Jackson Heights Man Charged With Cigarette Tax Fraud

From Queens Gazette:

Investigators at the city Department of Finance and the state Department of Taxation and Finance last month charged a 54-year-old Jackson Heights man with possessing thousands of untaxed cigarettes and counterfeit tax stamps.

Investigators recovered 11,423 packs of untaxed cigarettes and more than 21,559 counterfeit cigarette tax stamps from a storage unit in Corona and a Toyota Sienna minivan parked nearby the facility that was allegedly used by Manuel Espinal-Ramirez to store and transport the cigarettes, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

Brown said in a prepared statement that the untaxed cigarettes, if sold, and counterfeit stamps would have accounted for a $200,000 loss in tax revenue for the city and state.

“For every $1.00 or $2.00 dollars 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.

Under current law, it is illegal to sell cigarettes in New York City without a joint city and state tax stamp, Brown said.

Only licensed stamping agents are allowed to keep untaxed cigarettes in their possession, Brown said.

Investigators arrested Manuel Espinal-Ramirez, of 86th Street in Jackson Heights, who was arraigned on September 22 on 21,559 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument and violation of state law regarding taxation of cigarettes and tobacco products, Brown said.

Ramirez is facing up to 15 years in prison, if convicted of all charges.

Brown said city and state investigators allegedly spotted Espinal-Ramirez leaving the Sienna and going into the storage facility at the rear of 100-15 35th Ave. in Corona on September 21, carrying an opaque plastic bag allegedly filled with cigarette cartons.

The investigators pounced and seized the cigarettes and tax stamps, along with $6,741 in cash from the storage facility, Espinal-Ramirez and the Toyota Sienna, Brown said. The investigators also seized a GPS that was located in the minivan, Brown said.

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

Espinal-Ramirez was held in lieu of $5,000 bail at his arraignment at Queens Criminal Court.

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