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Cecil Whig: Traffic stop near N.E. nets $55K in unstamped cigarettes

NORTH EAST — A man and a woman are facing criminal charges after investigators confiscated more than 9,000 packs of unstamped cigarettes valued at approximately $55,000 during an Interstate 95 traffic stop near North East, according to Cecil County District Court records.

A Maryland State Police trooper arrested the two suspects — Yazan Mufid Hamad and Sabrine Tazghini, both 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y. — at about 9:30 p.m. Monday, after stopping their Dodge Caravan in the northbound lane of I-95 for speeding, police said. Hamad was the driver and Tazghini was his front-seat passenger, police added.

While talking to Hamad at the driver's side window, the trooper was able to see into the sport utility vehicle and he noticed two black sheets that were squared off and appeared to be concealing boxes, police reported. The trooper dispatched an MSP sergeant for backup, after he noticed three cartons of Newport cigarettes, according to police.

“Hamad advised that he had purchased approximately 900 cartons of cigarettes for $55,000 in North Carolina and was transporting them to New York,” court records allege.

During a probable-cause search of the SUV, investigators found and seized 9,010 packs of cigarettes that did not have a Maryland tax stamp, police said, adding that Hamad and Tazghini did not have a bill of sale.

“(The trooper) determined the amount of cigarettes was more than (for) personal use and it was indicative of cigarette smuggling ... A citizen is only allowed to bring five cartons of unstamped cigarettes into the State of Maryland,” according to court records.

The Maryland State Comptroller's Office accessed the value of the confiscated cigarettes at $58,114 and calculated a loss tax revenue of $18,020 for the State of Maryland, court records show.

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.

Hamad and Tazghini are each charged with transporting unstamped cigarettes, which is a felony, and possession of unstamped cigarettes, according to court records, which indicate that both are free on $3,000 unsecured bonds.

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