• Queens Man Indicted After Tax Stamp Bust
  • A Woodhaven resident was indicted on forgery charges and tax law violations on April 9 in an investigation that uncovered more than $6 million in counterfeit tax stamps and a stash of counterfeit cigarettes.

    Accused smuggler Rafea Al-Nablisi, a 40-year-old Jordanian national, intended to apply the stamps to untaxed and counterfeit cigarettes, according to Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.

    Investigators executed a search warrant on two storage facilities in Queens after Al-Nablisi’s arrest on Feb. 29, where they found tax stamps from New York, New Jersey, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania. They also found more than 100 cartons of counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes smuggled from China.

    The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance investigation uncovered a total of 2,178,306 tax stamps, worth $6,079,112.56, from the warehouses.

    “Taxes on cheap cigarettes contribute essential revenue to the budgets of the City and State of New York,” Hynes said. “This type of fraud could cost taxpayers in New York up to hundreds of millions of dollars each year, in lost revenue, and we will not tolerate it.”

    During the investigation Al-Nablisi allegedly paid undercover investigators more than $500,000 for 37,500 cartons of untaxed cigarettes online in four purchases made between Feb. 4, and Feb. 29. Al-Nablisi told investigators that he could obtain counterfeit-name-brand online cigarettes from China, the district attorney’s report said, providing cartons of Newports and Marlboros as samples. Al-Nablisi allegedly told investigators that he could also obtain high-quality counterfeit tax stamps during the cigarette transactions.

    Al-Nablisi later sold the investigators 516,000 New York State and City tax stamps and 645,000 New Jersey state tax stamps, according to the report.

    “During the past year the department has stepped-up its campaign against tax fraud, targeting in particular those who traffic in untaxed and counterfeit cigarettes. This indictment continues the tax department’s commitment to undermine cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting in the New York metropolitan area,” NYDTF Commissioner Robert L. Megna said.

    The announcement of the indictment comes as New York State lawmakers confirmed plans to raise cigarette taxes statewide by $1.25 this year, bringing the average price per pack to more than $8 in New York City. High prices are raising concerns that smokers may turn to unsafe and unregulated black market sources to feed their nicotine addictions at low-cost.

    A 2004 study published by the New York State Department of Health revealed that about 37 percent of smokers in New York regularly purchased cigarettes from low-tax or untaxed vendors. Although most of the sales were conducted on reservations or out of state, the demand for low-cost discount cigarettes and smokers’ willingness to seek alternative sources greatly increases the incentives for local cigarette smugglers and counterfeit importers.

    The counterfeit buy cigarettes seized from Al-Nablisi are currently being tested for the presence of heavy metals, lead and industrial pollutants, the report said.

    If convicted, Al-Nablisi faces up to 15 years in prison.