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Federal judge locks up extortionists for 242 years total after ‘ruthless and vicious’ murder of family man ‘gunned down in his place of business’

Ppassim Elder, Hani Kasem, Wilbert Bryant

Ppassim Elder, Hani Kasem, Wilbert Bryant (images via U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York)

Two extortionists convicted of murdering a 64-year-old family man shot to death at his Queens, N.Y., business were sentenced Wednesday to a combined 242 years for the “ruthless and vicious” slaying, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced.

Prosecutors said Ppassim Elder, a 43-year-old Staten Island man, and Wilbert Bryant, a 58-year-old Brooklyn man, were “[m]otivated by greed” the day Hani Kasem was shot in the face, his spinal cord severed. The gruesome Oct. 23, 2017 homicide took place in Ozone Park after Elder sent Bryant and others to collect a debt, which Elder said was incurred by the victim’s son, Mahmoud.

According to the government, Mahmoud wanted to expand the family’s Garden Valley Distributors business, described as a supplier of “local delis and bodegas.” When Mahmoud was “unable to secure funding from his bank and began asking others in the Palestinian community for assistance,” court documents said, Elder “approached Mahmoud outside of a wedding and offered to meet at Garden Valley.”

Thereafter, prosecutors said, Elder loaned Mahmoud money.

“To facilitate the investment, Elder requested that Mahmoud take checks from Elder, deposit them, and give certain amounts of cash back to Elder,” court documents said, describing the origins of Elder’s extortion scheme. “Two of the checks were issued by a company called Sajahtera Inc. and, unbeknownst to Mahmoud, represented proceeds of fraud […] Mahmoud complied, and then used the remaining money, which he believed was Elder’s investment in Garden Valley, to buy merchandise for the store.”

Once roped into the Elder’s extortionate scheme, prosecutors said, the family became the target of threats and intimidation.

“When Elder demanded full repayment, the son was unable to repay the debt because the money had been used to purchase merchandise for the business. Elder then began a campaign of intimidation against the son and his family. On one occasion, Elder paid co-conspirators to throw a rock through a window of the victim’s home. On another occasion, Elder barged into Kasem’s home, intimidating members of his family,” the government’s press release said.

Documents further said Elder threatened to shoot Mahmoud in the leg and threatened to “send ‘blacks’ and ‘Hispanics’ after him.”

Violence and ultimately murder followed.

“Because of the defendants, Ppassim Elder and Wilbert Bryant, a beloved patriarch—Hani Kasem—is dead,” prosecutors said in the opening line of a sentencing memorandum asking the judge to throw the book at the defendants. “Motivated by greed, Elder sent Bryant and others to Hani and Mahmoud Kasem’s store to extort them with a gun. As instructed, Bryant and his co-conspirators went to the store and brandished the firearm. One of them pistol-whipped Mahmoud Kasem and then another shot Hani Kasem in the face, severing his spinal cord and killing him. Elder and Bryant committed this heinous crime after having committed many others. And when they were caught, they each tried to obstruct the ongoing proceedings.”

“[T]he government respectfully submits that the Court sentence Elder to a Guidelines sentence of life in prison and Bryant to no less than 40 years’ imprisonment. Nothing less will account for the seriousness of the defendants’ crimes, promote respect for the law, and protect the public,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office added.

Elder, also known by the names “Bsam,” “Big Sam” and “Sam,” Bryant, a.k.a. “La” and “Will,” learned their fates for bank fraud, extortion, and murder in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz II. The two suspects had been awaiting sentencing since they were convicted at trial in October 2021.

The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York noted that the defendants’ crimes were far-reaching and “victimized many persons” in similar ways beyond the Kasem family.

“The defendants are guilty of multiple crimes of violence and fraud that victimized many persons, including the patriarch of a Queens family who was gunned down in his place of business,” Breon Peace said in a statement. “The defendants will deservedly serve lengthy prison sentences for their ruthless and vicious conduct.”

As a result, the judge sentenced Elder to 202 years in federal prison and Bryant to 40 years. Barring the unforeseen or a successful appeal, neither man will be making their way out from behind the prison walls again (Bryant would have to live to his late nineties in order to do so).

In letters submitted to the court, family members referred to Elder as a “very generous soul” and “good father figure.”

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.