Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot today announced the largest tobacco bust in the agency’s history—nearly a half-million dollars of untaxed tobacco products seized representing a tax loss to the state of more than $286,000.
During early-morning raids on November 5 at multiple locations in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, agents from the Field Enforcement Division (FED) discovered a large-scale operation to import and distribute untaxed tobacco products and cigarettes in the state.
The year-long investigation, done in cooperation with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, involved numerous routine tobacco inspections and surveillance operations conducted by FED agents that yielded large quantities of untaxed cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (OTP).
According to a press release:
“The work of the agency’s Field Enforcement Division is second to none, and this latest operation to bring down a criminal enterprise demonstrates solid police work and multi-jurisdictional coordination,” said Comptroller Franchot. “As a result, these lawbreakers will be held accountable and Marylanders will not see lost tax revenue going out the door.”
Agents seized thousands of cartons of untaxed tobacco products at a storage facility and at six retail locations. The combined retail sales value of the seized contraband tobacco products is $452,850.92 and represents a tax loss of $286,325.42 to the State of Maryland.
FED agents arrested Mehboob Chowdhury, 37, of Capitol Heights and Monzurul Islam, 29, of Columbia, and charged them with selling OTP purchased from other than a wholesaler. The two men are believed to be part of a larger tobacco smuggling syndicate operating in the state. Additional charges may follow.
FED agents believe Chowdhury and Islam smuggled untaxed tobacco into the state, stashed it in a large storage facility in Capitol Heights and then distributed those products to retail tobacco stores where the untaxed items were sold to the public.
During a related inspection at the Tobacco and Convenience Store in Northeast Baltimore, FED agents cited store clerk Abdul Karim Rubel, 18, of Baltimore. He faces misdemeanor charges of selling OTP purchased from other than a wholesaler, possession of untaxed OTP and possession and sale of untaxed cigarettes.
The total quantity of contraband tobacco products discovered and seized at the various locations is as follows:
- 341,504 sticks of non-premium untaxed tobacco products
- 521 packs of untaxed cigarettes
- 7,866 packages of untaxed loose and Hookah tobacco products
- 1,246 untaxed premium cigars
The largest portion of the contraband products seized by agents occurred at the Extra Space Storage in Capitol Heights. The number of items and dollar amounts are as follows:
- 237,787 sticks of untaxed non-premium OTP with a retail value of $237,787 representing a tax loss of $166,450.90; and
- 2,953 packages of untaxed loose and Hookah tobacco with a retail value of $48,757 representing a tax loss of $14,627.10.
“This investigation and bust was the result of a year-long probe involving numerous law enforcement partners to dismantle significant criminal activity in Maryland,” said Jeff Kelly, FED director. “I couldn’t be prouder of the work of our dedicated, effective and professional staff for upholding the law and looking out for taxpayers’ interests.”
FED agents were assisted by Prince George’s County Police, Baltimore City Police and Maryland State Police. The Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office is also working with the agency.
“Tobacco smuggling is big business and the perpetrators are more brazen than ever before,” said Franchot. “We will continue to use every resource at our disposal to fight this lucrative form of organized crime.”
Read the full press release for more information.