Friday, April 24, 2009

Cig control CAN turn smokers into criminals

As the price of cigarettes rises—in the New York
City metropolitan area they cost nearly $10.00 per pack or about $100.00 for a carton of ten packs—and there are more and more government programs aimed at controlling sale and use, the US and state governments are creating a new and profitable organized crime enterprise

For example, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives New York office on Thursday, April 9, arrested two suspects who purchased untaxed cigarettes from undercover ATF agents while also selling the agents counterfeit New York State/City Tax Stamps.

Guang Ming Wang, age 58 and his son, Feishan Wang, age 30, both residents of Queens, NY, were arrested by ATF Agents without incident, meaning these were not criminals given to violence—at least not yet, according to a NYPD officer.

Guang Ming Wang arrived at a prearranged “meet” location with $312,000 in cash and over 200,000 counterfeit tax stamps. As the cash and stamps were exchanged for a shipment of 12,000 cigarettes, he was immediately taken into custody. Feishan Wang was arrested at the same time in Queens. Both Wang’s have been involved in this particular illicit operation since June 2008, which included 12 undercover deals involving the purchase of untaxed cigarettes and counterfeit tax stamps.

During the nine month investigation, Guang Ming Wang purchased a total of 31,980 cartons of untaxed cigarettes for $846,000 and also sold ATF 103,950 counterfeit NY State/City tax stamps for $4,000. After the undercover sales of cigarettes, both Wang’s were observed by agents unloading the contraband at two locations, 144-05 29th Road and 135-06 62nd Ave. in Queens. Federal search warrants were executed at both locations after the arrests.

The cartons sold to Wang contained a total of 319,800 individual cigarette packs, which at a price of $10 per pack had a retail street value of more than $3.1 million dollars in New York City. The counterfeit New York tax stamps are worth $4.25 each, bringing their street value to over $440,000. It is estimated that the defendants conspired to deprive New York State and City of at least $1.8 million dollars in tax revenue through their actions.

Ironically, while the ATF were arresting the Wangs, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted in favor with a strong bipartisan majority for the second time since last July to pass the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (HR 1256). ( )

Many lawmakers and groups have long been working together to urge the passage of this bill that would provide the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory control over tobacco products. ( )

“So now we have two federal agencies involved in cigarette control. What’s next? SWAT teams tasked with going after ‘smuggled’ cartons of cigarettes? The criminal code being revised to include citizens who buy cheap cigarettes from pushers?“ quips a New York City detective.

“All we are doing is collecting more tax revenue and creating a new class of criminal activity,“ he added.

“What we are witnessing is a slippery slope. What’s next? Replicating [New York City’s] Mayor Bloomberg’s attack on trans-fats? Children denied cookies during cookie time in kindergarten? Slowly, the government is sticking their noses in citizens’ business, They’re trying to micro-manage our lives,“ notes Mike Baker, a conservative political strategist.

“The liberals love telling Americans they don’t want the government in their bedrooms, but apparently every other room in the house is up for grabs,“ Baker added.

Jim Kouri

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