-More Than $100k Worth of Contraband Cigarettes Seized-
Annapolis, Md. (October 5, 2011) –Continuing in his efforts to aggressively crackdown on cigarette smuggling tobacco tax evasion tactics, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that agents from his Field Enforcement Division confiscated more than 17,000 packs of the contraband cigarettes. In addition to seizing the approximately $103,000 worth of contraband cigarettes, Comptroller’s agents arrested four people in four separate cases within less than one week’s time.
“I’d like to commend my agents for their vigilance,” said Comptroller Franchot. “Each day, they travel throughout the state to enforce the state’s tax laws. We will continue to pursue and prosecute those who blatantly disregard Maryland's tobacco laws thus protecting law-abiding businesses and keeping our communities free of contraband.”
The details of each case are as follows:
· Tuesday, October 4 (Case #1): Comptroller’s agents seized 4,950 packs of illegal cigarettes, valued at nearly $30,000, after Sergeant Michael Connor of the Maryland State Police (MSP) stopped a vehicle on Interstate 95 in Cecil County for a traffic violation. Agents arrested the driver, 30-year-old Zakaria Baloune of Woodbridge, VA.
Additionally, officials confiscated a 2003 Dodge Caravan.
· Thursday, September 29 (two separate cases):
o (Case #2):While conducting surveillance, Comptroller’s agents witnessed an individual purchas multiple quantities of cigarettes from various locations in Virginia and proceed into Maryland. The officers stopped the vehicle on U.S. 13 inSomerset County, finding 3,085 packs of illegal cigarettes, worth nearly $18,500. Agents arrested the driver of the vehicle, Isam Mohammad Abdelmuti, a 45-year-old resident of Secaucus, NJ and seized a 2008 Mercury Marquis.
o (Case #3):After making a routine traffic stop on Interstate 95 in Harford County, MSP Trooper Novak observed numerous packs of cigarettes in the vehicle and requested the assistance of the Comptroller’s agents. Officials seized 3,753 packs of cigarettes, worth approximately $22,500, as well as a 2001 Ford Crown Victoria. Officials arrested 50-year-old Mark Fondelli of Astoria, NY.
· Thursday, September 28 (Case #4): Working closely with the Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board (NVCTB) and the United States Park Police (USPP), Comptroller’s agents stopped an NYDC Express tour bus on Interstate 295 in Anne Arundel County. A ticketed passenger, Zein Ishakh Mahboubi, was removed from the bus and the luggage compartment searched. Officials seized seven suitcases containing 5,279 packs of contraband cigarettes worth nearly $32,000.
“I’d like to thank the Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board, the Maryland State Police and the United States Park Police for their invaluable assistance in these cases,” said Comptroller Franchot. “My agency has great partnerships with law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and municipal levels which allow my agents to be vigilant as we work to enforce Maryland’s tax laws.”
All four individuals have been charged with transporting contraband cigarettes and possession of contraband cigarettes in the state of Maryland. The transporting charge is a felony, which carries a $50 per carton fine and/or two years imprisonment; and the possession offense is a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year.