BY PHILIP DEVENCENTIS
OAKLAND — Police seized more than 60 cartons of contraband cigarettes from a local convenience store, whose owner has been charged with selling them.
Jitendra Hirpara, 46, of Catherine Avenue in Mahwah, who owns Oakland Mini Mart, at 453 Ramapo Valley Road, was arrested on Feb. 22 following an investigation that stemmed from reports of customers who suspected illegal cigarette sales.
Hirpara was released on his own recognizance and was arraigned in municipal court on Feb. 23. The case was transferred to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.
Police Lt. Christian Eldridge said members of the department’s detective bureau, including Detective Bart Pagerie, bought cigarettes undercover. The investigation revealed that the cigarettes, of assorted brands, were sold bearing fraudulent tax stamps, he said.
Eldridge said police were assisted during the investigation by the state Department of the Treasury Division of Taxation.
A cigarette tax stamp is a heat-transferred seal on the cellophane wrapper of a pack of cigarettes proving payment of the state’s cigarette tax. The tax is collected from licensed distributors who get cigarettes directly from manufacturers. In New Jersey, the tax rate is $2.70 per pack of 20 cigarettes.
Police Detective Sgt. Robert DeBoer said Hirpara would not divulge where he bought the cigarettes but that he claimed he purchased them a week before his arrest. However, according to the customers who reported to police, the illegal cigarette sales may have been going on for several months, he said.
A call to the store was not returned. Police said it was still open last week.
Hirpara was charged with third-degree possession of 100 or more packs of cigarettes bearing counterfeit tax stamps, fourth-degree intent to evade cigarette taxes and fourth-degree sale of contraband cigarettes.
The third-degree crime carries a jail sentence of three to five years, and the fourth-degree crimes carry jail sentences of up to 18 months.