Captured fugitive faces charges of theft and bank fraud

BATON ROUGE – A fugitive fraud suspect on the run for nearly three years is in custody in Louisiana facing felony charges including theft and bank fraud.  Enforcement agents with the Louisiana Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) arrested 26-year old Ardel Youssef, wanted for his suspected participation in a series of bank frauds totaling nearly $200,000 in 2007 and 2009.

Youssef’s alleged criminal activity is connected to a company named ZBR Ahlmar Inc., doing business as Canal Junction, a tobacco products retailer.  Youssef owned the company with his mother, 45-year old Huwiata Youssef.  Criminal allegations date to 2007 when ATC investigators received complaints that the Youssefs had issued thousands of dollars of worthless checks to tobacco wholesale dealers.  The 2007 investigation uncovered an elaborate fraud scheme against several victims including four banks.  The Youssefs were suspected of targeting the banks with a check kiting scheme to acquire the money to purchase property for their business and to stock it with tobacco products. 

However, by the time the arrest warrants were issued, the Youssefs had relocated and could not be found.

In 2009, the Alexandria Police Department identified Ardel Youssef as the suspect in a felony theft case involving the purchase of telephone calling cards using worthless checks totaling $20,000.  However, Youssef fled the Alexandria area before police could arrest him.

On Wednesday, January 27, 2010, ATC enforcement agents received information that Ardel Youssef had boarded a plane at JFK International Airport in New York headed for Shreveport.  Youssef was on the plane and ATC agents, assisted by Shreveport Regional Airport Police, arrested him shortly after it landed.

“Ardel Youssef’s pattern of behavior suggests that he was returning to Louisiana to resume his criminal enterprise,” said ATC Commissioner Murphy Painter. “I am proud of the work by all agencies involved to get this suspect off the streets and bring this crime spree to an end.”

 Ardel Youssef was booked into the Caddo Parish Correctional Center on multiple charges of theft, issuing worthless checks and bank fraud.

Huwiata Youssef is still being sought for her suspected participation in these crimes.  Investigators ask anyone with information on her location to call ATC at 225-925-4041 or their local law enforcement agency.

For more information, please contact:

Lt. Sasha Hyderkhan

Public Information Officer, Training and Support Services Unit

Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control

Office: 225-925-4041

Cell: 225-773-8088

Fax: 225-922-0312

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Report: 'House advances Chelsea's-friendly bill'

The Louisiana House of Representatives advanced a bill that would loosen state restrictions on restaurants that offer drink specials and late-night entertainment.

The measure came in response to actions by the Bureau of Alcohol & Tobacco Control regarding Chelsea’s Cafe, a restaurant in Baton Rouge.

Senate Bill 136 came in response to a January memo from state Alcohol Tobacco and Control chief Murphy Painter, which indicated that more than 5,000 restaurants could be violating the law.

Painter contends some restaurants turn into bars late at night and do not have the proper license.

Painter’s memo said that businesses operating under restaurant licenses that have bar in their name, offer alcoholic drink specials or implement cover charges for late night entertainment could no longer be considered a restaurant, said state Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans.

Arnold said Painter was trying to change the definition of restaurant, which has been “clearly understood by all parties” for many years.

Restaurant licenses are easier to obtain than those that allow bars and entertainment venues to operate.

Chelsea’s Cafe in Baton Rouge ran afoul of Painter, who claimed the restaurant was turning into a bar at night. The restaurant has been fighting a license suspension.

SB136 defines what constitutes a restaurant, including that it must make more than 50 percent of its average monthly revenues in food and non-alcoholic beverage sales. It goes on to say that just because a restaurant has bar in its name, offers alcoholic drink specials or entertainment with a cover charge does not mean they are no longer a restaurant.

The bill has the backing of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. The House voted 68-31 in favor.

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