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Ex-captain gets 10 years for heroin smuggling

Sep. 14, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Saleem Akbar Sharif is a former Army captain.
Saleem Akbar Sharif is a former Army captain. (Army)
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A West Point graduate and former Army captain busted for trafficking heroin from Afghanistan to the U.S. was sentenced Sept. 4 to 10 years in a federal prison.

Saleem Akbar Sharif, 36, of Johns Island, S.C., also agreed to surrender $100,000 in drug profits. He pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute heroin.

The defense blamed Sharif’s criminal conduct on post-traumatic stress from the violence he saw after being deployed to Iraq in 2004 and had asked for the minimum sentence of five years.

Prosecutors said Sharif was motivated by profit and knew that what he was doing was wrong. Court records show Sharif shipped home heroin concealed in DVD cases for shows such as “Band of Brothers” and “True Blood.”

Delaware federal prosecutor Robert F. Kravetz said Sharif smuggled close to 10 kilograms, though he had earlier admitted to 2 1/2 kilograms.

“If you’re looking at 2.5 kilograms alone, that’s 85,000 to 100,000 individual doses of heroin,” Kravetz said. “On that scale, that’s a very significant amount, and that’s giving him the benefit of the doubt.”

Over a one-year period starting in 2010, while Sharif was in Afghanistan, roughly $320,000 was deposited into Sharif’s bank account from “numerous locations” in the U.S., and about $265,000 was withdrawn at Camp Eggers, in Kabul, “which is being used to purchase heroin,” Kravetz said.

Sharif was one of more than a dozen people charged in connection with a Wilmington, Del.-based drug network. The organization was primarily using couriers to smuggle heroin and cocaine from Panama, but two ringleaders were obtaining heroin from a Killeen, Texas, man who received his heroin from Sharif, Kravetz said.

“He’s at the top. He’s at the number-one source country in the world for heroin distribution. He’s obtaining heroin directly from an Afghan national. So he’s the most culpable of anyone,” Kravetz said.

Although Sharif offered some cooperation, he did not identify his drug contacts in Afghanistan or the U.S., Kravetz said.

Sharif served as a public affairs officer for 5th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

After his honorable discharge in 2005, Sharif became a contractor in Afghanistan, running a computer help desk. While there, Sharif used his driver to connect with an Afghan drug dealer, from whom he bought heroin by the kilo, according to Kravetz.

“Each kilogram was purchased for $7,000 to $10,000, and at that time, we were seeing kilograms of heroin sold in the U.S. for $75,000 or so,” Kravetz said.

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