Israeli goes from selling cigarettes online to US federal prison

Yonatan Morgan was on his way to a vacation in the Caribbean when he was stopped by a federal agent while getting his passport checked during his connection in New York. The agent told Yonatan that he was the main suspect of an investigation and it was then that Yonatan understood that this was all because of his employer: an Israeli company that sells cigarettes online, paid him 30 NIS an hour and omitted several important details.
Yonatan Morgan Photo Credit: Channel 2 News

Two years ago, Yonatan Morgan and his girlfriend were on their way to a vacation in the Caribbean, where he planned on proposing to her. But, the couple had a connecting flight in New York and at passport control is where their nightmare began. “It was my turn. I handed over my passport and the man was smiling,” Yonatan recalls. “Suddenly, his smile faded and he began asking me strange questions.” Afterwards, the man asked Yonatan to accompany him.

Within half an hour, an officer arrived. “He told me: ‘I’m sorry, but you’re not getting on the next flight,’” Yonatan says. “There is an international warrant of arrest against you.” He was taken to a holding cell and, only after a difficult sleepless night, he was taken to a judge. “She said: ‘Jonathan Morgan, you are charged with money laundering, fraud against the United States, electronic communication fraud and mail fraud. Do you understand these charges?’ I told her no.”

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Only after she told him that this was about selling cigarettes Yonatan was able to connect the dots. Two years prior, he worked for the company Duty Free Depot located in Rishon LeZion that specializes in selling duty free cigarettes to clients around the world. US law concerning cigarette imports is very clear: the importer must obtain a license in order to sell the cigarettes, the shipments must be marked clearly and taxes must be paid. The Israeli company avoided the tax payments by lying.

The reason that Yonatan was targeted by authorities is because he was the person in contact with the customers. Therefore, his name was displayed in emails. This was enough for the FBI to determine that the evidence against him was conclusive. Taking his lawyer’s advice, Yonatan turned himself in to the state of Kentucky and awaited his trial that would take place in several months. After a nightmarish month, the judge agreed to release Yonatan on house arrest under the condition that he live within a 20-kilometer radius of the prison.



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