Traf­fic stops near Per­ryville net $130K in un­stamped cig­a­rettes

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By CARL HAMIL­TON ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­

PER­RYVILLE — Two traf­fic stops within mo­ments of each other on In­ter­state 95 near Per­ryville last week led to two ar­rests and the con­fis­ca­tion of 2,360 car­tons of un­stamped cig­a­rettes val­ued at more than $130,000, ac­cord­ing to Cecil County District Court records.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors iden­ti­fied the sus­pects as Ali A. Al­hu­jajl, 37, of Wounsocket, R.I., and Sami Faiz Nagl Fadi Al­zokary, 18, of Corona, N.Y. Court records do not in­di­cate if the two sus­pects are linked and, over the week­end, in­ves­ti­ga­tors could not be reached for ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion.

Each is charged with trans­port­ing un­stamped cig­a­rettes and pos­ses­sion of more than 30 car­tons of un­stamped cig­a­rettes, court records show. Al­hu­jajl and Al­zokary are free after each posted a $3,500 bond, ac­cord­ing to court records, which in­di­cate that Al­hu­jajl is sched­uled for a Dec. 1 trial.

A Mary­land State Po­lice trooper stopped a rented Chevro­let Tra­verse driven by Al­hu­jajl in the north­bound lane of I-95 near Per­ryville about 8:30 p.m. on Wed­nes­day be­cause he was al­legedly fol­low­ing an­other ve­hi­cle too closely, po­lice re­ported.

Dur­ing the traf­fic stop, Al­h­jajl was “un­usu­ally ner­vous and vis­i­bly shak­ing,” po­lice said. He told the trooper that he was trav­el­ing from North Carolina to Rhode Is­land after vis­it­ing a friend; how­ever, the in­ves­ti­ga­tor no­ticed that he didn’t have any lug­gage, po­lice added.

The trooper also no­ticed a black cloth cov­er­ing a large square and an­other one cov­er­ing a smaller square in­side the ve­hi­cle, ac­cord­ing to court records, which in­di­cate that Al­hu­jajl later ad­mit­ted that he was haul­ing cig­a­rettes from Vir­ginia to New Jer­sey and that he “did not say ex­actly where.”

When asked how many car­tons he had, Al­hu­jajl replied, “I don’t know. They just give them to me,” court records al­lege.

A K-9 unit was dis­patched to the scene and, dur­ing a search of the ve­hi­cle, in­ves­ti­ga­tors found and seized 1,350 car­tons of cig­a­rettes bear­ing a Vir­ginia tax stamp, but no Mary­land tax stamp, po­lice said. The cig­a­rettes are val­ued at $66,757, trans­lat­ing to the State of Mary­land los­ing $20,700 in taxes, po­lice added.

Around that time, an­other MSP trooper stopped Al­zokary’s north­bound van, also near Per­ryville, for al­legedly speed­ing, po­lice re­ported.

Dur­ing that traf­fic stop, the trooper no­ticed sev­eral “crim­i­nal in­di­ca­tors,” ac­cord­ing to court records, which do not spec­ify them.

Al­zokary told the trooper that he was trav­el­ing from North Carolina to New Jer­sey be­cause he was “vis­it­ing his mother, who was very sick,” po­lice said. Be­cause of the crim­i­nal in­di­ca­tors, in­ves­ti­ga­tors searched the van, find­ing and con­fis­cat­ing 1,010 car­tons of cig­a­rettes, also bear­ing a Vir­ginia tax stamp, but no Mary­land tax stamp, po­lice added.

Those cig­a­rettes are val­ued at $65,145, rep­re­sent­ing a $20,200 loss in State of Mary­land taxes, court records al­lege.

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

Ac­cord­ing to the 2016 Fed­er­a­tion of Tax Ad­min­is­tra­tors rank­ings, the ex­cise tax on a pack of cig­a­rettes in New Jer­sey is $2.70 while it is 30 cents per pack in Vir­ginia. The av­er­age price of a pack of cig­a­rettes in Vir­ginia is $5.25, while it is $8.20 a pack in New Jer­sey.

It is il­le­gal to trans­port more than two car­tons of cig­a­rettes, or 20 packs, across Mary­land state lines.

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