Cigarette smuggling costs states billions of dollars and our region is the hotspot because taxes on cigarettes are substantially lower in Virginia than in Maryland and the Northeast.
The cops are after untaxed cigarettes, bought in Virginia or North Carolina and taken through Maryland to the Northeast.
As part of an undercover investigation, ATF agents stopped a Lincoln Town car in Richmond, loaded down with 1,800 cartons of smuggled cigarettes. The difference in taxes between Virginia and New York City, where these were going, is $55.50 a carton, which means about $6,500 in profit for a potential smuggler on this one trip.
"Cigarette smuggling is as lucrative or more lucrative than smuggling drugs or smuggling guns," ATF agent Ashan Benedict, who has handled several smuggling cases in the area, says.
The Department of Justice puts the scope of the problem into the billions of dollars, with big organized crime, and even groups with links to terrorists cashing in.
"You are looking at millions of dollars and the more organized they get we are seeing links to human smuggling, links to narcotics, weapons and violence," Benedict says.