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Untaxed cigs found on Jax Hgts man: DA

Manuel Espinal-Ramirez allegedly trafficked these untaxed cigarettes found in a storage structure. Photo courtesy city Finance Department
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A Jackson Heights man has been charged with possessing thousands of untaxed cigarettes and counterfeit tax stamps, the Queens district attorney’s office said.

Investigators recovered 11,423 packs of untaxed cigarettes and more than 21,559 counterfeit cigarette tax stamps from a storage structure in Corona and a gold Toyota Sienna minivan parked nearby, which Jackson Heights resident Manuel Espinal-Ramirez, 54, allegedly used to store and transport the cigarettes, the DA said.

District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement that the untaxed cigarettes and counterfeit stamps would shortchange the city and state out of almost $200,000 in tax revenue if sold.

“For every dollar or $2 a store owner or consumer saves by purchasing an untaxed pack of cigarettes, the honest taxpayer becomes the victim by being forced to dip into his or her pocket to pay higher taxes,” Brown said.

It is illegal to sell cigarettes in the city without a joint city and state tax stamp, the DA said. Only licensed stamping agents are allowed to have untaxed cigarettes in their possession, the DA said.

Espinal-Ramirez, who lives at 95th Street and 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, was arraigned Sept. 22 before Queens Criminal Court Judge Susan Melendez, the DA said. He was charged on 21,559 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument and violations of state law regarding taxation of cigarette and tobacco products, according to Brown. If convicted on all charges, he faces up to 15 years in prison, the DA said.

City and state tax investigators allegedly saw Espinal-Ramirez on Sept. 21 leaving the Toyota Sienna and going into the storage structure, at the rear of 100-15 35th Ave. in Corona, with an opaque plastic bag allegedly full of cigarette cartons, the DA said.

In addition to seizing the cigarettes and stamps, the investigators also took $6,741 in cash from the storage structure, Espinal-Ramirez and the Toyota Sienna, according to the district attorney. They also seized a GPS in the minivan, the DA said.

The investigation was conducted by the city Department of Finance and the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

“We will continue our work together to vigorously pursue and prosecute those who attempt to profit from tax evasion,” state Tax Department Commissioner Thomas Mattox said in a statement.

Espinal-Ramirez was ordered held on $5,000 bail.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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