Police arrested four men and confiscated more than 10,000 packs of contraband cigarettes this week along Interstate 95 in the White Marsh area, the office of announced early Friday evening.
At 10:50 p.m. on April 10, Maryland Transportation Authority Police stopped a 1998 Honda Accord at the 63.3 mile marker on I-95 for a traffic violation. Police contacted the comptroller’s agents to respond a large number of cigarette packs in the vehicle. Agents seized the vehicle and 3,140 packs of illegally transported cigarettes, valued at $18,777, according to a release.
Officers arrested the driver, Radame Santana, 25, and a passenger, Kelvin Polanco, 26, both of Brooklyn, NY, according to the release. Both were charged with transporting and possessing unstamped cigarettes, court records show.
On the morning of April 11, police made another routine traffic stop of a 1996 Mercury Villager near the Maryland Route 43 exit along I-95. Police again contacted the comptroller’s agents after finding a suspicious amount of cigarette packs. Agents seized the vehicle and 7,000 packs of cigarettes, valued at $41,860, the release showed.
Officers arrested the driver, Nelson Jimenez of Richmond Hill, NY, 44, and a passenger, Araujo Wilkins Hernandez of Bethel, CT, 48, according to the release. Both were charged with transporting and possessing unstamped cigarettes, court records show.
Each of the men arrested face a felony charge for transporting the cigarettes, including a $50 per carton fine and/or two years imprisonment. Possession of contraband cigarettes is a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year, according to the release.
Smugglers are known to transport cigarettes from Virginia, where the tax is 30 cents per pack, to New York, where the tax is $4.35 per pack, excluding additional city taxes, according to Caron Brace, a spokeswoman for the comptroller’s office. In Maryland the cigarette tax is $2 per pack.
"We don't care where they're going—if they're transporting and possessing, it's a felony and we're going to stop them," Brace said.
Between July 2011 and March 30, 2012, state law enforcement have made 148 arrests of alleged cigarette smugglers and confiscated 250,000 cigarettes, she said.
Brace added that it's unfair to small business owners who follow the law to be undercut by out-of-state smugglers who sell contraband cigarettes.
"It's about leveling the playing field," she said.
Franchot praised state police and the comptroller’s agents in the release.
“Each day, they keep an eye out for illegal activity, such as cigarette smuggling. We will continue to pursue and prosecute those who blatantly disregard Maryland's tobacco laws in an effort to protect law-abiding businesses and rid our communities of contraband,” he stated.
Do you agree with aggressive enforcement of transporting cigarettes across state lines? Tell us in the comments.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article referred to the arresting officers as state police. The article has been updated to specify that the arrests were made by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.