Maryland cigarette smuggling bust leads to nine indictments

Field agents from the Maryland Comptroller's office load vehicles with cases of cigarettes seized during the investigation.

A grand jury in Prince George's County indicted nine people Thursday on charges of possessing and transporting tens of thousands of dollars worth of untaxed cigarettes in Maryland.

The nine people indicted were involved in five unrelated incidents of cigarette smuggling. Almost 15,000 packs of illegal cigarettes were seized, valued at $89,000.

In Maryland, the sales of these cigarettes would have required the payment of $29,750 in taxes.

"The tax loss to the state as a result of cigarette smuggling operations is a slap in the face to the law-abiding businesses in Maryland," State Comptroller Peter Franchot said in a statement.

The Comptroller's office was alerted this summer to a number of out-of-state individuals, many from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, were allegedly purchasing large quantities of cigarettes in Virginia with the intent to smuggle them across state lines.

When the smugglers, who were being monitored, attempted to enter Maryland, they were arrested and their vehicles and cigarettes were seized.

The tax per pack of cigarettes in the state of Maryland is $2 per pack. The rate varies from state to state. In Virginia, for instance, the tax rate is much lower, making it an attractive place for potential smugglers to act.

"Individuals who are involved in cigarette smuggling are taking money out of the public treasury. This can impact on our ability to provide critical services like education, transportation and health care to citizens," Maryland State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said.

Earlier this year, several Prince George's County Police officers and the owner of a prominent Maryland liquor store pleaded guilty to their roles in a similar plot to transport untaxed cigarettes and alcohol from Virginia into Maryland and points beyond.

The nine people indicted include:

-Jose Gilberto Perez, 53, of Baltimore
-Eredania Perez-de-Hernandez, 41, of Baltimore
-Maoze Abdallh Ibrahim, 26, of East Orange, N.J.
-Abdoulaye Admoudou, 41, of Newark, N.J.
-Alicia Walker, 24, of Bloomfield, N.J.
-Livinus Agubu, 39, of Bronx, N.Y.
-Felix Cruz, no age given, of Bronx, N.Y.
-Feby Pledger, 45, of Far Rockaway, N.Y.
-Bernard Cribbs, 58, of Far Rockaway, N.Y.