More than 20 cigarette “buttleggers” were arrested as part of a massive undercover sweep to crack down on New York’s thriving illegal cigarette trade, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office announced yesterday.
Under “Operation Buttlegger,” investigators from the DA’s office posed as sellers of black-market cigarettes, which have not been subject to New York’s heavy city and state taxes.
During the eight-month operation, the agents sold more than $4.2 million worth of untaxed cigarettes to 23 buyers throughout Brooklyn.
Ali Ahmed, 48, was arrested on Tuesday at the deli he owns, Rio Deli and Grocery on Nostrand Avenue in Sheepshead Bay. He was allegedly selling bootlegged cigarettes out of the store.
Another man, Nabil Zayed, 39, was also arrested at his deli, the 8 Star Food Corp. on Saratoga Avenue in Bed-Stuy, for hawking untaxed smokes.
Some of the untaxed cigarettes were purchased in Virginia, driven up north and stored at a warehouse at 81 Spencer Street in Bed-Stuy, according to the DA’s office.
Two of the buyers, Gani Hodja, 25, and Abdul Herkash, 43, arranged to meet with investigators on Dec. 22 to purchase the cigarettes. An informant drove a van to meet the two men and deliver the contraband goods. But when he arrived, the men allegedly maced him and carjacked the shipment.
Both were arrested immediately after the alleged theft and, if convicted, face 25 years in prison.
In addition to costing the state millions in badly needed tax revenue, counterfeit cigarettes may contain toxins, officials warned, since it is unknown where and how they were manufactured.
Half of city cigs sold illegally
All cigarettes sold in the city must bear a joint New York City/ New York State tax stamp or they’re likely illegal.
The average price of a carton of cigarettes purchased legally in New York City is $120-$150. Untaxed, illegal cigarettes can be sold on the black market for $30-$50 per carton.
Half of all the cigarettes sold in the city are untaxed, according to the New York Department of Finance.