dealing and money laundering, while Malik faces a possible arms dealing charge. Prosecutors plan to ask that bail be denied for the two at today's hearing in federal court in Florida.
The third city man, 42-year-old Kevin Ingram, was also arrested in the 31-month investigation on money laundering charges but was released on a $250,000 bond.
Ingram, who in 1996 was named one of the top 25 African-American "movers and shakers" by Black Enterprise magazine, earned a name for himself at two prominent investment firms.
Of the three men, Malik, a native of Pakistan, appears to be the best known in the community.
"He used to talk to me all the time about what was going on in City Hall," Yvonne Balcer, who lives Downtown and frequented Malik's deli and liquor store, said yesterday. "A lot of people are laughing in Downtown Jersey City after seeing Schundler say he does not know him."
The store, which is now closed, had its lottery operations stripped by the state several years ago, though officials could not say yesterday why the machines were removed.
In an interview with The Jersey Journal last week, Schundler said he didn't know Malik, who local politicians described as a political hanger-on. Through his spokesman yesterday, Schundler maintained that position.
"It's possible he may have run into him at a meeting or something, but he doesn't know anything about the guy," said Bill Guhl, Schundler's campaign spokesman. "Just because you are introduced to someone at a fund-raiser does not mean you have continuing communication."
But Balcer, who ran unsuccessfully for an at-large City Council seat on Louis Manzo's mayoral slate in May, said Schundler isn't being truthful.
"How can Schundler, who lives in the neighborhood, say he does not know this guy?" Balcer said yesterday. "It's just an indication of how he lies.
"There are a lot of people who may not live up to our expectations, but that does not mean we don't know them," she said.
Balcer also said Schundler should return the contribution, but Guhl said he doesn't know if the mayor has that in mind.
"I am not sure if he plans to return it or not," Guhl said. "I don't think he has any plans to return it, but we have not talked extensively about it."
Undercover agents for the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms met with Malik and Mohsen on at least a dozen occasions from December 1998 until their arrests June 12 in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as well as in New Jersey and New York to discuss the arms deals, shipment and payments, according to court papers.
During one of these meetings, Mohsen and Malik told an agent, posing as a rogue arms dealer, and a government informant that they wanted to purchase missiles, night-vision goggles, grenade launchers and guns for a foreign country, the records show.
At one point, the men allegedly told the undercover agent that the weapons were for a former foreign military official. It was still not clear yesterday which country the men were allegedly working for.
But while many people in the Jersey City political scene said Malik - who at one time owned several smoke shops and liquor stores - was known for going out of his way to make connections, residents near his businesses described him as a nice guy.
"When I heard about that news, it shocked me," said Mahmood Hussain, who runs the coffee shop in the Gregory Park building on Marin Boulevard where Malik once lived. "I don't believe it. He had four children and a family, why do they need to do like that?"
Hussain, who said he knew Malik for about nine years, said if the allegations prove true, Malik must have been pressured.
City residents were unable to offer much insight on Mohsen, who lives on Pavonia Avenue, or Ingram, who owns property in New York, Jersey City and Connecticut.
"He has been living there, and I know his face, but we have never met him," said one of Mohsen's Pavonia Avenue neighbors, who asked that her name not be used. "They have only been there for about a year, but they don't come out much in the neighborhood."
Val Rodriguez, Mohsen's attorney, said last week that the court records read like "a James Bond novel," and that his client is a victim of "entrapment." Rosemarie Mohsen, Diaa Mohsen's wife, said the charges are "all untrue" and that it was "entrapment by the FBI."
In 1998, Mohsen was charged in Hudson County with writing bad checks, but local prosecutors offered Mohsen admittance into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program, which wipes the slate clean upon completion. But First Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor Terrence Hull could not confirm whether Mohsen finished the program.
Ingram, who told a judge he is currently between jobs and is living off savings accumulated from years as an investment banker, laundered $350,000 on two separate deals in 1999 for the informant and undercover agents, taking a 9 percent cut, court records charge. He was brought into the investigation after Mohsen introduced a government informant to him in June 1999, court records indicate.
He was arrested last week, along with a Connecticut man, after agreeing to launder an additional $2.2 million of what was said to be arms money for a 25 percent cut, the records say.
According to published reports, Ingram ran the mortgage trading division at Goldman Sachs in Manhattan from 1992 to 1996, when he left to head up the mortgage-backed securities department at Deutsche Bank.
In January 1999, after his division suffered costly losses, he was asked to resign, the reports said. Goldman Sachs declined to comment.
He was also working with the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, an economic development program in Harlem, to reopen Minton's Playhouse, a nightclub known as the birthplace of bebop, according to published reports. He also wanted to expand a famous chicken and waffle restaurant.
Reports indicate the plans were stalled after Ingram failed to raise capital in addition to the $200,000 dispersed to him. The agency has begun legal efforts to recoup the initial loan.
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