Authorities in Queens, N.Y. have seized nearly 600,000 packs of cigarettes with brand names like Marlboros and Newports, half of which are suspected of being counterfeits from China, reported the Associated Press.
The cigarettes were found during a raid late last week at a warehouse in the Corona section of of town, according to Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice. The cigarettes have an estimated street value of more than $3.4 million. Three men were arrested during the raid.
Officers found dozens of cartons of well-known cigarette brands and piles of cash collected within the warehouse. Many of the cardboard boxes holding the cartons were stamped “Made in China,” the report said. Counterfeit sneakers and $350,000 in cash were also seized.
Because the counterfeits originated in China, they were not subject to any regulatory review of their ingredients and could contain “dangerously high levels of tar and nicotine,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown told the Associated Press..
The potential lost tax revenue from the cigarettes was estimated at more than $1 million.
“When you couple the financial blow these crimes have on local budgets with the potential health risks the counterfeit cigarettes can pose to their consumers, it becomes imperative we crack rings like this one,” Rice said.
The suspects were arraigned this past weekend on charges of forgery and trademark counterfeiting, as well as violations of state tax laws.
They were held on bail ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 and face up to 15 years in prison if convicted on the forgery charge, and another four years on the tax violations.
Brown said the counterfeit and untaxed cigarettes like the ones seized are typically sold at a discount to small “mom and pop” stores. The cigarettes are then sold to customers at traditional prices.
The raid and arrests followed a six-month investigation that began when police received a tip that illegal cigarettes were being sold on Long Island, Rice said.