Report: Cigarette Smugglers Busted in Chinatown Bus Scheme
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A cigarette trafficking operation that used Chinatown buses as proverbial drug mules has been busted by the authorities.
It was an arbitrage opportunity perpetrated by out-of-state opportunists who bought cheap smokes in Virginia – where taxes are way lower – and shipped north for little cost. In the belly of the unregulated Chinatown bus system.
In fact, a reported ten thousand cartons of illegal cigarettes were flooding New York City every week, according to the New York Post.
The alleged ringleaders ran a tobacco shop in Virginia, where taxes are far lower, and would buy large quantities of smokes at about $40 a carton, said city Sheriff Joseph Fucito.
That translates to $4 per pack. In the boroughs, cigarettes sell for upwards of $14 a pack.
The cigarettes were purchased by city retailers who would sell them at a fraction of the price of legitimate smokes.
The two alleged ringleaders, Qiuyue Chen, 35, and Fu Chen, 41, were charged in Virginia last week. Both are Virginia residents along with Ihab Abou El Ela, 43, who was also arrested along with Song Zheng, 37, of Brooklyn.
Those working and/or living in the vicinity of Chinatown probably grew accustomed to seeing the contraband deliveries transpire in broad daylight. We exposed one such alleged hand-off on Essex Street last year (near Canal), in which crates of cigarettes were loaded into an unmarked van, then likely hauled to bodegas in the vicinity.