As of Friday, April 20, 2012
© Copyright 2013
Gwinnett Daily Post
LAWRENCEVILLE -- The case against an alleged tax-skirting, tobacco-trafficking ring that officials have called "organized crime" entered a new phase this week when a Gwinnett County grand jury indicted 41 people.
Indictments handed down in Gwinnett Superior Court include charges of racketeering, possession of cigarettes with counterfeit stamps and possession of unstamped cigarettes. Charges for the suspects -- mostly gas station owners or tobacco wholesalers -- varied based on each person's role in a scheme that spanned multiple Georgia counties, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens's office said Friday.
Olens has said the ring defrauded Georgia out of millions in tobacco tax revenue.
After a three-year investigation led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Atlanta division, 50 arrests were announced in October. The suspects were accused of obtaining counterfeit tax stamps for cigarettes and cigars, then selling them at "tax paid prices" to net substantially higher profits.
The Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office, Lawrenceville Police Department and the Sheriff's Department assisted in the roundup. While many arrests were local, other hotbeds included the Macon area and regions "north of Gwinnett County," officials said. One suspect was tracked down in Guam.
One man connected to the ring, Cajetan Ferio Fernandez, a former employee of an alleged contraband cigarette trafficker, pleaded guilty in Gwinnett Superior Court earlier this year to one count of possession of cigarettes with counterfeit stamps. He was sentenced to one year in confinement.
A DeKalb County grand jury has returned indictments on three other suspects.