Attorney General Sam Olens announced that an 18 month prosecution of an extensive tobacco trafficking ring spanning several counties concluded yesterday. The successful prosecution has resulted in the collection of more than $1.3 million in unpaid tobacco taxes and the sentencing of 49 defendants.
Assistant Attorney General Greg Lohmeier prosecuted the case on behalf of the State of Georgia, which involved 22 indictments or accusations covering Hall, Cobb, DeKalb, and Gwinnett Counties.
“This successful prosecution is the result of a collaborative effort among local, state and federal law enforcement,” said Olens. “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. I applaud prosecutor Greg Lohmeier for his swift and aggressive prosecution of this complex case.”
“The illegal cigarette trade is a serious threat to government revenues,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Christopher Shaefer. “This case demonstrates the cooperative efforts needed to combat large scale tobacco trafficking. ATF remains committed to protecting the citizens of Georgia by eliminating the illegal distribution of tobacco products.”
“Our Alcohol and Tobacco Division worked hard alongside ATF and local law enforcement to build a solid case that has now been successfully adjudicated by the Attorney General,” said Revenue Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie. “Trafficking counterfeit and untaxed tobacco will not be tolerated in Georgia and our agents are constantly working to ensure that the competitive landscape for the tobacco market is fair.”
A three year investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Atlanta Field Division uncovered the illegal tobacco trafficking ring. The defendants were arrested on and shortly after October 19, 2011, for violations of state law involving the illegal possession, sale and distribution of contraband cigarettes. The defendants avoided the payment of state excise taxes on cigarettes by knowingly purchasing untaxed cigarettes which had counterfeit excise tax stamps. In total, 50 defendants were arrested.
Yesterday, the final defendant, Shaukat Sayani, pled guilty in DeKalb County Superior Court. Judge Gail Flake sentenced him to five years probation, with the 11 months to be served under house arrest. He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $8821.00. Sayani owns Sunny Wholesale with locations in Decatur and Forest Park.
The arrests and prosecution were part of a joint federal and state law enforcement effort between the ATF Atlanta Field Division, Georgia Attorney General’s Office, Georgia Department of Revenue, the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office, the Lawrenceville Police Department and the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department.