Albany, NY - December 20, 2016 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that New York State's Cigarette Strike Force seized 53,307 cartons of contraband cigarettes and 261,220 untaxed cigars in 2016. The combined street value of these items is approximately $5.6 million and the seizures represent a 117 percent increase in illegal tobacco confiscations. The Tax Department has collected more than $1 million in penalties and fines so far this year from the illegal sale of untaxed tobacco.
"New York has zero tolerance for this illicit activity and we will continue to do everything in our power to crack down on this behavior and stop these smugglers right in their tracks," Governor Cuomo said. "Our message is simple: If you participate in cigarette smuggling, you will be caught and you will be held accountable."
In 2014, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo directed the Tax Department to create a Cigarette Strike Force to crack down on illegal tobacco trafficking and sales. Since its inception, each year the Strike Force has increased the number of inspections and seizures, and arrested more of those smugglers trying to evade the state tobacco tax.
Click here for a regional breakdown of the 2016 confiscations.
The Strike Force, which includes state, local, and federal agencies, also uncovered nearly 130,000 counterfeit cigarette tax stamps which resulted in 100 arrests in 2016.
Acting New York State Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Nonie Manion said, "The message conveyed by these arrests and seizures should ring loud and clear to those who skirt our laws. By working with local law enforcement partners in every corner of the state, we cast a wide net to bring tax cheats to justice."
Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations New York City Angel M. Melendez said, "Cigarette tax fraud has cheated the state out of millions of dollars in revenue, and the perpetrators will be held accountable for their actions. Together with the NYS Tax Department, HSI will continue to work aggressively to dismantle networks that profit from illegal trafficking and sales of cigarettes."
Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Buffalo James C. Spero said, "Contraband cigarette traffickers attempt to maximize their profits at the public’s expense. Working closely with our Strike Force partners, our special agents will continue to leverage their unique authorities to bring these criminal groups to justice."
New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said, "Although the state’s smoking rate is at an historic low, 2.1 million New Yorkers are still lighting up and putting their health and the health of others at risk. That’s why the work of the Cigarette Strike Force is so important. The enforcement unit helps remove contraband tobacco products from our streets, which helps us to improve public health throughout the state."
All cigarette packs sold in New York must have an authorized New York State cigarette tax stamp affixed to the bottom, verifying that the excise taxes have been paid. Defendants found guilty of violating cigarette and tobacco tax laws could face stiff jail or prison sentences and possible penalties of up to $600 per carton of illegal cigarettes seized. Beyond the fines collected, the Strike Force acts as a strong deterrent to the trafficking of contraband tobacco, helping to ensure that cigarettes are sold legally and taxed accordingly.
You can anonymously report tax evasion and fraud online at the Tax Department's website or by calling 518-457-0578. The information is kept confidential. The Tax Department takes illegal activity seriously by promptly reviewing each complaint, and taking corrective action when appropriate.