A contraband cigarette case with ties to Independence has resulted in a $1 million fine and other sanctions in New York.
In February, A.J.’s Wholesale LLC of Irving, N.Y., pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and traffic in contraband cigarettes. The company admitted ordering contraband cigarettes and causing them to be transported to New York, knowing that the $4.35-per-pack excise tax would not be paid, a violation of state and federal law.
On Friday, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri announced that U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes has ordered AJ’s to pay a $1 million fine, forfeit the proceeds of the offense – $221,550 – and pay $535 million in restitution to the state of New York.
Last August, 17 people in eight states and two countries were indicted in what federal authorities describe as a conspiracy to sell hundreds of thousands of cartons of cigarettes on which excise taxes had not been paid.
Most of the cigarettes, valued at millions of dollars, passed through a warehouse in Independence on their way to New York, where they were generally sold on Indian reservations, authorities say. Craig and Nicole Sheffler, both of Independence, were among those indicted. Authorities listed Craig Sheffler as the owner of Cheap Tobacco Wholesale in Independence.
Authorities also say Sheffler bought large quantities of cigarettes from undercover agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
On Friday, the attorney’s office also announced another guilty plea stemming the same investigation. Robert Dean Bell, 45, of Blanchard, Oklahoma, pleaded guilty to federal charges of possessing and transporting contraband cigarettes. He admitted that between August 2011 and January 2012 he transported 17,400 cartons of untaxed Marlboro and Newport cigarettes, costing the state of Oklahoma $275,163 in excise taxes.
In May 2013, the owner of a smoke shop on the Tonawanda Seneca Indian Reservation in western New York pleaded guilty in Kansas City to federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and contraband cigarette trafficking, also part of this investigation.