Home Local Maryland Government Announcement Originally published August 05, 2011

Comptroller Agents Continue To Arrest Cigarette Smugglers, $89K Worth of Smokes Seized This Week

-Franchot Tells His Agents to Keep up the Great Work-

Annapolis, Md. (August 5, 2011) – Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that agents from his Field Enforcement Division had another stellar week confiscating nearly 15,000 packs of the contraband cigarettes and arresting nine people in five separate cases.

“I am very proud of my agents for their tenacity in ridding our streets of contraband,” said Comptroller Franchot. “My office remains committed to aggressively pursuing cigarette smugglers and tax scofflaws to protect the public and law abiding small businesses.”

The details of each case are as follows:

· Saturday, July 30 (Case #1):
During a routine traffic stop on Interstate 95 in Cecil County, Trooper Joseph Twardowski of the Maryland State Police (MSP) observed a significant amount of cigarettes in the vehicle and contacted the Comptroller’s Office. Comptroller’s agents seized 2,000 packs of illegal cigarettes, valued at nearly $12,000. Officials arrested two men: Hammam Sharhan, a 19-year-old from Inwood, NY and Jean William, a 25-year-old from Far Rockaway, NY. Additionally, agents confiscated a 1996 Jeep Cherokee, registered in Georgia.

· Tuesday, August 2 (Two separate cases):
o (Case #2): Working closely with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, Comptroller’s agents stopped a vehicle on Interstate 95/495 at the Forestville Exit in Prince George’s County and confiscated 2,763 packs of illegal cigarettes, worth nearly $17,000. Agents arrested Far Rockaway, NY, residents Feby Pledger (female), 45 and Bernard Cribbs (female), 58. A 2007 Nissan Altima with Maryland license plates was also seized.
o (Case #3): Partnering with the Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board (NVCTB), Comptroller’s agents seized a 2006 Nissan Sentra found containing 2,508 packs of contraband cigarettes, valued at nearly $15,000. The vehicle’s driver was stopped on Interstate 95 at Route 32 in Howard County and agents arrested driver Baudin Karpuzi, a 41-year-old male of Old Bridge, NJ.

· Wednesday, August 3 (Two separate cases):
o (Case #4): Comptroller’s agents stopped the driver of a 1998 Dodge Caravan on Interstate 95/495 in Prince George’s County and found 1,627 packs of untaxed cigarettes, worth nearly $10,000 within the vehicle. Baltimore residents Jose Perez, a 53-year-old male, and Eridania Peres De Hernandez, a 41-year-old female, were arrested and the Maryland registered vehicle seized.
o (Case #5): After receiving a tip from Sergeant Michael Connor of MSP, Comptroller agents arrested Ashraf Bakar, a 25-year-old male, and Jennifer Whisenhunt, a 27-year-old female, both of Germantown, NC for possessing and transporting 5,810 packs of contraband cigarettes in Cecil County. Officials seized $35,000 worth of cigarettes and the 2011 Chevrolet Suburban used to transport the contraband.

”I’d like to thank our partners in law enforcement, as well as the state agencies in Maryland and Virginia, for their invaluable assistance in these cases,” said Comptroller Franchot. “My agency has forged great partnerships which allow my agents to be even more effective in our efforts to enforce Maryland’s tax laws.”

All nine individuals have been charged with transporting contraband cigarettes and possession of contraband cigarettes in the state of Maryland. The transporting charge is a felony, which carries a $50 per carton fine and/or two years imprisonment; and the possession offense is a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year.

So far in fiscal year 2012, Comptroller agents have arrested 31 individuals for tobacco violations, seizing nearly 40,000 packs of contraband cigarettes and more than 3,200 packages of Other Tobacco Product (OTP) valued at more than $240,000.