Continuing in his efforts to aggressively crackdown on cigarette smuggling through strong partnerships with local and state law enforcement agencies, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced March, 29 that agents from his Field Enforcement Division, working closely with the Maryland State Police (MSP), confiscated more than 6,500 packs of the contraband cigarettes. In addition to seizing the approximately $39,000 worth of contraband cigarettes, MSP and Comptroller’s agents arrested six people in four separate cases on the Eastern Shore as a result of a two-day joint operation.
“I’d like to thank the Maryland State 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.”
The two-day joint operation, beginning March 28 and ending March 29, targeted suspects illegally possessing and transporting untaxed cigarettes within Maryland. Each stop was made by Maryland State Police assigned to the Berlin and Princess Anne barracks.
The details of each case are as follows:
Wednesday, March 28 (three separate cases):
o (Case #1): Comptroller’s agents seized 2,700 packs of illegal cigarettes, valued at more than $16,000, after MSP stopped a vehicle on Route 13 North in Somerset County for a traffic violation. Agents arrested 39-year-old Stewart Delgado and 42-year-old Moses Rodriguez, both of Brooklyn, NY. Additionally, officials confiscated a 1997 Chevrolet Astro Van.
o (Case #2): After stopping the driver of a 2003 Mercury Sable on Route 13 at Route 365 in Worcester County, MSP and Comptroller’s agents discovered 1,230 packs of untaxed cigarettes. Trenton, New Jersey residents, 57-year-old Jimmy McNeill and 54-year-old Guy Rivers, were arrested and the vehicle was seized into evidence.
o (Case #3): MSP stopped the driver of a 2011 Toyota Corolla on Route 13 in Somerset County. During this traffic stop, Comptroller’s agents identified 1,951 packs of cigarettes in the vehicle. Agents arrested Mohamad Ghalayine, 40, of West Haven, CT and confiscated the vehicle.
Thursday, March 29:
– Agents discovered 700 packs of contraband cigarettes in a 2004 Chrysler Pacifica after MSP stopped the vehicle’s driver at the Thrift Travel Inn in Worcester County. Maria Arrobo, 40, of Norfolk, VA was arrested and her vehicle confiscated.
All six 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.
The Comptroller has been a vocal proponent for tougher penalties to assist in the battle against illegal cigarette smuggling in Maryland. Currently, the Maryland Senate is considering legislation, Bill 120, which would increase the exemptions and penalties for tobacco violations associated with the smuggling of cigarettes and other tobacco products into Maryland.
“Cigarette smuggling is a lucrative operation for criminals due, in part, to the minor consequences they face if caught. Smuggling, not only takes revenue out of state coffers, but also makes cigarettes easily accessible to young people. Penalties for this crime must be tougher in order to snuff out this public health and safety risk,” Franchot said.