By Alexis Stevens
More than $1.3 million in unpaid tobacco taxes was collected and 49 defendants sentenced during an extensive crackdown that spanned several counties and lasted years, the state Attorney General said Wednesday. The final defendant pleaded guilty Tuesday.
A three-year investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Atlanta Field Division uncovered the illegal tobacco trafficking ring, and the defendants were arrested on or shortly after Oct. 19, 2011. All were charged with violations of state law involving the illegal possession, sale and distribution of contraband cigarettes, Attorney General Sam Olens said.
“This is pure and simple, organized crime,” Scott Sweetow, Special Agent in Charge with ATF, said at the time. “When you have millions of dollars at stake, we get very concerned with those millions of dollars.”
The defendants avoided the payment of state taxes on cigarettes by knowingly purchasing untaxed cigarettes which had counterfeit excise tax stamps. In total, 50 defendants were arrested.
Tuesday, the final defendant, Shaukat Sayani, pleaded guilty in DeKalb County Superior Court and was sentenced to five years probation, with 11 months to be served under house arrest, Olens said in an emailed press release. Sayani was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $8,821.
“This successful prosecution is the result of a collaborative effort among local, state and federal law enforcement,” Olens said. “It sends a strong message that law enforcement in Georgia will work together to detect and prosecute those who cheat by not paying tobacco taxes.”
The Georgia Department of Revenue, Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office, Lawrenceville Police Department and Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department also assisted with the arrests and prosecutions.