Corporate president from Illinois, and 2 corporations plead guilty to multimillion dollar mail and wire fraud


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Rahman Lakhani of Naperville, Illinois, and his two corporations, N. Ali Enterprises Inc. of Naperville, Illinois, and 21st Century Distribution Inc., of Las Vegas, Nevada, each pleaded guilty on Thursday (Jan. 11, 2024) to 20 counts of mail and wire fraud in a California excise tax fraud scheme, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, Lakhani and the corporate defendants used warehouses in Illinois, Nevada, and California, to move over $25 million worth of non-cigarette tobacco (known as Other Tobacco Products or OTP, such as cigars and chewing tobacco) across the United States and into California.

As the defendants moved the OTP from state to state, they submitted false excise tax returns designed to hide the size and value of the shipments. Ultimately, the OTP was sold into California with the misrepresentation that tax had been paid. In fact, Lakhani and the corporate defendants submitted or caused to be submitted false tax returns to the California Board of Equalization (BOE) and the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). As a result of the fraud, Lakhani and the corporate defendants defrauded the State of California of over $5.9 million.

This fraud allowed Lakhani and the corporate defendants to earn additional profit and to undercut competitors who lawfully paid the excise tax. A large percentage of the proceeds of the California OTP excise tax are used to fund California’s early childhood development program, First 5 California.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives along with the former California State Board of Equalization, sections of which are now the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Anderson and Rosanne L. Rust are prosecuting the case.

The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Daniel J. Calabretta on May 16, 2024. Lakhani faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. The corporate defendants each face a maximum potential penalty of five years of probation and a $500,000 fine for each count. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.



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