Reporting Alex DeMetrick
BALTIMORE (WJZ)– As criminal enterprises go, cigarette smuggling is safer than dealing heroin. As illegal business goes, it’s booming.
Alex DeMetrick reports on why Maryland sits at the center of the smuggling trade.
Hundreds of cartons of cigarettes seized by Maryland Revenue agents led to guilty verdicts for smugglers last week in Prince George’s County.
Today another group was indicted for smuggling 15,000 packs of cigarettes into the state.
“We are holding smugglers accountable,” Prince George’s County State’s attorney Angela Alsobrooks said. “We take this crime very seriously.”
The seized cigarettes carry a Virginia tax stamp. Purchased legally, smugglers pay a tax of 30 cents per pack.
In Maryland, the cigarette tax is $2. In New Jersey, the tax is $4.35 a pack.
“New York is the promised land for these cigarette smugglers,” Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said.
All of the cigarettes sold elsewhere means Maryland is not collecting its $2 tax.
“It’s partly selling them to retail outlets that are committing crimes by buying them, and they know they are, and just selling them on their own,” Franchot said.
Cigarette smuggling carries a penalty of two years in prison and a fine of $50 per carton. For some criminals, that’s not much of a deterrent.
“We find a lot of people involved in selling these cigarettes were involved in the drug trade previously, but found this to be less violent and an equally profitable way of making a few dollars,” Director of the Comptroller’s Field Enforcement, Jeff Kelly, said.
To catch them, Maryland Revenue agents stake-out Virginia outlets and make the arrests when they cross the border.
Alsobrooks says agents are prosecuting a growing financial crime that deprives Maryland of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in tax revenue.
Last year, 1.2 million cigarettes were seized. Just three months into this fiscal year, 600,000 have been confiscated.
The seized cigarettes in Maryland are incinerated.