Major cigarette trafficking ring busted in NC
The bust of a North Carolina-based cigarette smuggling ring put dozens of people behind bars, officials say.
Federal authorities say suspects made more than $12 million in profit as they conspired to move more than 10,000 cigarettes over state lines.
“Officials said it was one of the largest multi-state crime organizations on the east coast,” reports ABC11, The News & Observer’s media partner.
The scheme came as the difference “between the cost of a carton of cigarettes in North Carolina and the cost of the same carton in the northeast rose as high as $54 per carton,” according to a federal indictment.
Those involved are accused of buying cigarettes from FreeCo Inc. in Cumberland County and reselling them illegally in New York, WNCN reports.
The cigarettes were transported north via a network of rental cars that stopped in Virginia, the government says.
U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr. says authorities started investigating when they noticed bulk cigarette sales near Fayetteville and large amounts of cash-toting cars “stopped along Interstate 95,” WRAL reports.
Officials indicted “at least 31 people” on charges of tax fraud and arrested more than two dozen suspects, WNCN reports.
Federal and local agencies participated in the law enforcement effort, called Operation Southern Lights, according to a news release.