Inhabitants are making a fortune selling cigs on the black tobacco market. It’s a billion dollar criminal business that brings with it, guns, drugs and violence. The parent company of Philip Morris USA, Altria, which owns approximately half of the US tobacco market, has an entire division devoted to spotting counterfeit cigs. “Job one is to protect the integrity of the cigarette brands, the honesty of the legitimate retailers where it’s sold,” said Joe Murillo, a vice president and Associate General Counsel for Altria. The company isn’t just dealing with copy-cat cigs either, people are smuggling products out of Virginia and re-selling them in states like New York.
Here’s the main problem: in Richmond, a package is taxed 30 cents. In New York City, the tax is $5.85. That’s a benefit of $5.55 a package.
The justice department considers that states are losing almost $5 billion a year in tax money. Inhabitants are even stealing Virginia’s dollars by counterfeiting commonwealth tax stamps placed on the packages.
Contraband cigarette is more advantageous to criminals than heroin or cocaine and are found in the same circles as money wash, gun smuggling, and even drug trafficking.
“Oh, without a doubt, it’s an arranged crime. This is organized crime at it’s highest level because of the finesse,” declared Rich Marianos, a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The state police are leaning more and more on the cigarette manufacturers to help them catch the criminals.