New Jersey agents tackle tobacco smuggling
Due to its higher-than-average cigarette taxes, New Jersey has become a hot zone for tobacco smuggling.
According to the New Jersey Department of Treasury, which handles the Office of Criminal Investigation, nearly 290,000 units of untaxed tobacco were seized in 2014 alone. Out of 527 cigarette and tobacco investigations on the matter, 270 involved cases that resulted in criminal charges.
"Profits are made by diverting cigarettes from low-tax states to high-tax states such as New Jersey," said Scott Curley, Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the Newark Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
A 2014 analysis from the Tax Foundation found New Jersey had the eighth-highest cigarette tax in the nation at $2.70 per pack.
Curley said New Jersey's interstates serve as the primary routes for traffickers.
The smuggled products can reach consumers on the streets or through dishonest retailers. In many cases, counterfeit New Jersey tax stamps are used to evade detection.
According to Curley, tobacco smuggling puts a dent in the state's economic activity, from lost tax dollars to lost business for legitimate merchants.
Rich Marianos, a retired ATF employee, said New Jersey may have the most aggressive and professional approach to attacking the problem.
"They specifically have a unit designed to investigate and prosecute tobacco smugglers and traffickers," he said.
The number of seized, untaxed tobacco units was down by more than 200,000 compared to 2013.