Del. Supreme Court Upholds Conviction for Possession of Contraba - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. Supreme Court Upholds Conviction for Possession of Contraband Cigarettes

(Photo: MGN) (Photo: MGN)
DOVER, Del.– The Delaware Supreme Court this week upheld the 2013 conviction of two New York men convicted in a scheme to smuggle a large quantity of contraband cigarettes through Delaware, the state Department of Justice announced.

The court's ruling stemmed from a Sept. 2, 2012 routine traffic stop when Marco Hassan and Sayel Ghabayen were pulled over by Delaware River and Bay Authority police. Justice officials said that during the stop, the officer observed a large quantity of cigarettes in the vehicle, and a search revealed 2,760 packs containing 55,200 individual cigarettes as well as $4,503 in cash in Ghabayen’s pockets. Officials said the cigarettes had been purchased in Virginia and bore tax stamps from that state, and the men indicated they were transporting the product to New York City. 

Neither Marco Hassan nor Sayel Ghabayen possessed cigarette wholesale or retail licenses, officials said. As a result the two men were charged with possession of untaxed cigarettes and third-degree conspiracy. The defendants were convicted of the charges in Superior Court last September, were each fined $202, and were ordered to forfeit the 55,200 confiscated cigarettes.

Hassan and Ghabayen challenged the constitutionality of the contraband cigarette statute in Superior Court, and ultimately to the Delaware Supreme Court after the Superior Court ruled against them.  The high court held oral argument in the case last week and in an opinion issued this week the justices upheld the Superior Court’s decision which affirmed the convictions and the constitutionality of the Delaware law.

Delaware law prohibits an individual from possessing more than 10 packs of cigarettes, unless that person is a licensed wholesaler transporting the product or a licensed retailer offering the product for sale.  In addition, before cigarettes can be transported for sale in Delaware or nearly every other state they must display a tax stamp that demonstrates the required cigarette tax has been paid to the state in which they will be sold.

Officials said cigarette traffickers, particularly along the Virginia to New York corridor, take advantage of the significant difference in states’ tobacco tax rates to purchase cigarettes from retail outlets in low tax states such as Virginia which charges a 30-cent per pack tax. Traffickers then smuggle them for sale through the black market in states with higher taxes, and correspondingly higher retail prices, such as New York City, which officials say charges $5.85 per pack in taxes ($4.35 state tax plus $1.50 city tax). 

Increasingly, organized criminal organizations turn to these activities to generate profits on the black market to fund criminal enterprises, officials said.

To read the Supreme Court's full opinion on the case, click here.

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