-Comptroller Agents Seized More Than 14K Packs, Worth Nearly $90K-
Upper Marlboro, MD (September 22, 2011) – Comptroller Peter Franchot, alongside Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks, announced today that a grand jury has indicted* nine people on charges of possessing and transporting contraband cigarettes in Maryland. The indictments are the result of a stepped-up enforcement effort spearheaded by the Comptroller’s Field Enforcement agents to reduce cigarette smuggling in and through Maryland.
The most recent set of indictments include nine individuals who were involved in five unrelated incidents of cigarette smuggling. A total of 14,875 packs of illegal cigarettes were seized, worth nearly $89,000. If purchased in Maryland, the cigarettes would have required a payment of $29,750 in taxes.
“The tax loss to the state as a result of cigarette smuggling operations is a slap in the face to the law-abiding businesses in Maryland,” said Comptroller Franchot. “During the last fiscal year, we seized nearly $1.2 million worth of cigarettes; and, not only three months into the new fiscal year, have we already seized more than $600,000 worth of cigarettes. My office will continue to partner with other agencies to aggressively go after tax scofflaws who blatantly disregard our laws.”
Cigarette smugglers take advantage of the different tax rates that states impose on cigarettes. In Maryland, the tax is $2 per pack. Although it varies from area to area, the tax in Virginia is much lower, while it is considerably higher in states like New York and New Jersey. Smugglers like those charged visit low-tax states like Virginia, purchase cigarettes and illegally sell them in higher-tax states.
The Comptroller of Maryland is responsible for enforcing tobacco laws in the state. This includes controlling the transportation of contraband cigarettes through the state. It is a felony to transport cigarettes for which the Maryland tax has not been paid in the state, punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of $50 per carton of contraband cigarettes. The Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office is responsible for prosecuting these cases originating in the county.
“Individuals who are involved in cigarette smuggling are taking money out of the public treasury. This can impact on our ability to provide critical services like education, transportation and health care to citizens,” said State’s Attorney Alsobrooks. “We are not going to tolerate that in our county and state.”
In July and August, enforcement agents from the Comptroller’s Office were alerted by Virginia officials that a number of out-of-state individuals, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents, were purchasing large quantities of cigarettes in Virginia with the intent to transport them to other states.
Working together, the Virginia and Maryland enforcement officers were able to monitor the smugglers as they purchased cigarettes in Virginia and then to follow them from Virginia into Maryland. At that point, the would-be smugglers were stopped, arrested and taken into custody by enforcement officers working for the Comptroller. The illegal cigarettes and the vehicles involved were seized.
Assistant State’s Attorney Doyle Niemann, a prosecutor in the State’s Attorney’s Economic Crimes Unit, will be the lead prosecutor for these cases. The names, ages and towns where the people who have been indicted live are as follows:
1. Jose Gilberto Perez, 53, of Baltimore, MD
2. Eredania Perez-De-Hernandez, 41, of Baltimore, MD
3. Maoze Abdallh Ibrahim, 26, of East Orange, NJ
4. Abdoulaye Akmoudou, 41, of Newark, NJ
5. Alicia Walker, 34, of Bloomfield, NJ
6. Livinus Agubu, 39, of the Bronx, NY
7. Felix Cruz, of the Bronx, NY
8. Feby Pledger, 45, Far Rockaway, NY
9. Bernard Cribbs, 58, Far Rockaway, NY
*A grand jury is an impartial panel of ordinary citizens. An indictment issued by a grand jury is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceeding. The grand jury determines whether there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. In the grand jury process, a prosecutor presents evidence to the grand jury and the grand jury independently decides whether that evidence is enough to move forward to trial.