Police: Man smuggled $77K in cigarettes
— 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.