Po­lice: Man smug­gled $77K in cig­a­rettes

Cecil Whig - - & - By CARL HAMIL­TON


— A traf­fic stop on In­ter­state 95 near Per­ryville led to the con­fis­ca­tion of more than 12,000 packs of un­taxed cig­a­rettes val­ued at $77,468 and the ar­rest of a New York man ac­cused of smug­gling them, po­lice re­ported.

The sus­pect, Chung Bene Cheng, 57, of New York, N.Y., is charged with trans­port­ing un­stamped cig­a­rettes and pos­ses­sion of more than 30 car­tons of un­stamped cig­a­rettes, ac­cord­ing to Ce­cil County District Court records.

Cheng, who is sched­uled for a May 13 pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing, is free on a $20,000 bond that he posted Thurs­day af­ter spend­ing a night in the Ce­cil County De­ten­tion Cen­ter, court records show.

At the time of his traf­fic stop — it oc­curred about 4:30 p.m. Tues­day on north­bound I-95 — Cheng had an open war­rant out of Rich­mond, Va., charg­ing him with pos­ses­sion with in­tent to dis-


trib­ute 40,000 packs or more of tax-paid cig­a­rettes in an un­re­lated case, court records al­lege.

Cheng was ar­rested Tues­day af­ter a Mary­land State Po­lice trooper stopped a 2008 Chevrolet Ex­press that Cheng, the sole oc­cu­pant, was driv­ing in the north­bound lane of I-95 be­cause Cheng al­legedly was speed­ing, po­lice said.

Be­cause the pa­trol­man and his as­sist­ing fel­low troop­ers no­ticed sev­eral “crim­i­nal in­di­ca­tors,” in­clud­ing a “flat cov­ered load that filled the en­tire rear of the van,” they searched the ve­hi­cle, po­lice added.

“The load was squared off and con­cealed with card­board and blan­kets. The strong odor of to­bacco was em­a­nat­ing from the ve­hi­cle,” ac­cord­ing to court records.

Court doc­u­ments also in­di­cate that in­ves­ti­ga­tors saw Vir­ginia tax-stamped cig­a­rette packs in the driver’s com­part­ment and “car­tons of cig­a­rettes through an open trash bag in the rear cargo area.”

Troop­ers con­fis­cated the cargo, which to­taled 1,201 Vir­ginia taxs­tamped car­tons of cig­a­rettes, each con­tain­ing 10 packs of cig­a­rettes, po­lice said. The con­tra­band cig­a­rettes have a re­tail value of $77,468.50 in Mary­land and re­flect a $24,002 tax loss for the State of Mary­land, po­lice added.

“The de­fen­dant did not pos­sess the proper li­cense nor a bill of lad­ing au­tho­riz­ing him to pos­sess or trans­port un­stamped cig­a­rettes into or through the State of Mary­land,” court records al­lege.

A great dis­par­ity in cig­a­rette taxes and prices, par­tic­u­larly be­tween south­ern and north­ern states, has cre­ated a black mar­ket. In a typ­i­cal prac­tice, a per­son will buy a bulk of cig­a­rettes in Vir­ginia or North Carolina, where taxes and prices are rel­a­tively low, and then drive them to New York or New Eng­land, where taxes and prices are much higher. Then the per­son will sell those cig­a­rettes at a dis­counted price and still see a sig­nif­i­cant profit.

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