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Fourth Defendant in USA Gas Case Arraigned

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The last of four Turkish immigrants indicted on financial crimes related to their string of Albany-area USA Gas stations was arraigned in U.S. District Court on Monday, reported the Albany Times-Union.

The arraignment of Ziya Ozbay took place 11 days after three of his relatives, including his son-in-law, Yalcin Ozbay, were arrested during a series of early morning raids at the family's homes and business in Albany, Schenectady and Saratoga counties. Ziya Ozbay turned himself in to federal authorities on Nov. 5 in Fort Myers, Fla., and was subsequently released on $500,000 bond.

Also Monday, federal prosecutors were scheduled to meet privately with defense lawyers in the case. A law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said federal authorities are weighing whether to present additional charges in the case to a grand jury.

It's still not clear why the men's financial dealings became the target of an intensive federal investigation that apparently dates back several months. The case has been handled by members of a Joint Terrorism Task Force based in Albany, but authorities said there are no allegations of terror-related crimes.

The men, including Mustafa Ozbay and his son, Birol Ozbay, were indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this month on six counts of structuring, a felony, and other charges related to the alleged crimes.

Through a series of partnerships and corporations, the men own seven USA Gas convenience stations in the area. They are accused of hiding millions of dollars in transactions from federal regulators between November 1999 and July 2003, although it's not been alleged that they engaged in money laundering or tried to avoid paying taxes. They're accused of depositing and withdrawing about $17 million in cash in amounts of less than $10,000 in order to avoid filing federal forms that would help authorities keep tabs on the transactions.

If convicted, the men face up to 10 years in prison each and total fines of more than $30 million under sentencing guidelines that take into account the amount of money involved, authorities said.
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