More arrests, confiscations made.
Agents with the Maryland Comptroller's Office were busy during fiscal year 2012 in enforcing the state's tobacco and alcohol tax laws. During FY 12, which ended on June 30th, the agency confiscated 325,851 packs of contraband cigarettes valued at nearly $2-million, according to a news release from the Comptroller's Office, which also says 196 individuals were charged. That's a significant increase from FY 2011 and 2010, where 72, 105 and 184,498 packs were seized respectively.
"It's a very lucrative criminal activity," says Comptroller Peter Franchot. "If you buy cigarettes in North Carolina with no tax, and take them to Maryland, where it's $2.00 a pack, or $4.00 or $5.00 a pack in New York City, you can make a lot of money." He also says penalties for violators are very light.
The Comptroller's Office also says 425 gallons of distilled liquor, 785 gallons of wine and 7,737 containers of beer were confiscated in fiscal year 2012. Those seizures resulted from 73 violations, according to the agency. The total booze seized was $92,000, compared to a little over $50,000 last year.
In Frederick County in FY 12, 22 packages of untaxed cigarettes were confiscated, totaling $33.00 in value. The Comptroller's Office says charges are pending in that incident. There was only one alcohol violation, where 1.78 gallons of distilled liquor, 588.35 gallons of wine and 3,469 containers of beer were seized. The total retail value is $45,139. Authorities say a delivery driver for Dops Wholesale Company, Keith Anthony Bradshaw, has been charged with stealing alcohol from his employer and selling it to a retailer. Samath Ocur, an employee at Anita's Liquors in Mt. Airy, was charged with receiving stolen goods.
Franchot says bringing in untaxed cigarettes and alcohol cost the state in the long run. "The state has a very significant tax, and when cigarettes are brought in tax free, revenue to the state is lost," he says. And there's another concern. "These illegal cigarettes find their way into minors' hands," says Franchot.
Franchot says he will push the Maryland General Assembly to enact legislation stiffening the penalties for those who try to bring untaxed cigarettes and alcohol into the state. "The penalties are relatively light, and therefore it's a very attractive activity for criminals and it's been growing hand over fist," he says. Currently, anyone convicted of transporting untaxed cigarettes into the state can be fined $50 per carton, and/or jailed for two years. Possession of contraband cigarettes is a misdemeanor that carries a $1,000 fine and incarceration of not more than one year.
Legislation which passed the House of Delegates earlier this year, but was not taken up by the Senate would have imposed a mandatory fine of $150 per carton for the first offense, and a mandatory #300 fine for each subsequent offense. As well as up to two years in prison for both offenses.