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ALBANY, N.Y. – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new cigarette strike force that will crack down on illegal tobacco trafficking and sales, and work to trace any illicit financial earnings from such activity. The team is composed of local, state and federal agencies dedicated to stopping the influx of counterfeit and untaxed tobacco products into New York, according to a news release.
"This new law enforcement strategy will help to crack down on these illegal cigarette sales and capture those smugglers who seek to evade the law and rob the state of the revenue it is rightly owed, thereby putting an additional burden on law-abiding taxpayers," stated Cuomo. "Would-be traffickers are now on notice: They will be caught and they will be brought to justice."
Members of the strike force will combine resources in order to improve their database of crime-related intelligence and share critical information as they work to disrupt and dismantle major trafficking organizations.
Strike force members include:
- New York State Department of Taxation and Finance
- U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
- U.S. Custom and Border Protection
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration
- New York County District Attorney's Office
- Richmond County District Attorney's Office
- Rockland County District Attorney's Office
- Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department
- Erie County Sheriff's Department
- New York City Sheriff's Office
- Niagara County Sheriff's Office
- Suffolk County Police Department
The initiative will be coordinated and managed under the leadership of the Tax Department's Criminal Investigations Division. Michael Spinosa will serve as chief investigator to supervise the strike force. He previously served as a detective sergeant with the New York City Police Department, where he supervised long-term narcotics investigations.
So far in 2014, the Tax Department seized contraband cigarettes in 18 separate cases under Spinosa's leadership, according to the governor's office.
Currently, the tax on a pack of cigarettes in New York State is $4.35, with an additional $1.50 tax added in New York City. Possession of unstamped cigarettes carries a penalty of $600 per carton and possible criminal charges.
"This seasoned team will take a multi-pronged approach to cigarette tax enforcement," said Risa Sugarman, deputy commissioner of criminal enforcement for the Tax Department. "In addition to targeting the trafficking itself, we will use our intelligence centers and audit powers to trace financing activities and stop the criminal organizations at the roots of the crimes."
Assets seized during strike force investigations will be shared among participating agencies.