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Comptroller Agents Seize More Than $500,000 in Contraband Cigarettes in Month of January

150% increase in contraband cigarettes seized in Maryland for January.

-  22 Cigarette Smugglers Arrested; 150% Increase in Seizures Over January 2012 - 

 ANNAPOLIS, Md. (January 31, 2013) – Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that agents from his Field Enforcement Division arrested 22 suspects and confiscated more than 82,000 packs of contraband cigarettes in the month of January, representing a 69 percent increase in the amount of arrests and a 150 percent increase in seized contraband for the same time last year. The most recent arrests were made today, in Worcester County with agents seizing 6,500 packs of illegal cigarettes valued at $42,000.

        “My agents work tirelessly with the Maryland State Police, Maryland Transportation Authority Police, Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board and Virginia’s Attorney General to aggressively crack down on cigarette smuggling and other illegal tax evasion tactics.  But as the growing incidents of smuggling show, harsher penalties are needed to prevent this activity.  My field enforcement division will continue to partner with other law enforcement agencies to keep contraband cigarettes out of Maryland,” said Comptroller Franchot.

          The arrests were made in Baltimore, Cecil, Howard, Prince George’s, Somerset, Washington, Wicomico and Worcester Counties and Baltimore City.  All of the suspects 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-year imprisonment sentence. The possession offense is a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year.

           The numbers of cigarette violations have risen steadily for the past few years with Fiscal year 2011 netting 115 violations and cigarettes confiscated valued at $1.1 million. In Fiscal year 2012, agents arrested 220 people and seized more than $2.3 million in contraband. 

            “I am pushing hard again this year for passage of Senate Bill 69, which would implement harsher penalties and allow for stricter enforcement for these crimes throughout Maryland.  Cigarette smuggling has become more and more lucrative. In fact it’s become more profitable than smuggling drugs or guns,” continued Comptroller Franchot, “We are arresting many repeat offenders because the current penalties are no more than a slap on the wrist.  Stronger repercussions need to be implemented so smugglers know that these crimes won’t be tolerated in Maryland.”

                The legislation, heard yesterday in the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee, calls for a $150 fine for a first offense and up to a $300 fine for a subsequent offense. Additionally, the smuggler may be subject to imprisonment for up to two years. For more information on the bill, visit http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmMain.aspx?pid=billpage&stab=01&id=SB0069&tab=subject3&ys=2013RS

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