ANNAPOLIS (WJZ) — Nearly half a million dollars of untaxed tobacco products have been seized by the state, in what Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is calling the largest tobacco bust in the agency’s history.
During early-morning raids on November 5 at multiple spots in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, agents from the Field Enforcement Division found a large-scale operation to import and distribute untaxed tobacco products and cigarettes in Maryland.
“The work of the agency’s Field Enforcement Division is second to none, and this latest operation to bring down a criminal enterprise demonstrates solid police work and multi-jurisdictional coordination,” said Comptroller Franchot. “As a result, these lawbreakers will be held accountable and Marylanders will not see lost tax revenue going out the door.”
As a result of the year-long investigation, agents seized thousands of cartons of untaxed tobacco products at a storage facility and at six retail locations.
The combined retail sales value of the seized contraband tallies up to $452,850.92- a total tax loss of $286,325.42 to the state.
Three men from Prince George’s County and Howard County, as well as Baltimore City, were charged. Two were arrested and another cited.
FED agents arrested Mehboob Chowdhury, 37, of Capitol Heights and Monzurul Islam, 29, of Columbia, and charged them with selling OTP purchased from other than a wholesaler. The two are believed to be a part of a larger tobacco smuggling syndicate in Maryland.
FED agents said they believe Chowdhury and Islam smuggled untaxed tobacco into the state and stashed it in a large storage facility in Capitol Heights and then distributed those products to retail tobacco stores where the untaxed items were then sold to the public.
During a related inspection at the Tobacco and Convenience Store in NE Baltimore, agents cited store clerk Abdul Karim Rubel, 18, of Baltimore.
He faces misdemeanor charges of selling OTP purchased from other than a wholesaler, possession of untaxed OTP and possession and sale of untaxed cigarettes.
Search warrants were served at:
• Extra Space Storage, 6300 Walker Mill Road, Capitol Heights
• Tobacco Heaven, 4831 Silver Hill Road, Suitland
• 24 Hour Best Tobacco Beer and Wine, 5400 Marlboro Pike, District Heights
• 24 Hour Discount Mart Convenience and Tobacco Store, 5003 A Marlboro Pike, Capitol Heights
• Residence of Mehboob Chowdhury of Capitol Heights and 2019 Toyota Highlander belonging to him
Inspections were conducted at:
• Tobacco and Convenience Store, 5300 Frankford Ave., Baltimore
• Tobacco and Wireless, 13312 Laurel-Bowie Road, Laurel
• 24 Hour One Stop Convenience, 6106 Old Silver Hill Road, District Heights
341,504 sticks of non-premium untaxed tobacco products, 521 packs of untaxed cigarettes, 7,866 packages of untaxed loose and Hookah tobacco products and 1,246 untaxed premium cigars were seized at the various locations.
The biggest amount of contraband products were found at the Extra Space Storage in Capitol Heights:
- 237,787 sticks of untaxed non-premium OTP with a retail value of $237,787 representing a tax loss of $166,450.90; and
- 2,953 packages of untaxed loose and Hookah tobacco with a retail value of $48,757 representing a tax loss of $14,627.10.
“This investigation and bust was the result of a year-long probe involving numerous law enforcement partners to dismantle significant criminal activity in Maryland,” said Jeff Kelly, FED director. “I couldn’t be prouder of the work of our dedicated, effective and professional staff for upholding the law and looking out for taxpayers’ interests.”