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USA Gas Owners at Heart of Federal Finance Probe

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Three Turkish immigrants have been released on $500,000 bond each as their lawyers try to figure out why the men's financial dealings became the target of an intensive federal investigation, reported the Albany Times-Union.

Authorities have declined to discuss the case, which led to the arrests on Thursday of Mustafa Ozbay, 56, and his son, 29-year-old Birol Ozbay, both of Schenectady, N.Y.; and Yalcin Ozbay, 38, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. A fourth man, Ziya Ozbay, 59, of Schenectady, who is Yalcin Ozbay's father-in-law, has not been arrested but was indicted this week with the others.

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 alleged that they tried to avoid paying taxes.

The charges against the four men were described in detail in a sealed indictment that was opened Thursday. They're accused of depositing and withdrawing more than $20 million in cash in amounts of less than $10,000 -- a practice that is illegal and known as "structuring."

Federal rules require banks to report cash transactions of more than $10,000 to the IRS. Customers must file "currency transaction reports" that are monitored by the FBI and other federal agencies. The indictment alleges that the four men sought to avoid filing the reports by breaking up their deposits and withdrawals into amounts under $10,000.

The four men each are charged with six counts of structuring, which is a felony. If convicted, they 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.

All the men are Muslim, and their family members have said they believe they were unfairly targeted because of their heritage and religion.

At a detention hearing in federal court Friday, it became clear the investigation had its origins in counterterrorism, yet the indictment alleges only white-collar-type crimes.

On Thursday, a news release from the U.S. attorney's office announcing the arrests credited 18 law enforcement agencies with taking part in the investigation.

The arrests took place as federal agents and State Police raided the family's service stations and convenience stores -- USA Gas -- in Glenmont, Guilderland, Clifton Park, Ballston Spa, Schenectady and South Glens Falls.
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