Virginia Cigarette Smuggling Sting Yields No Arrests After 19 Months


Death and taxes.

Earlier this year, Hampton, Virginia police shut down a 19-month cigarette smuggling sting operation because officers are suspected of the inappropriate use of funds and personal property. The operation yielded no arrests or criminal charges. According to the Daily Press:

For the past seven months, three of the police officers involved with the undercover operation have been under scrutiny. Those officers, including a major who is one of the police department's highest-ranking officers, were put on administrative leave with pay on Feb. 23 following allegations of misconduct.

Officials declined to press criminal charges following a Virginia State Police investigation, but a separate city investigation is ongoing.

Launched in June 2010, the operation was originally a joint investigation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), but Hampton officers discovered an ATF agent (who had originally approached them about setting up the sting) was selling cigarettes on the side. The ATF withdrew from the case, and in September 2011 its agent was sentenced to over three years in jail.

Cigarette smuggling is profitable because wide disparities in state and local taxes mean cigarettes can cost $5 (or more) per pack in high-tax states like New York and Illinois than in low-tax Virginia.

In Hampton, law enforcement set up shop in a warehouse and put ads online indicating that their cigarettes, which were purchased from Phillip Morris at a special discount available to the ATF, were untaxed—meaning even more profit for smugglers.

Though exact figures were not available, it appears millions of dollars worth of cigarettes were sold onto the black market. Between January 2011 and August 2012, the Daily Press identified $3.15 million in operational expenditures including:

nine vehicles; XM-Sirius satellite radio subscriptions; and plane flights, hotel accommodations, steakhouse dinners, "show tickets" and other costs related to what the city says were training trips to New York, New Jersey, Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas.

The documents show several "cash withdrawals"—sometimes thousands of dollars at a time—from the account, with no additional details provided to the Daily Press about the withdrawals.

[Law enforcement] spent $394,341 for nine new vehicles, at an average price tag of $43,815.

Hampton officials say that funding for the operation, with the exception of officer salaries, did not come from Hampton taxpayers and that the investigation may yet result in charges in other jurisdictions where law enforcement collaborated with Hampton police.

Reason readers will recall that the ATF unleashed 250 million cigarettes onto the black market between 2007 and 2010. That apparently did not stop cigarette bootlegging.

NEXT: TSA Hired Priest Defrocked for Allegedly Molesting Girls

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Shouldn’t the high tax states be the ones trying to stop the smuggling? Why is Virginia even involved in the investigation?

    1. Look at that shiny object over there!

    2. the locals were working w/ the feds probably to get grant funds, cutting edge military weaponry and comms equipment, and to play dressup. then the feds backed out b/c they were corrupt. now the locals are just going through the motions.

    3. That’s what I was wondering. It’s like hello! How damn dimwitted can these people possibly be?

  2. Off Topic: I live in the most bell weather part of Ohio, Columbus Metro. I have 60 Gary signs, but now Im reconsidering for Romney. I actually live in a place where my vote and influence could change the election…

    I need help, Reasonoids.

    1. Your vote and influence cannot change the election. Try understanding statistics sometime. Your vote is statistically utterly meaningless.

      1. Nah, it will be close here in this liberal hellhole.

        1. So you have decided to never understand statistics. I’m not surprised.

          1. ” I have 60 Gary signs”

            If im going for Gary, im going all in. I would put these signs everywhere, thus thousands upon thousands would see the name “Gary Johnson”…

            1. Thus making a “statistical” influence.

              1. But why would you want Romney to win? What does he offer that you agree with so strongly?

                1. He’s not the incumbent. Obama and the Dems need to be punished. Even if Romney sucks just as bad you’re throwing out the arrogant incumbent and replacing him with a candidate who is not trusted or liked by his own voters, much less the opposition and who will be closely scrutinized by the press.

                  I still plan not to vote and encourage others to do the same but the above is the best case you can make for Romney.

                2. I have two and a half reasons:

                  1) Obamacare repeal. I believe the only way this has a shot is with a Republican sweep. They wouldn’t have to take the 60-seat majority to do it (which keeps gridlock alive for the rest of the stuff they might do) due to reconciliation – the same way it was passed.

                  2) I believe Romney controlling the massive bloated executive regulatory apparatus would be slightly better.

                  2.5) Schadenfreude. I know more hard-core liberals than I know hard-core conservatives, and I respect their views much less.

                  This did not amount to enough to get me to vote for him (even if my vote would hand him the election). Let’s just say that a Romney victory would make me happier than an Obama victory.

      2. We can pile snowflakes on this roof forever, guys. Each snowflake is statistically utterly meaningless.

        1. That doesn’t even make any sense. Have you been taking lessons from Tulpa?

          1. For the purposes of designing a roof, one snowflake is effectively weightless. However, a large number of snowflakes causes the roof to cave in. There is a number that is one less than the number required to cause the failure. The next snowflake to fall turns out to be rather important, don’t you think?

            1. If you will never, ever see enough snow to even remotely reach failure weight, it turns out to not be important at all.

              1. How can you live in the US and believe that political change is so unlikely that it borders on a physical impossibility?

                1. Is that a rhetorical question?

                  1. In less than three hundred years we’ve seen a rather wide variety of political views be dominant. In Europe the variety has been even wider. That change isn’t completely random; intentional human action has a lot to do with it.

                    Every interaction you have with someone else has an effect. We have no idea what the critical value is for political thought – some have theorized that in some cases winning as little as 10% of a population can cause a sweeping change through the rest of it.

                    You can do nothing if you want, but that is worth exactly zero. On the other hand, even an effort as small as a vote does something. You can take infinitesimal values and aggregate them into non-trivial results; the same is not true for zero.

                    Actually, I take that back. Doing nothing actually has negative value, since it yields the field completely to those whom we should be opposing. It would be great if doing nothing guaranteed the status quo, but it can get worse and there are plenty of people trying actively to get us there.

                    1. Sorry, dude, I understand what you’re trying to say, but I don’t delude myself that making impotent gestures does anything other than be impotent. We just have fundamentally different ways of looking at the world, I guess.

                    2. I won’t try to convince you otherwise, but why bother to try and share your impotence? Why say anything at all?

                    3. Well, to be precise, I’m sharing your impotence, and you don’t seem to like it very much. I will admit to being in a shitty mood today, so maybe I’m being an asshole*, but telling the truth doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing to do to me.

                      * more than usual

            2. I only vote one snowflake.

          2. The disease of rationality is spreading. Mwwaaahahaha!

    2. Here’s my advice: Ignore Episiarch and vote for Johnson.

      1. By all means, vote your conscience, ProL. Just don’t pretend it has any effect.

        1. It increases the vote totals for Johnson in Ohio by one.

          1. I have enough signs to potentially influence thousands, is the point.

            1. Then continue to influence. Don’t do it for Johnson. Do it to annoy Episiarch.

              1. Vote Johnson! Because Episiarch is a dick!!!

                1. That might just be a winning slogan.

                  1. I’m writing in “Episiarch is a dick” on my ballot.

            2. Signs don’t influence shit or Ron Paul would be the nominee.

              1. Gary has no name recognition. Signs give name recognition

      2. Surely you don’t need a prebate check that bad ProL. Can’t you get by with just the EBT card and Obamaphone?

        1. Don’t oppress me for my non-Romney vote, dude. If you keep it up, I won’t vote straight GOP for Congress.

    3. I’m voting for Gary Johnson, but I want Obama to win. Reason: I don’t believe there will be any meaningful difference between Obama and Romney, but if Romney wins and the economy continues to circle (or go down) the toilet, it will be blamed on massive deregulation and austerity. It has been proven repeatedly that the press can talk themselves into almost any delusion they want. You get the nation’s media simultaneously hammering on Austerity and Deregulation, and it will simply become so.

      If Obama wins, they won’t have anyone to blame but themselves, which could usher in a new era when Biden runs in 2016. An era where a real libertarian candidate can pull as much as 2.5% of the vote. Revolution, here we come.

      1. No, then they’ll blame the Republican Congress. This sort of thinking won’t get you where you want to go.

      2. They’ll still blame ‘deregulation and austerity’. They’s say that deregulation is so bad that even a messiah like Obama couldn’t completely fix the mess created by deregulaters in eight years a lifetime.

  3. Looks like the ATF’s actions were responsible for stopping cigarette smuggling. I’d say we owe them an apology for all the bad treatment, guys.

    1. Funny, it looks to me like the ATF put a shitload of cigarettes (extra-profitable ones, at that) into black market channels.

      And, inevitably:

      Officials declined to press criminal charges

      1. I feel like I should mention this was an attempt at a joke.

        1. RC is in his serious mood. Most of us enter this mood as we near a presidential election.

          As election time approaches, libertarians become depressed, being faced by their continued political underclass status. Elections keep us reminded of that. After the election, senses of humor return, and all will be well.

          1. hear,hear

  4. …officers are suspected of the inappropriate use of funds and personal property.

    There’s no patch for that.

    1. We don’t patch features.

  5. There was a discussion about cats in a previous thread.



    Incidentally this justifies the existence of hipsters by about 14 million fold.

  6. Nont bad. I kept wanting it to not be funny, but it confoundingly kept on being funny.

    1. In response to JC.

  7. You guys worry about cigarettes. It’s a distraction from the truth.

    1. We’re not worrying about cigarettes. However, the government of Virginia and several other states seem to be very excited about them. Apparently, some people may have been buying, selling and smoking cigarettes that Virginia didn’t first get its mitts on. This seems to greatly upset policy makers– not being part of the transaction, that is.

  8. Free markets and fast growth are well and good, but they won’t make you happy.

    1. In a refinement dating from 1995, Easterlin found no relationship between income and happiness above an average per capita income level of between $15,000 and $20,000.

      What really, really excites policy makers about these studies, is they take it as a green light to manage the economy and confiscate any wealth above the $20,000 mark. Because it doesn’t make you happier…

      funny how “moar revenue” always seems to make the government happier.

  9. Any Gary Johnson supporters in Oceanside? It would be awesome to get a Gary Johnson sign up next to a Terry Johnson sign. For example, next to the shuttered Union 76 at the corner of Mission and Canyon. Or I could get a Terry sign and we could put them both up near the pier, mission, or Healing Temple.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.