Cigarette smuggling in Maryland is on the rise, according to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.
Police confiscated 10,000 packs of alleged contraband cigarettes during a traffic stop near White Marsh. More than 3,100 packs were seized in a stop involving a Honda Accord two weeks ago.
The state comptroller said his office has prosecuted more cases of cigarette smuggling "in the last nine months than we have in the previous five years."
In Baltimore County, there have been 20 formal cigarette smuggling investigations since mid-2006 resulting in the arrest of 28 individuals. Twenty-one of those arrests have been in this year alone, according to statistics provided by the state comptroller's office.
The arrests have resulted in the seizure of more than 100,000 packs of cigarettes valued at $600,000.
"It's become the go to crime for not just for petty criminals, which it used to be, but for big time gangs," Franchot said. "When we interview them and say why are you engaging in all this cigarette smuggling they say there's more money in it than we get from heroin and the penalties are insignificant."
A carton of cigarettes that costs $41 in Virginia, where taxes run about 30 cents a pack, can be sold in Maryland for $62 and in New York for $112.
Franchot praised enforcement efforts in Baltimore County.
Shellenberger said cases of cigarette smuggling have "doubled over the last several years" primarily because of the county's proximity to the I-95 corridor.
"The penalties aren't great," Shellenberger said. "We have been fairly successful in getting some decent fines in these cases."
Of the 28 people arrested in the county, six people were found guilty of transporting contraband cigarettes—a crime that carries a penalty of a $50 fine per carton and or up to two years in jail, according to the comptroller's office.
Eight others were found guilty of possessing the untaxed cigarettes—a crime punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and or up to one year in jail, according to the comptroller.
One case was dismissed and and 13 others await court dates.