Cigarettes valued at more than $153,000 seized in Hagerstown.
Earlier this week, thanks to interstate agency cooperation, Comptroller Peter Franchot’s field enforcement agents and the Maryland State Police were able to intercept and arrest, four people allegedly transporting cigarettes illegally across state lines. Agents and police seized nearly 26,000 packs of contraband cigarettes worth close to $154,000 during a stop on Interstate 81, south of Interstate 70 in Hagerstown. Along with the confiscation of cigarettes, agents also seized two cars used in the transport of the cigarettes and arrested four individuals involved in the July 10 operation.
"Without the help of Investigator Charles "Chuck" Howell with the Virginia’s Attorney General’s Office and Maryland State Police, we might have missed this opportunity to stop the illegal actions of these four individuals," said Comptroller Franchot, "Every smuggler caught is one more opportunity to crack down on illegal activity and I applaud the agencies involved for helping to aggressively uphold and enforce Maryland’s tax laws."
Three suspects are being held in the Washington County Detention Center and a fourth was released on bond:
· Mohammad T. Issa, from College Point, NY, held on a $15,000 bond.
· Osama T. Issa, from Brooklyn, NY, held on a $10,000 bond.
· Hazim M. Abuhakmeh, from Brooklyn, NY, held on a $5,000 bond.
· Abdelaziz M. Abdelaziz, from Philadelphia, PA, was released after posting a $5,000 bond.
"Once again, this is a perfect example of why Maryland needs stronger punishments for cigarette smuggling," states the Comptroller. "The current penalties for cigarette smuggling do nothing to dissuade people from trying time and time again to transport cigarettes illegally. In many instances those that are arrested are repeat offenders, and that is inexcusable."
The current laws make Transportation of Contraband (Unstamped) Cigarettes in the state of Maryland a felony, which carries a $50 per carton fine and/or two years imprisonment; and the crime of Possession of Contraband Cigarettes is classified as a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year. The Comptroller Franchot supports harsher penalities and stiffer fines for both crimes.
All four individuals have been charged with transportation and possession of contraband cigarettes in the state of Maryland. Mr. Abuhakmeh and Mr. Abdelaziz were also charged with conspiracy to transport and possess contraband cigarettes in the state of Maryland.