Before 2013, Adem Arici was one of the most successful owners in the gourmet grocery business. He was the co-founder and former co-owner of the chain of Amish and Zaytuna Markets that had locations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
But, in 2011, Arici was charged with conspiracy to violate the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) and witness tampering – the “enemy” in this case being Cuba.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Arici was attempting to invest in real estate in Cuba, where the U.S. has maintained a trade embargo since 1962 and tried to cover it up by instructing witnesses to lie to investigators.
In December 2013, Arici pled guilty and was sentenced to 5 years in prison for tax fraud.
The trade embargo with Cuba is enforced through various laws and regulations through TWEA and other related federal regulations. With only a few exceptions, TWEA prohibits all commercial transactions with Cuba or Cuban nationals unless allowed in advance by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
According to prosecutors, Arici and his lawyer and co-defendant, Marc E. Verzani, traveled to Cuba in September 2011. They were joined by an unnamed associate who claimed that the three businessmen attempted to engage in illegal activities, including Arici investing millions of dollars in Cuban real estate and businesses, joined them.
Arici, who has dual Turkish and U.S. citizenship, claimed that a Turkish group sent him to Cuba on a religious and a humanitarian mission and insisted that he could not have bought real estate in Cuba because of their law against foreign ownership of property.
In June 2013, Adem Arici pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit tax and fraud offenses, four counts of subscribing to false and fraudulent federal personal income tax returns, as well as one count of witness tampering in connection with a federal investigation of individuals engaging in prohibited transactions in which a Cuban national had an interest.
Verzani, his lawyer and co-defendant, pled guilty in October 2013 to making a false statement to US Customs for failing to include “Cuba” in the list of countries visited on the customs declaration form he submitted upon returning to the United States. He was sentenced to two years’ probation.
In July 2015, a New York State appellate court upheld that Verzani should be prohibited from practicing law in connection to his guilty plea.
For U.S. residents – traveling to Cuba can legally occur only in boundaries of 12 approved purposes. Noticeably absent from this list, vacation and business dealings.