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Western New York trails pack in contraband tobacco seizures

New York State’s Cigarette Strike Force seized 53,307 cartons of contraband cigarettes and 261,220 untaxed cigars in 2016 – mostly outside Western New York.

Just 644 cartons of contraband cigarettes, about 1 percent of the state’s total, were seized in Western New York. And authorities confiscated 1,635 cigars in the region, less than 1 percent of the state's total.

In contrast, some 8,694 cartons of contraband cigarettes and 27,200 cigars were seized in the Finger Lakes. Nearly 7,500 packs were seized in the North Country. And more than 32,000 packs were seized in New York City.

Statewide, the combined street value of the confiscated items totaled approximately $5.6 million, according to a release Tuesday from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The seizures represent a 117 percent increase in illegal tobacco confiscations, his office said.

Since its creation in 2014, the Cigarette Strike Force each year has increased the number of inspections and seizures, and arrested more of those smugglers trying to evade the state tobacco tax, Cuomo said.

"New York has zero tolerance for this illicit activity and we will continue to do everything in our power to crack down on this behavior and stop these smugglers right in their tracks," Cuomo said in the release. "Our message is simple: If you participate in cigarette smuggling, you will be caught and you will be held accountable."

The Strike Force, which includes state, local, and federal agencies, also uncovered nearly 130,000 counterfeit cigarette tax stamps which resulted in 100 arrests in 2016.

“Contraband cigarette traffickers attempt to maximize their profits at the public’s expense. Working closely with our Strike Force partners, our special agents will continue to leverage their unique authorities to bring these criminal groups to justice,” said James C. Sperio, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Buffalo.

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