A Jackson Heights man who allegedly planned on using counterfeit tax stamps to sell untaxed cigarettes in New York City had his plan go up in smoke after City and State tax investigators raided a storage unit in Corona, and seized thousands of cartons of untaxed cigarettes, counterfeit tax stamps and thousands in cash.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said that an investigation into the illegal sale of untaxed and counterfeit cigarettes led investigators to the storage unit in the rear of 100-15 35th Avenue in Corona on September 21st 2012.
According to Brown, investigators observed the defendant, Manuel R. Espinal-Ramirez, exit a gold Toyota Sienna mini-van that he had allegedly had been using to transport the illicit cigarettes. The investigators then watched as Espinal-Ramirez exited the van and entered the storage unit while holding an opaque black plastic bag believed to contain cartons of cigarettes.
City and State tax investigators executed a court-authorized search of the storage structure. Once inside they seized 1,142 cartons of cigarettes that either contained counterfeit tax stamps or no tax stamps, 15,600 counterfeit joint New York State/New York City Tax stamps, 5,959 counterfeit New York State Tax stamps and $6,241 in cash – $4,500 that had been tucked into the ceiling and $1,741 found on Espinal-Ramirez. They also seized $500 in cash and a GPS device from the mini-van.
“Tobacco bootleggers who illegally bring thousands of untaxed packs of cigarettes from other locations to New York for resale cheat the public by failing to contribute their fair share of the dollars,” Brown said in a statement. He noted that every couple of dollars store owners or consumers save by purchasing an untaxed pack of cigarettes ends up costing the honest taxpayer, whose forced to pay higher taxes.
In this instance, the district attorney alleged that the defendant was seeking to shortchange New York State and New York City our of nearly $200,000 in tax revenue.
The investigation was a joint effort between the Department of Finance, the District Attorney and the Tax Department.
“The Sheriff’s Tobacco Enforcement Unit is out on the streets, snuffing out illegal cigarette activity wherever we find it,” said Finance Commissioner Frankel, who thanked all those involved with this bust.
Espinal-Ramirez was arraigned on Saturday, September 22, 2012 in Queens Criminal Court. He has been charged with 21,559 counts of first-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and various violations of New York State Tax Law 1814. Espinal-Ramirez, who faces up to fifteen years in prison if convicted, was ordered held on $5,000 bail and to return to court on September 27, 2012.
By Ryan Lavis