Traffic stops near Perryville net $130K in unstamped cigarettes
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.