A tobacco pirate king in Maryland

posted at 1:21 pm on March 21, 2014 by Jazz Shaw

We’ve spent more than a few gab sessions here talking about the natural path from states hiking up sin taxes on products like tobacco to the inevitable temptation for pirates to begin importing cheaper smokes and turning a profit. But up to this point, the majority of the culprits have been lone wolf types with a trunk full of Pall Malls or some local gangs stocking up specials under the counter at the local convenience store. Maryland, however, may have delivered a real worst case scenario when their own tax and spend policies reeled in a serious player.

A Pawtucket accountant has pleaded guilty of conspiring to bring $1.2 million worth of contraband cigarettes to Rhode Island from Virginia, where the cigarette tax is low.

Bassam Kiriaki, 46, also admitted conspiring to defraud the food stamp program, it was announced Wednesday by U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha. Kiriaki issued the pleas Monday in U.S. District Court.

Kiriaki and six others were indicted by a federal grand jury in May 2013, charged with allegedly participating in a complex conspiracy to import cigarettes from Virginia into Rhode Island where they were sold in convenience stores and other locations allegedly owned or operated by members of the conspiracy and others, Neronha said in a news release. The conspiracy allegedly resulted in the loss of more than $1 million dollars in state tax revenue.

That’s a million in contraband smokes that they know about… from this one guy. I wonder how much more slipped through the cracks? Rhode Island is the 7th highest taxed state for tobacco in the nation according to a new study from The Tax Foundation. (Of course, New York is number one – YAY! – once again, as the linked report shows.) When the incentive and profit motive are there, somebody will step in to fill the void, and as Maryland has shown us, it can attract some big time players.

But rather than realizing what sorts of “profits” they are reaping from this and rethinking the strategy, it looks like the Ocean State is going to double down and bump up their tax on the new e-cigarettes also. Gee… I wonder how that will work out?


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