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Dozen caught smuggling cigarettes into JFK: DA

The Queens district attorney’s office has put the light out on a dozen illegal cigarette smuggling operations that cost New Yorkers at least a quarter of a million dollars in lost tax revenue.

Queens DA Richard Brown, as well as investigators from several different agencies, showed off the thousands of untaxed cigarettes and cigars last Thursday they confiscated from separate investigations into individuals from all five boroughs. In most of the cases, the suspects smuggled cigarettes from other countries through John F. Kennedy International Airport and sold them without the city and state tax stamp, the DA said.

The sale of contraband cut New York’s coffers out of at least $270,000, Brown said.

“It cheats the city and the state by fueling an underground economy,” he said.

The DA’s Crimes Against Revenue Unit teamed up with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Port Authority police and the state Department of Taxation and Finance to go after the illegal smugglers.

They were able to recover more than 4,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes, 22,000 untaxed cigars from as close as Virginia and as far away as China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Haiti and Guyana and nearly $400,000 in money and property, according to the DA. Out of the 12 arrested and charged in the operation seven were Queens residents , but it did not appear that they were all working in conjunction with each other, Brown said.

The biggest case involved Giuseppe Sciulara, 47, of 66th Drive in Middle Village. In November, a search warrant of his garage, a Metropolitan Avenue storage location and home, uncovered nearly hundreds of illegal cigarette cartons, some of which carried phony Virginia tax stamps, Brown said.

Investigators also uncovered nearly $45,000 in cash, a loaded .25-caliber handgun and assorted rounds of ammunition, according to the DA. Sciulara pleaded guilty to violating New York state tax laws and was sentenced last month to a three-year conditional discharge and forfeited $45,620 to the state, the DA said.

Customs agents at JFK Airport intercepted a package March 24 for Kwang Soo Lee, 67, who lives at and maintains a business on Union Street in Flushing, the DA said. The package allegedly had 30 cartons of untaxed Korean cigarettes and was addressed to Eden Cleaners/Maggie Lim, according to Brown.

An undercover U.S. postal inspector delivered the package to the Flushing store and he told investigators that the box was the third delivery he had received in as many months from a third party who asked him to hold the untaxed cigarettes, Brown said. Lee has been charged with violating state tax laws and falsifying business records, according to the DA.

Most recently, a Forest Hills man was arrested at JFK for allegedly trying to smuggle cigarettes from his native Uzbekistan. Bobirjon S. Shakirov, 36, of 110th Street, arrived at JFK on a flight from the former Soviet Union nation April 3 with 179 cartons of cigarettes, Brown said.

He allegedly did not declare the cigarettes, which had a tax value of more than $10,000 and has been charged with falsifying business records, according to the DA.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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