Detectives smoked out a Queens man’s scheme to illegally sell a bounty of untaxed cigarettes, costing the state nearly a half million dollars in tax revenue, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown announced on Monday.
Officers from the 102nd Precinct discovered a garage in Ozone Park filled with of tens of thousands of counterfeit tax stamps, along with hundreds of thousands of cigarettes belonging to the defendant — identified as Ayad Sharhan, 34, of Cornelia Street in Ridgewood.
According to the charges, police executed a court-authorized search warrant on Feb. 26, at a garage located at 101-09 97th Ave. in Ozone Park. Inside the garage, investigators allegedly recovered 60,000 fraudulent New York State cigarette tax stamps.
Investigators also allegedly found an iron, which is commonly used to apply the illegal stamps onto the packs of cigarettes. Also allegedly seized were 1,382 cartons — with each carton containing 10 packs of cigarettes — and another 150 individual packs of cigarettes. In all, 279,600 individual cigarettes were allegedly seized along with stamps.
According to the complaint, Sharhan appeared at the garage while the police were present and allegedly stated that the merchandise inside the garage belonged to him and that “I have a lot of stuff I’m not supposed to have.”
“Cigarette smuggling to evade sales taxes is a multimillion-dollar industry. It is a highly profitable, tax-free, cash business for those involved in it,” Brown said. “But selling untaxed cigarettes cheats taxpayers who must dip deeper into their pockets and pay higher taxes because of these kinds of schemes. Each stamp on a lawfully stamped pack of cigarettes represents both excise and sales tax that would have been paid to New York state and New York City. Consequently, in this particular case, the alleged counterfeit stamps and cigarettes seized represent a potential loss of approximately $493,000 in tax revenue.”
Sharhan was arraigned on Friday, Feb. 26, before Queens Criminal Court Judge Peter Vallone on charges of first-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, criminal possession of forgery devices, cigarette and tobacco products tax/attempt to evade or defeat tax, cigarette and tobacco products tax and possession or transportation of untaxed cigarettes with intent to sell.
Sharhan was released him on his own recognizance and is scheduled to return to court on March 21. If convicted, Sharhan faces up to 15 years in prison.
Legitimate tax stamps come in rolls and each stamp has a unique number. The stamps confiscated from the garage allegedly were printed on sheets and each stamp had an identical number. Brown noted that all cigarette packages sold in New York City must bear a joint New York City/New York state tax stamp and only a licensed stamping agent can possess untaxed cigarettes and affix the tax stamp on the packages.
Editor’s note: An earlier edition based on preliminary reports had the location of the garage in Woodhaven, not Ozone Park. We regret any confusion that my have resulted.