41 individuals arrested last October in connection with a cigarette-trafficking ring were indicted today on a variety of charges by a Gwinnett County grand jury. At the time of their arrests last year, officials from a variety of agencies including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Georgia Department of Revenue, accused the men—mainly gas station owners or tobacco wholesalers—of costing the state millions of dollars in lost tax revenues. The investigation into the scheme was conducted over a four-year period by federal and state law enforcement statewide.
The scheme allegedly devised by the defendants involved producing and using counterfeit tax stamps required for the sale of cigarettes and cigars. The price of these stamps is incorporated into the retail price of the products and paid by purchasers. By using counterfeit tax stamps, merchants are able to sell tobacco products at the normal rate but to keep the value that would have gone to the government for themselves. The arrests were primarily made in Lawrenceville and Macon, Georgia, though some were arrested in other cities, and one in Guam. They include both merchants—primarily convenience store owners—as well as wholesalers who allegedly distributed the illegal tobacco and counterfeit stamps.
The charges brought against the men vary depending on the specific acts they are alleged to have committed. Some are charged with possession of unstamped cigarettes, others with possession of cigarettes with counterfeit stamps. Additionally, a number of racketeering charges have been brought. Racketeering is an extremely serious charge that may carry heavy fines and long sentences. Additionally, racketeering trials often provide prosecutors with a number of procedural and evidentiary advantages, especially when conspiracy is alleged. The ability to try multiple defendants together and to admit hearsay statements from alleged coconspirators usually makes convictions easier to obtain.
A legal defense team experienced in complex criminal cases is essential when facing serious charges such as racketeering. Our criminal defense lawyers have obtained outstanding results in all types of federal and state criminal cases ranging from fraud and conspiracy to drug trafficking and violent crime. We have obtained numerous acquittals from jury trials and have been successful in obtaining dismissals of charges for clients accused of even major crimes.