43 people on more than 743 charges of cigarette trafficking, banking fraud and money laundering. The charges say they sold the cigarettes on the black market in regions like New York City, where high taxes make illicit smokes a relative bargain.
The FBI’s Organized Crime Squad uncovered a major cigarette smuggling operation with over 150 suspects across multiple states, the Washington Post reported.
The group is alleged to have used credit cards to rent cars, but withdrew money from their bank accounts before the transaction was completed, preventing rent-a-car companies from collecting the due payments. Most of the suspects are originally from Mauritania, with others from Morocco, Egypt and Iraq, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported.
The proceeds were allegedly used to purchase high-end vehicles, but police say it remains unclear what much of the money was used for.
Police are investigating whether terrorism was the target of the funds.
Of the 43 suspects indicted, 19 have been arrested. The rest remain at large.
Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers