Five men were recently arrested for allegedly buying illegal untaxed cartons of cigarettes and selling them to local retailers or on the street. A majority of the sales took place from a storage unit on Stewart Ave. in E. Garden City, according to Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice.
The year-long, multi-agency investigation concluded Thursday with the arrests and the seizure of more than 100 cases of cigarettes and more than $958,000 in cash.
"We caught these defendants red-handed, trafficking untaxed cigarettes and cheating taxpayers out of millions in lost revenue for health care, education, job training, and other essential services," Rice said. “I'm grateful for the multi-agency cooperation with our law enforcement partners who helped us put this criminal operation out of business and bring these defendants to justice.”
Rice said a confidential informant began working with the DA’s office, the New York Police Department and the Queens DA’s Office on the joint investigation last July. Posing as somebody with access to untaxed and unstamped cigarettes at a reasonable price, an undercover police officer sold Duan Jun Zhang, of Elmhurst, hundreds of cases of untaxed cigarettes on 10 occasions in Florida and in Nassau County. Each case contains 60 cartons of cigarettes. Zhang, 38, paid a total of $1.8 million for the cigarettes, Rice said.
The undercover officer also sold untaxed cigarettes on multiple occasions to Fei Yin, 24, of Bayside; Maerong Gao, 57, of Flushing; Wai Ming Lui, 46, of Flushing; and Sauha Candy Lam, 35, of Flushing, according to the D.A.'s office.
Rice said all five defendants paid more than $2.3 million for approximately 1,200 cases of untaxed cigarettes worth more than $6.4 million during the course of the investigation. The defendants then transported the cigarettes to residences in Queens and Brooklyn and sold them to local retailers or on the street, according to the D.A.'s office.
A properly taxed carton of cigarettes in New York is approximately $90. The defendants were paying approximately $32 per carton, representing a potential loss to New York taxpayers of $3 million, Rice said.
Each defendant is charged with evasion of cigarette and tobacco product tax, a class E felony. They face up to four years in prison if convicted.