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Multi-million dollar modern-day cigarette bootlegging gang arrested in New York

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modern-day cigarette bootlegging gang

Eight members of a US modern-day bootlegging gang have been charged with grand larceny, conspiracy and other crimes after they were arrested in connection with a plot to smuggle cheap cigarettes into New York to sell with counterfeit tax stamps.

The gang members, who are said to have made millions out of the conspiracy, were arrested on Monday after police raids resulted in the seizure of 6,267 cartons of untaxed cigarettes, as well as $2.3 million.

Speaking after the defendants were charged, Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown said: “The defendants in this case are modern-day bootleggers who allegedly peddled untaxed cigarettes to enrich themselves.

“This smuggling ring raked in millions of dollars at the expense of New Yorkers.

“Purchasing cheaper cigarettes from out of state and applying counterfeit tax stamps on them cheats both the state and city out of much-needed tax revenue.

“The defendants now face prison time as a result of their alleged greed.”

“I want to acknowledge the exceptional work of the multiagency Strike Force that investigated this illegal operation. My office will continue to work diligently with our law enforcement partners to root out those who set up illegal operations in Queens County.”

Prosecutors allege that Nasir Jafri purchased over 37,000 cigarette cartons from retailers in Virginia and Maryland before driving them to New York, where tobacco products are subject to additional taxes.

Defendants Ahmad and Hassan Abualrub are then said to have bought the cigarettes from Nicholas Galafano before transporting them to Brooklyn, where they sold them on to customers.

A search of Beatrice Villafane’s home, which prosecutors allege was used by the gang as a “stash house”, led to investigators recovering more than 3,500 cartons of untaxed cigarettes, nearly 100,000 counterfeit New York State tax stamps, paraphernalia used to remove and affix stamps, counting machines and more than $200,000 cash.

Last year, a report from Washington DC-based think tank the Tax Foundation revealed that New York was the US capital of illicit tobacco.

The study found that an estimated 56.8% of cigarettes smoked in New York in 2015 were smuggled into the state.

That figure represented a 35.8% increase on the amount of smuggled tobacco smoked in 2016 in New York, which levies the highest rate of state cigarette tax in the US.

“Growing cigarette tax differentials have made cigarette smuggling both a national problem and in some cases, a lucrative criminal enterprise,” the report authors wrote.

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Canada to pardon minor cannabis possession convictions as country legalises the drug

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pardon minor cannabis possession convictions

Canadians convicted of possessing 30 grams or less of cannabis are to be pardoned, a source from Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberal Party has said.

Speaking as Canada became only the second country in the world after Uruguay to legalise the recreational use of cannabis, the source said Ottawa will allow anybody with a criminal record that includes any such charge to apply to have it removed from their files.

Revealing that the exact process people will need to follow to apply for a pardon will be announced in the near future, the official told Canada’s Star newspaper: “For people to whom this applies in their past, we’re going to give them certainty that there will be recourse for them… in terms of exactly how it gets rolled out, the steps that we take, how much time it will take them, we’ll lay that out in the coming days and weeks.”

The announcement was made after members of the New Democratic Party lobbied the Canadian government to pardon people who had been caught in possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use, noting how such convictions can prevent individuals from marginalised communities from accessing housing and services.

The amnesty was announced after Canada officially legalised cannabis on Wednesday after the country’s parliament voted to do so back in June.

Long queues formed outside new cannabis shops across the country on Tuesday evening ahead of the first legally-sold marijuana being purchased from a store on the eastern island of Newfoundland at midnight.

Tom Clarke, 43, who owns the shop in Newfoundland, told reporters: “I am living my dream. Teenage Tom Clarke is loving what I am doing with my life right now.

“This is awesome. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this. I am so happy to be living in Canada right now instead of south of the border,” added Clarke, who told reporters he had been dealing cannabis illegally in Canada for 30 years.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve only been discussing this for 50 years. It’s better late than never.”

Despite the introduction of the new law, it will remain forbidden for Canadians to be in possession of more than 30 grams of cannabis while in public, grow more than four marijuana plants per household or buy the drug from unlicensed dealers.

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Charity probe reveals true scale of brutal European puppy smuggling trade

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European puppy smuggling trade

An undercover investigation conducted by a British animal charity has revealed the scale of the brutal European puppy smuggling trade.

The Dogs Trust discovered that European smugglers trafficking canines into the UK routinely force heavily-pregnant bitches and puppies to travel hundreds of miles in poor conditions.

Investigators from the charity also found that crooked vets are providing smugglers with faked pet passports and bogus vaccination stamps for underage puppies.

They also described hearing one dealer in Hungary boast of possessing 300 bitches producing puppies for the UK market.

The Dogs Trust noted how the UK government has failed to crack down on puppy smugglers since the charity first highlighted the illicit trade four years ago, and called on British lawmakers to use Brexit as an opportunity to update and strengthen pet travel rules, which are currently regulated by the European Union.

“Puppy smugglers are only concerned with making a profit, and the UK provides an attractive market because the high demand for ‘designer breeds’ converts into fast internet sales,” said Veterinary Director Paula Boyden.

“Importers are exploiting the lack of visual checks being made at the borders, and insufficient penalties for illegally importing puppies mean there is no real deterrent for these abhorrent crimes.”

The investigation resulted in the identification of new puppy smuggling trade routes from non-EU country Serbia, finding evidence of underage puppies being sold with EU microchips and pre-filled European passports and passed off as EU-bred animals for easier entry into EU countries.

Speaking last November, UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove said Brexit will allow the UK to crack down puppy smuggling.

“Once we have left the EU there is even more we could do,” Gove said in a written statement to Parliament.

“EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter.

“EU rules also restrict us from cracking down on puppy smuggling or banning the import of puppies under six months.”

Organised criminal gangs have become involved in puppy smuggling over the past few years, attracted by the large profits that can be made from the trade, and the fact that being caught trafficking canines results in less severe punishment than other illegal activities such as drug smuggling and people trafficking.

The Dogs Trust has previously called for puppy smugglers to face stiffer penalties, noting how many are willing to risk the three months they could face in jail if they are caught attempting to sneak dogs into the UK.

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Police smash crime network behind illicit trade of Bluefin tuna in Spain

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illicit trade of Bluefin tuna

A coalition of European law enforcement agencies have arrested scores of people suspected of being involved in a scam involving the illegal sale of Bluefin tuna in Spain.

Authorities from Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and Malta took part in a Europol-backed operation that resulted in 79 individuals being detained and the seizure of more than 80 tonnes of illicit Bluefin tuna.

As well as the seizure of a significant amount of fish, the operation also resulted in the confiscation of €500,000 ($576,500), seven luxury vehicles, jewellery, watches and other valuable items.

It is thought the network behind the scam trafficked 2,500 tonnes of tuna a year.

Operation Tarantelo began after officers from Spain’s Guardia Civil were alerted to a number of irregularities relating to the fishing of Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea.

This led to the discovery that large quantities of fish caught in Italian and Maltese waters were being traded illegally in Spain after being smuggled into the country via French harbours.

The members of the gang behind the scam are said to have made at least €5 on every kilo of tuna they sold, resulting in them raking in a total estimated profit of €12.5 million.

A number of people are reported to have fallen ill after eating tuna smuggled into Spain by the gang due to the unhygienic conditions in which the fish was transported and stored.

The smugglers used documentation from legitimate fish farms to illegally import their illicit tuna into Spain, where poor customs checks failed to identify the rogue Bluefin.

Illegally-caught hauls of fish were also discovered on boats in Spanish waters, on which smugglers are said to have transported the tuna in false bottoms under the deck of their vessels.

Europol supported the operation by providing analysis support, advice from environmental crime experts and by coordinating meetings for information exchange.

“The tuna business is often linked to other crimes such as food fraud or document fraud,” the agency said in a statement.

“The main risks for consumer health were due to the unsanitary conditions in which the fish was transported and stored. Sometimes the fish was hidden underwater after it was fished, awaiting transportation.”

In December last year, the Maltese Independent reported that five tonnes of Bluefin tuna were being smuggled into Malta every single week before being trafficked onwards to EU states including Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and France.

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