A Queens man faces time behind bars after authorities discovered hundreds of thousands of untaxed cigarettes – along with counterfeit tax stamps — inside his garage last week.
Ayad Sharhan, 34, of Ridgewood was arraigned on Feb. 26 on charges of criminal possession of a forged instrument, criminal possession of forgery devices, cigarette and tobacco products tax/attempt to evade or defeat tax, cigarette and tobacco products tax and possession or transportation of untaxed cigarettes with intent to sell.
According to prosecutors, a court-authorized search warrant was executed on Feb. 26 at a garage located at 101-09 97th Ave. in Woodhaven. Inside, investigators allegedly found 60,000 fraudulent New York State cigarette tax stamps.
The stamps — which when legitimate come in rolls and each has a unique number — were found printed on sheets and each with an identical number, authorities said.
Officials allegedly discovered an iron in the garage, which is commonly used to stick the illegal stamps onto cigarette packs, according to prosecutors.
Investigators also found 1,382 carton, each holding 10 packs of cigarettes, and 150 individual packs of cigarettes. In total, 279,600 individual cigarettes were seize together with the stamps – which authorities said would have an estimated tax value of $493,000, if sold legally.
According to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, while the police were at the garage Sharhan appeared and said that the merchandise belonged to him and added “I have a lot of stuff I’m not supposed to have.”
Brown also said that cigarette packages which are sold in New York City must have a joint New York City/New York state tax stamp. Only a license-stamping agent is allowed to have untaxed cigarettes and attach stamps onto packages.
“Cigarette smuggling to evade sales taxes is a multimillion dollar industry. It is a highly profitable tax-free, cash business for those involved in it,” Brown said. “But selling untaxed cigarettes cheats taxpayers who must dip deeper into their pockets and pay higher taxes because of these kinds of schemes.”
Sharhan was released on his own recognizance and ordered to return to court on March 21. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.