• DA Stomps Out Smoke Smuggling
  • Queens DA Richard Brown announced a major cigarette smuggling bust last week, the first under a new unit in his office, the Crime Against Revenue Unit (CARU).

    More than 4,000 cartons of untaxed discount cigarettes smuggled into New York from overseas and other states with little or no taxes on cigarettes, as well as 22,000 untaxed cigars and nearly $400,000 in money and property, have been seized by CARU, mainly at JFK Airport, in the past three months.

    “Cigarette smuggling has become a multimillion dollar industry,” Brown said. “It is fueling an underground economy.”

    Brown announced the bust along with federal and state officials from the New York State Dept. of Taxation and Finance, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Customs and Border Protection, US Immigrant and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Unit and Port Authority on April 21.

    Brown said the state lost nearly $270,000 in tax revenue due to counterfeit smuggling in this bust alone. A dozen people were arrested as part of the sting, which involved cheap cigarettes smuggling into the United States from China, Guyana, Haiti, Pakistan, South Korea and Uzbekistan, as well as southern states where there are little or no taxes on cigarettes like Virginia and Florida.

    Three of the cases announced last week involve Queens residents: Bobirjon Shakirov, 36, of Richmond Hill, Kwang Soo Lee, 67, of Flushing, and Giuseppe Sciulara, 47, of Middle Village. Shakirov is accused of smuggling 170 cartons of cheap cigarettes earlier this month into JFK from Uzbekistan; Lee was arrested after CARU searched his Union Street home after he signed for a delivery of smuggled cigarettes. Sciulara was arrested last November after a long-term investigation lead to a warrant to search his home, car, and Middle Village storage unit, where more than 500 cartons of smuggled online cigarettes were uncovered, along with cash and a handgun.

    “These cases show the lengths people will go to avoid taxes,” Brown said. “Those who evade taxes have an unfair business advantage over the small businesses that follow the law.”

    The smuggled discount cigarettes either have fraudulent or missing tax stamps, stamps placed on packs of cigarettes online by contractors licensed by the state that indicate the taxes have been paid to the state for the packs.

    Brown added that the smuggled cheap cigarettes from overseas pose a greater health risk to smokers because they bypass U.S. safety inspections, and often any regulations at all; they possess an even higher amount of tar and nicotine than cigarettes that go through American safety inspections.

    “The marketplace is being flooded with inferior products most of which are smuggled into the U.S.,” Brown said.

    In the meantime, Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced the city would file a lawsuit against a Kentucky-based Internet cigarette-smuggling ring for lost tax revenue due to its sales of illegal cigarettes to New Yorkers.