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DA: 5 trafficked in illegal untaxed cigarettes

Nearly $1 million in cash was seized and more than 100 cases of cigarettes confiscated after a year-long investigation into untaxed cigarette trafficking that resulted in five arrests of suspects who "evaded paying $3 million in potential tax revenue," the Nassau County district attorney said Friday.

"We caught these defendants red-handed, trafficking untaxed cigarettes and cheating taxpayers out of millions in lost revenue for health care, education, job training, and other essential services," District Attorney Rice said in a prepared statement.

A multi-agency investigation began a year ago, and included efforts by her office, the New York City police department the Queens district attorney's office, Homeland Security agents, and members of the Food and Drug Administration.

Five Queens residents were charged with evasion of cigarette and tobacco product tax, a class E felony. They each face up to four years in prison if convicted, Rice said.

During the past year, the five defendants, operating largely out of a storage unit on Stewart Avenue in Garden City, were involved in the purchase or sale to an undercover officer of more than $2.3 million of cigarettes, 1,200 cases, worth more than $6.4 million, prosecutors said.

"The defendants then transported the cigarettes to residences in Queens and Brooklyn and sold them to local retailers or on the street," prosecutors said in the statement.

Rice's office noted that "a properly taxed carton of cigarettes in New York is about $90. The defendants were paying approximately $32 per carton, representing a potential loss to New York taxpayers of $3 million."

More than 100 cases of cigarettes and more than $958,000 in cash were seized, authorities said.

The five arrested were: Duan Jun Zhang, 38, of Elmhurst; Fei Yin, 24, of Bayside; and Maerong Gao, 57, Wai Ming Lui, 46, and Sauha Candy Lam, 35, all of Flushing, prosecutors said.

Their cases are being handled in First District Court.

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