Authorities say a dozen people collaborated to smuggle nearly 4 million cigarettes from Virginia to New York City and resell them in Queens and Staten Island, dodging over $1.3 million in city and New York state taxes.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced Monday that 12 people were indicted on charges including tax fraud and money laundering.
Underwood said the group transported about 740 cartons of untaxed smokes per week from Virginia to the ringleaders' Staten Island home. The cigarettes were then resold to retail shops in Staten Island and Queens.
New York city and state cigarette taxes total $5.85 per pack, among the highest rates nationwide. The city aims to discourage smoking by making it expensive.
While the percentage of smokers among city residents has fallen, a black market has bubbled up.
The arrests are the latest large-scale cigarette smuggling bust in Queens in recent weeks.
In September, Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown announced that eight individuals from Queens, Long Island, Brooklyn and Virginia had been charged with grand larceny, conspiracy and other crimes for allegedly operating a complex multi-state cigarette smuggling ring.
“The defendants in this case are modern-day bootleggers who allegedly peddled untaxed cigarettes to enrich themselves,” Brown said in a statement. “This smuggling ring raked in millions of dollars at the expense of New Yorkers. Purchasing cheaper cigarettes from out of state and applying counterfeit tax stamps on them cheats both the state and city out of much-needed tax revenue.”