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Truck Stop Owners Plead Guilty in Fuel Excise Tax Case

March 06, 1997|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A pair of Orange County men who ran a string of independent truck stops, including one of the busiest in the state, pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges of evading payment of more than $8.5 million in state and federal excise taxes on diesel fuel.

The men, Ammar Tabbaa, 38, of Orange and Khaled Tabbah, 38, of San Clemente, are scheduled to be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on June 9 for tax evasion and conspiracy. Khaled Tabbah has also pleaded guilty to one count of attempted bribery.

The two have agreed to pay $1 million in penalties before they are sentenced and have forfeited a fleet of oil tanker trucks valued at about $500,000. Each faces up to four years in prison.

According to a federal indictment handed down in October, the men owned and operated Southland Federal Enterprises Inc., a Brea-based company that ran a string of truck stops, including the Commerce Truck Stop in Los Angeles County, one of the state's busiest.

The truck stops are still in operation, but all are being offered for sale to help cover the penalty payments, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Stephen G. Larson of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Strike Force in Los Angeles.

From April 1992 until September 1995, he said, Tabbaa and Tabbah evaded excise taxes by creating a fictional company called American Fuel Co. to which Southland Federal said it sold diesel fuel and jet fuel on a tax-exempt wholesale basis.

In reality, Larson said, the fuel was resold through the six retail truck stops, which were required to pay 18 cents per gallon in state excise tax. But by not paying the tax, the truck stops could make fatter profits than their competitors while undercutting prices.

The scheme unraveled last year when Khaled Tabbah and his cousin, Abdul Kabbah, of Rancho Cucamonga, offered a bribe to a state tax auditor who had uncovered their dealings, Larson said. Abdul Kabbah, who managed the company's Heartland Truck Stop in Barstow, pleaded guilty earlier to a single count of attempted bribery and is scheduled to be sentenced March 24. A fourth man, Nayel Badereen, of Pasadena, pleaded guilty previously to a charge of failure to maintain tax records. Badereen, who is to be sentenced May 12, ran Southland Federal's trucking subsidiary, Falcon Oil, Larson said.

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