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Cecil Whig: Cecil traffic stop nets $80K in unstamped cigarettes, one arrest

PERRYVILLE — A man is facing criminal charges after investigators confiscated more than 12,000 packs of unstamped cigarettes valued at nearly $80,000 during an Interstate 95 traffic stop Wednesday night, according to Cecil County District Court records and the Maryland Comptroller’s Office.

Maryland State Police Cpl. Brian Hinsch, who is assigned to the agency’s JFK Barrack, stopped a 2018 Dodge Ram pickup truck with a Virginia license plate in the northbound lane of I-95 near Perryville at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday for a traffic violation, police reported.

Investigators conducted a probable cause search of the vehicle and its cargo area, after Hinsch noticed the cigarettes in the truck bed and notified agents with the comptroller’s Field Enforcement Division, which reported to the scene, police said. Searchers found and seized 12,370 packs of untaxed cigarettes, police added.

Agents arrested the driver, Jermaine Shabazz Grant, 44, of Takoma Park, after confiscating the unstamped cigarettes, according to police. Grant was the truck’s sole occupant, police noted.

The seized cigarettes are valued at $79,786.50 and represent a tax loss to the state of $24,740, according to a spokesman for the comptroller’s office. In addition to the unstamped cigarettes, investigators confiscated the pickup truck that Grant had been driving while allegedly smuggling the cigarettes, the spokesman reported.

Grant is charged with transporting unstamped cigarettes, which is a felony, and a misdemeanor count of possession of unstamped cigarettes, according to court records, which indicate that Grant is free after posting a $3,000 bond.

This marks the second confiscation of unstamped cigarettes during an I-95 traffic stop in Cecil County in three weeks. On April 11, investigators arrested and charged Nely M. Rodriguez-Marte, a 45-year-old Bronx, N.Y., resident, and her son, Jose Luis Galabert-Rodriguez, 21, also of the Bronx, after confiscating 10,770 packs of unstamped cigarettes valued at $69,466 during a traffic stop near North East, police reported.

Those seized cigarettes represented a Maryland tax loss of $21,540, according to comptroller’s office officials.

A great disparity in state cigarette and cigar taxes and prices, particularly between southern and northern states, has created a black market. In a typical practice, a person will buy a bulk quantity of cigarettes in Virginia or North Carolina, where taxes and prices are comparatively low, and then drive them to New Jersey, New York and points north, where taxes and prices are much higher. Then the person will sell those cigarettes at a discounted price and still see a significant profit.

According to the 2016 Federation of Tax Administrators rankings, the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes in New Jersey was $2.70 while it was 30 cents per pack in Virginia. The average price of a pack of cigarettes in Virginia was $5.25, based on those 2016 rankings, while it was $8.20 a pack in New Jersey.

It is illegal to transport more than two cartons of cigarettes, or 20 packs, across Maryland state lines.

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