- Strong Partnerships Reflect Increase in Alcohol Violations Issued, Contraband Seized-
Following a fiscal year which reflected the aggressive enforcement of Maryland’s tax laws, Comptroller Peter Franchot today announced the final figures for alcohol, cigarette and motor fuel violations for fiscal year 2012. Making the announcement surrounded by contraband products, Franchot praised the work of his agents and other law enforcement agencies in working together to protect law-abiding businesses from underground operations and tax cheats.
“I am very proud of the diligent efforts of my field enforcement agents and inspectors to stop criminals and their contraband," said Comptroller Franchot. "The blatant disregard of Maryland tax laws, which protect law-abiding businesses and consumers, will not be ignored. My agents will continue to work closely with our partners in law enforcement to enforce Maryland's alcohol, tobacco and motor fuel laws.
For the fiscal year 2012, which ended nearly a month ago, Comptroller agents arrested and charged 196 individuals for tobacco violations, resulting in the confiscation of 325,851 packs of cigarettes valued at nearly $2 million. Both numbers represent a significant increase from fiscal years 2010 and 2011, which ended with 72,105 and 184,498 packs seized respectively. Along with increases in seized tobacco products, FY 2012 saw an increase in the amount of confiscated alcohol. This past year, agents confiscated 426 gallons of distilled liquor, 785 gallons of wine and 7,737 containers of beer as a result of 73 alcohol violations. The total retail value of the seized alcohol was more than $92,000 compared to a little over $50,000 last year.
“The increase in tobacco and alcohol violations is reflective of the strong partnerships my agents have formed with other law enforcement agencies throughout the state. Through building these relationships, my field enforcement personnel have trained other agencies on how to identify a tax law violation which has broadened our reach,” said Comptroller Franchot.
Earlier this year, Comptroller Franchot urged the Maryland Senate to pass legislation which would have increased the penalties for tobacco violations associated with the smuggling of cigarettes and other tobacco products into Maryland. While the House of Delegates passed the bill by a 115 to 12 vote margin, the Senate did not follow suit. Currently, the crime of Transportation of Contraband (Unstamped) Cigarettes in the state of Maryland is a felony, which carries a $50 per carton fine and/or two years imprisonment; and the crime of Possession of Contraband Cigarettes is a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year. The new legislation would have imposed a mandatory $150 per carton fine for the first offense and a mandatory $300 fine for subsequent offenses, as well as up to two (2) years in prison for both crimes.
“Increasing the penalties for this criminal activity is a major step we can take to reduce smuggling in Maryland” said Comptroller Franchot. “I urge the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation making smuggling less lucrative and I will continue to advocate for stiffer penalties.”
In addition to alcohol and tobacco violations, the Comptroller’s Field Enforcement Division issued 91 motor fuel violations, a significant decrease from the previous fiscal year’s 238 violations. Also, nearly $640,000 in delinquent sales and use tax was collected by the office, all of which goes to the state’s general fund.
Contraband alcohol and tobacco products are retained by the Comptroller’s Office as evidence against a defendant until the pending case is adjudicated. The Comptroller’s Office is required by state law to destroy or sell the product, with the exception of beer which must be destroyed due to its short shelf life. Only licensed Maryland retailers or wholesalers can bid on seized alcohol or tobacco lots sold. All money collected from these sales is deposited in the general fund.