State to crack down on illegal tobacco sales

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Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday a new multi-agency Cigarette Strike Force to help crack down on counterfeit and untaxed tobacco trade and sales.

The state Tax Department is partnering with 12 state, local and federal agencies to expand and share their database of crime-related information to end major illegal cigarette trafficking organizations. Two members of the Strike Force include the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office and the Erie County Sheriff’s Department, Gannett’s Ashley Hupfl reports.

“This new law enforcement strategy will help to crack down on these illegal cigarette sales and capture those smugglers who seek to evade the law and rob the state of the revenue it is a rightly owed, thereby putting an additional burden on law-abiding taxpayers,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Currently, a pack of 20 cigarettes in the state is taxed $4.35 and in New York City there is a $5.85 tax — both are the highest in the country. The current penalty for possession of illegal cigarettes is $600 fine per carton with possible criminal charges.

A former New York City Detective Sergeant, Michael Spinosa, was tapped to supervise the Strike Force as Chief Investigator. Under Spinosa’s lead, the state Tax Department has seized illegal cigarettes in 18 separate cases so far this year.

“This seasoned team will take a multi-pronged approach to cigarette tax enforcement,” Risa Sugarman, deputy commissioner of Criminal Enforcement for the Tax Department, said in a statement. “In addition to targeting the trafficking itself, we will use our intelligence centers and audit powers to trace financing activities and stop the criminal organizations at the roots of the crimes.”

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