Illegal smokes stash could be largest in U.S. history - WLBT.com - Jackson, MS

Illegal smokes stash could be largest in U.S. history

By Cheryl Lasseter - bio | email

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Twenty million dollars' worth of illegal tobacco products were seized by state authorities Tuesday in what's believed to be the largest bust of its kind in the nation's history.

They're brands like "Ice" and "Mountain King." They may look like what you'd see behind a retail counter, but Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering says they're really off-brand cigarettes and cigars, and they've been smuggled into our state.

On Tuesday, investigators raided a warehouse at an undisclosed location and trucked out about thirty 18-wheelers full of smokes. 14,265 cases of cigarettes and cigars; that's about 856,000 cartons.  None of the products have the state tax seal, and that proves they're contraband.

"Any cigarettes in the state of Mississippi that aren't taxed in the 72 hour period, in this situation become contraband or illegal product," Pickering says.

Potential tax owed to the state of Mississippi from this seizure is $1.5 million. Potential tax owed to the federal government comes out to more than $8 million.

Investigator David Huggins says recovering the tax revenue may not be hard.

"Since we have possession of these products, they'd be sold for taxes before we'll release them," Huggins says.  "It would probably be a public auction. I think the law dictates how that occurs with the Tax Commission."

The investigation has only just begun. It's not clear right now if any more stockpiles of contraband tobacco exist, or if any of the smokes have already been sold in retail stores. It's also not known who smuggled the products in under the radar.

"We pretty well have an idea of the ownership," Pickering says.

As of Wednesday afternoon, no arrests had yet been made in what may be the biggest contraband tobacco seizure in U.S. history.

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