HARTFORD, CT—It was the largest haul of untaxed tobacco products the state of Connecticut has ever found.
It was found in a warehouse owned by KDV Discounts LLC on Poland Street in Bridgeport.
The five-month investigation by the Department of Revenue Services led to the arrest of 10 people and the seizure of more than $50,000 cash and $234,000 in illegal tobacco, according to Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin Sullivan.
“Multiple distributor and retail arrests have been made,” Sullivan said.
Pavan M. Vaswani of West Haven, Carlos Beras of Waterbury, Sayed Ahmed of West Haven, Sheik Hossain of West Haven; Joshua Ortiz of Shelton; Quendri Ortiz of Bridgeport, Mohamed Farook of Naugatuck, Arti Patel of Wallingford, Prashant Patel of Naugatuck, and Abdulkadar Shaikh of Stamford were arrested and charged with possession and sale of untaxed tobacco and conspiracy to possess or sell untaxed tobacco.
Sullivan said the distributor and his employees were driving tobacco in from Pennsylvania and Illinois and then passing the products along to 450 retailers in Fairfield and New Haven county who made $13 million in illegal sales.
Those $13 million in illegal sales cost Connecticut $6 million in sales and excise taxes.
“This was a very, very big illegal business,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the investigation is continuing and it’s possible more arrests will be made.
He said the penalty in these cases is “too light.”
The penalty is fines up to $2,000 and up to two years in prison or both, as well as sales permit revocation and fines.
“Sales of illegal, untaxed tobacco is a serious crime,” Sullivan said.
He said Connecticut won’t allow “criminals to profit from these illegal activities,” because it makes it tougher for law-abiding businesses who aren’t “stealing from taxpayers” to compete.
But “the penalties are light and the risk is light,” Sullivan admitted. “It’s actually become more desirous as a crime than selling drugs where the penalties are much higher and the return on the item is much lower.”
He said they didn’t approach the legislature this year about increasing the penalty.
However, they reached out to the judges and prosecutors that when they ask for a warrant it’s because they’ve done their work and it shouldn’t be treated as a minor crime.