by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News
A Kenmore woman’s plea bargain last week is the first conviction after the feds busted a ring of cigarette smugglers.
Han Bui had more than 2000 cartons of contraband cigarettes in her home, and $115,500 in cash, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided it in July of 2011.
Bui’s plea of “guilty” to a charge of Trafficking in Contraband Cigarettes comes as the State of Washington issued a report showing a record number of cigarettes consumed in Washington are from the black market.
The report by the Washington Department of Revenue estimates that 35.5 percent of the cigarettes smoked in Washington are untaxed contraband. The report estimated that the state lost $376 million in taxes from the sale of illegal, untaxed cigarettes.
“They make easy money. It’s not right,” said Tina Chang, a tobacco store clerk who says the cigarette smugglers are doing tremendous harm to honest merchants. She says her store, Tobacco Street in Seattle, has lost half of its cigarette sales in the past few years.
Some of that is due to the State’s per pack tax hike which, at more than $3 a pack, places Washington among the states with the highest cigarette tax. But Chang also blames smugglers for the decline in cigarette sales.
“We lost a lot of money,” she said.
In her plea agreement, Bui admits to cigarette smuggling that cost taxpayers $459,942.
Authorities say organized smuggling groups targeted Washington when the cigarette tax rose sharply in 2010.
Officials say that much of the contraband is also brought in the state by average smokers, who simply cross the border to states with lower tax rates.