Reporting Meghan McCorkell
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Cigarettes smuggled across state lines are costing the state of Maryland big bucks. Now officials are cracking down.
Meghan McCorkell has more on the growing problem.
The U.S. Justice Department estimates states are losing $5 billion a year due to smuggling cigarettes. The crime is now more lucrative than smuggling cocaine or heroin.
Surveillance video has been released of ATF agents patrolling the Maryland/Virginia border, the new smuggling ground for black market cigarettes. Criminals are going south to low cigarette tax states and loading up. Then they illegally sell them in high tax states, like Maryland.
“The amount of money is phenomenal. It’s tens of thousands of dollars in any particular run that someone may make,” said Jeff Kelly, Maryland Field Enforcement.
Virginia has the lowest cigarette tax, at just 30 cents. Maryland charges $2 a pack, New Jersey is $2.70 and New York has the highest rate, at $4.35 a pack.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is tackling the problem head on.
“Be careful because our officers are blanketing the borders,” he said.
Prince George’s County has already busted nine people last month for cigarette smuggling.
Franchot says they’re hurting people who legally sell cigarettes.
“We’re protecting Maryland businesses that are paying their taxes and doing the right thing,” he said.
Every pack of cigarettes has a stamp marking where it was sold. Just one carload smuggled in could rake in $30,000 in illegal profits.
“It’s a felony to bring more than two packs of cigarettes into the state of Maryland without a Maryland stamp on it,” said Franchot.
And it could net you two years behind bars.
Cigarette smuggling has been linked to major criminal organizations and violent gangs.
In the past few years, Maryland has confiscated more than 328,000 cartons of illegal cigarettes, worth more than $2.4 million.