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20 indictments returned in haz-mat license case

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted all 20 of the Middle Eastern men who allegedly obtained phony trucking licenses in a scheme that last week sent shock waves through the U.S. government and the trucking industry.

The indictments in Pittsburgh of 16 men arrested in six states last week were returned one day after four other men arrested in Seattle were indicted by the same grand jury.

Federal prosecutors say 18 of 20 men indicted in the case had fraudulently obtained commercial licenses with certificates allowing them to transport hazardous materials.

The FBI says there is no known connection between those who obtained the permits and the September 11 suicide hijackers.

Nonetheless, concern over the potential for truck bombs or the intentional distribution of hazardous materials prompted a massive coast-to-coast search last week that ended with the arrest of every suspect in the case. They were apprehended in Michigan, Washington, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee and Missouri.

The alleged middle man, who authorities say arranged the licenses through a relationship with a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation employee, is also in custody. A court hearing for Elmeliani Benmoumen has been postponed. He has not yet been indicted.

Several of the defendants have been released under strict conditions, including the surrender of their truck licenses and travel documents.

Federal prosecutors say that, if convicted, each defendant could be sentenced to as much as 15 years in prison, and fines of up to $250,000.


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