Former Ohio City nightclub owner pleads guilty to drug, money laundering charges

By Eric Heisig

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A former Ohio City nightclub owner arrested by the FBI as part of a large-scale investigation pleaded guilty Monday to federal drug and money-laundering charges.

Emad Silmi, 44, the owner of Global Auto Body & Collision in Cleveland’s Puritas-Longmead neighborhood, acknowledged to a federal magistrate judge that he ran a drug ring out of his shop that spread large amounts of marijuana, cocaine and a designer drug similar to “molly” throughout Northeast Ohio.

His arrest came after a federal investigation that lasted more than a year and also resulted in charges against 25 other people. It is the second time the North Olmsted resident, who previously owned the popular club Moda, was caught trafficking drugs.

He was sentenced in 2006 to 57 months in federal prison for similar charges.

Silmi said little more than “yes, your honor” during his plea hearing in front of Magistrate Judge Jonathan Greenberg. A bald, gray-bearded man in an orange jumpsuit, he has been in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service since his arrest in December 2017. He acknowledged his crimes to the judge as Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Cronin read them aloud from a plea agreement.

His lawyer Craig Weintraub said after the hearing his client is looking at a likely sentence of about 10 years in federal prison. Silmi also agreed to forfeit more than $54,000 and a gun, and federal prosecutors agreed to drop several charges in exchange for his plea.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko will sentence Silmi on April 29.

The FBI dubbed the investigation “Operation Snow Globe.” Agents discovered that drugs were shipped through the mail, FedEx and UPS. The drug money was laundered through auto shops throughout Cleveland and in Parma. Agents listened in on phone calls and read text messages, according to court records.

Silmi obtained large amounts of cocaine from Cleveland resident Samer Abu-Kwaik, prosecutors said. He also obtained large amounts of designer drugs from Huron resident Anthony Quinn Greenelee, who obtained it from China.

He sold all the drugs out of his shop and disguised drug payments as business expenses to launder the money.

Others netted in the FBI’s investigation were also caught shipping and selling heroin, fentanyl and the synthetic opioid U-47700 from Puerto Rico, court records said.

Prior to his recent arrest, Silmi was likely best known as the owner of his West 25th Street nightclub, which in its day was frequented by stars such as LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, the rapper 50 Cent, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

The Ohio City club was shuttered in 2006, and its former building now houses the Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream shop.

Weintraub described Silmi’s charging and plea as a “fall from grace” for a once-successful businessman.

“That was the club in Cleveland for a while,” the attorney said of Moda. He said Global Auto Body & Collision is still open and is run by Silmi’s wife.