For more than a year, the system worked flawlessly. Containers of counterfeit cigarettes shipped from China to the ports of Newark, N.J., and New York City moved easily through customs and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security without inspection.
From the docks, the cigarettes, falsely labeled as Marlboros and Marlboro Lights, made their way to a nondescript warehouse in South Jersey, where they were readied for the final leg of their trip, the sunny skies of California. The transport crew, responsible for smoothing the way through Homeland Security and making sure the cigarettes – nearly 2.3 million packs – got to California safely was none other than the FBI, accordibng to as story in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The elaborate logistics operation was part of a sting to stem the flow of contraband cigarettes into the United States, according to court documents filed this week in U.S. District Court in Camden.
FBI undercover agents were paid “handling fees” of as much as $55,000 per shipment to deliver the cigarettes to four men in California. Three of the men were indicted in the case. The fourth was named in an earlier complaint but not in the indictment.
The fake Marlboros typically sell for half-price on the street. A bargain, perhaps, for smokers, but not for the State of California, said V. Grady O’Malley, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, because it lost 87 cents a pack in taxes, or about $2 million, according to legal documents.
“Were the defendants New Jersey residents and we arrested [them] here, the New Jersey tax loss would have been over $4 million,” O’Malley said. Cigarette taxes in New Jersey are about $2 a pack, he said.