Tobacco piracy quietly continues unabated

If you distract the police with enough other problems, the “little things” get swept under the rug, much like broken windows I suppose. That seems to be the case with the ongoing plague of tobacco piracy in high sin tax states. New York is one of the biggest hotbeds for these activities, since a combination of state, county and city taxes have driven the price for a pack of Marlboros past $15 in many places. That’s too much temptation for criminals, and they are still flooding the zone wherever they can get away with it.

Two sets of pirates still somehow managed to get caught this month though, and they are symptomatic of the larger problem. The first was a relatively small haul on Interstate 81. (From Penn Live)

State police stopped two New York residents driving on the interstate and say troopers found them attempting to smuggle more than 900 packs of untaxed cigarettes.

Christopher Culbert, 33, of New York, New York, and Gino Encarnacion, 41, of Averne, New York, were arrested Thursday and each charged with two counts of possession of unstamped cigarettes, according to a news release from state police in Harrisburg…

This is not the first time state police have made such a stop this year in Dauphin County. In April, two men from New York were stopped and allegedly found to be in possession of 577 backs of untaxed cigarettes.

The second bust involved the feds and brought in a much larger haul after an extensive investigation. This one was nothing short of a major smuggling ring which had been going on for years and involved dozens of smugglers and local businessmen. (New York Daily News)

A brazen bid to sneak untaxed cigarettes into the city has gone up in smoke, prosecutors said Thursday.

Investigators snuffed out a massive Bronx cigarette smuggling crew who are accused of bilking the city and state out of nearly $3 million by selling untaxed smokes brought in from Virginia, where cigarette taxes are among the nation’s lowest, to area bodegas and delis.

Boss Mohamad Mustafa, 29, and lieutenant Hiyad Chaib, 32, headed a crew that smuggled in 44,000 smokes from the Commonwealth over a five-month-span in 2014, authorities charged in a whopping 1,345-count indictment unsealed in Bronx Supreme Court.

The crew sold 2,000 smokes a week out of a Bronx warehouse to nearby shops, which then flipped the cigarettes to customers at a lower price, authorities charged.

All of these massive sin taxes were enacted by blue states and cities with the intention of bringing in some huge windfall of revenue. As we’ve covered here extensively, however, what generally happens is that the tax doesn’t generate anywhere near the promised cash haul and instead generates the incentive for a whole new class of criminals to emerge. As shown here, that can run the gamut from massive organized crime efforts to everyday scofflaws. Whether it’s people like Eric Garner selling singles on the street corners or widespread criminal enterprises which frequently fund terrorism, the problems created by these cash grabbing, social engineering experiments quickly outweighs any hoped for revenue plans.

What’s that you say? You missed the part about it funding terror? Let me remind you. (From ABC News)

An Islamic militant group is denying any involvement in a scheme that the FBI says raised money for terrorism activities worldwide through cigarette trafficking in the United States.

Federal authorities arrested 17 people Friday during afternoon raids in homes and businesses in Charlotte, N.C., who they say are part of the Middle East guerrilla group Hezbollah. Another person was arrested in Michigan.

The suspects were charged with immigration violations, weapons offenses, money laundering and cigarette trafficking, said U.S. Attorney Mark Calloway in Charlotte.

It’s true that all of these activities are crimes and should be pursued by law enforcement as much as possible. But the problem is, we’re dealing with increasingly stretched and limited police resources. This is largely a crisis of the government’s own making. If you remove the incentive for and profit potential from smuggling, the problem largely goes away. If legislators can unhook themselves from the fake sugar rush of sin taxes they could cut down on these crimes and allow law enforcement to focus on actual problems… not to mention taking a minor bite out of the terror network financing stream.

For purposes of this article, former ATF Assistant Director Richard Marianos chimed in with a comment:

“These investigations cannot be more timely as law enforcement has linked criminal tobacco smuggling to terrorism.”

If Mayor de Blasio wants to actually accomplish something productive which will, as a bonus, cut down on problems such as erupted over Eric Garner, perhaps he could speak to the city fathers about reeling in this sin tax nonsense. Just a thought, chief.