Undercover agents in New York State have arrested more than 20 people in conjunction with an alleged cigarette-smuggling ring. Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore said after the recent raid that the smuggling operation cost the state $21 million in tax revenues.
Although the investigation has not established a link between the smuggling and terrorist groups, the New York Post reported that eight of the ring's customers are believed to be on the FBI's terror watch list.
"Undercover agents peddling illegal smokes from a Yonkers warehouse even met their neighbor – a white-supremacist lunatic suspected of running an arms factory who was so taken in by his new 'friends' that he gave them a homemade bomb as a gift," wrote Adam Nichols of the Post.
Many of the ring's customers traveled from New York City, purchased cartons of cigarettes for $42 and sold them for more than double what they paid. Agents running the shop said that many of the customers came with guns, prostitutes or drugs and were looking to make deals. Some tried to rip off the agents with counterfeit money and some came with guards and attempted to rob other smugglers.
Hizballah has used cigarette smuggling to raise money in the United States. During the 1990s, Hizballah operatives bought cigarettes in North Carolina and resold them in Michigan without paying that state's much higher cigarette taxes.
The leader of the smuggling ring, Mohamad Youssef Hammoud, was convicted of conspiracies to launder money and sell contraband cigarettes, as well as attempted bribery and immigration law violations. Hammoud – who had numerous links to Hizballah boss Hassan Nasrallah – was sentenced to 155 years in prison.