Governor Cuomo Announces New Strike Force to Crack Down on Illegal Cigarette and Tobacco Trafficking and Sales

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Tax Department partnering with 12 federal and local law enforcement agencies; seasoned investigator named to supervise effort.

Albany, NY - March 31, 2014 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a new Cigarette Strike Force to crack down on illegal tobacco trafficking and sales. The multi-agency Strike Force is composed of state, local and federal agencies dedicated to stopping the influx of counterfeit and untaxed tobacco products into New York. The Strike Force also focuses on tracing any illicit financial earnings from that criminal activity.

“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,” Governor Cuomo said. “Would-be traffickers are now on notice: They will be caught and they will be brought to justice.”

By combining resources, the members of the Strike Force will be able to both improve their database of crime-related intelligence and share critical information as the team works to disrupt and dismantle major trafficking organizations.

“We thank the local and federal law enforcement agencies who are partnering with us on this effort to eliminate illegal cigarette trafficking,” said Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Thomas H. Mattox.

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.

Mr. Spinosa has a background in law enforcement, specifically focused on money laundering, fraudulent documents, and advanced surveillance. Prior to joining the Tax Department he was a Detective Sergeant with the New York City Police Department, where he supervised long-term narcotics investigations.

Under Investigator Spinosa’s leadership, the Tax Department has seized contraband cigarettes in 18 separate cases already this year.

The current tax on a pack of 20 cigarettes in New York State is $4.35; in New York City there is an additional $1.50 in tax added to the $4.35. The penalty for possession of unstamped cigarettes is $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. The members of the Strike Force include:

  • New York State Department of Taxation and Finance
  • United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • United State Custom and Border Protection
  • United States Department of Homeland Security
  • United States 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
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