NEW YORK CITY — A Staten Island man brokered the sale of AK-47s and an anti-tank rocket launcher in Kosovo, referring to the weapons as "sneakers" and a "Shaq-sized sneaker," federal prosecutors said.
Albert "Benny" Veliu, 34, was arrested Wednesday as part of extortion, money laundering and narcotics trafficking schemes with ties to the Genovese family, according to the federal complaint.
The probe started after an informant told agents that Christopher Curanovic, 35, an associate of the Genovese family, started to shake him down for a $40,000 debt he owed him from 2007.
Curanovic — who has been in federal prison since 2010 for a different racketeering charge — set up a scheme with Anthony Noterile, 56, and Veliu to launder money from a drug ring through the informant's Brooklyn repair shop. Curanovic would take a percentage of the proceeds to pay back the debt, according to the complaint.
From October to June, the group laundered about $800,000 in drug sales — exchanging the cash for "clean" checks supported by fake paperwork — and also sold about five pounds of marijuana to informants, prosecutors said.
Xhevat Gocaj, 50, Dilber Kukic, 45, Agim Rugoave, 45, Ekram Sejdija, 40, and Alban Veliu, 32, were also arrested in New York City as part of the scheme.
Martin Shkreli — not the famous "pharma bro" facing federal charges for a Ponzi scheme — was also arrested for asking Veliu to give him a fraudulent certificate of insurance in exchange for "clean" checks, according to the complaint.
"This case demonstrates the increasingly global reach of our investigations and marks the important disruption of a money laundering, drug trafficking, and arms trafficking network that extended into Europe and involved criminals who were prepared to provide a pipeline of dangerous weapons," acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde said in a statement.
As part of the investigation into the laundering scheme, Veliu brokered a deal in Kosovo for the sale of 15 AK-47 rifles and an anti-tank rocket that a DEA source told Veliu was bound for "Mexican drug cartels who were engaged in a 'war' along the border," according to the complaint.
Search warrants conducted by law enforcement in Kosovo uncovered additional weapons, ammunition and more than 60,000 euros, prosecutors said.