Police in Newark arrested Merysol Mendez-Reyes, 51, of Newark on Tuesday, for forgery and the sale of cigarettes without a required New Jersey State taxation stamp authorities said in a press release.
According to authorities, at approximately 9:30 p.m., officers responded to the area of Highland and Delavan avenues on a call of shots fired.
Police said a male victim stated that he had fled from the scene of a carjacking in the area and that one of the suspects, among three unidentified black males, had shot at him using a handgun.
As part of their investigation, detectives determined that Merysol Mendez-Reyes, the victim of the carjacking, was also a suspect in a counterfeit operation according to police.
As a result of their findings, Newark Police Major Crimes Unit detectives contacted the New Jersey Treasury Department’s Office of Criminal Investigation.
Treasury Special Agents responded to the scene.
Police said a search warrant for the premises was applied for and was issued by the Essex County Superior Court.
Execution of the search warrant resulted in the seizure of: 75,736 counterfeit New Jersey cigarette tax stamps valued at $204,487.20; 8,445 New York State / New York City counterfeit tax stamps; 402.8 cartons of cigarettes bearing Virginia cigarette tax stamps or no tax stamps, as well as 123 cartons of cigarettes bearing counterfeit New Jersey cigarette tax stamps, valued in total at $47,101.16; tools and paraphernalia known to be used to remove and affix cigarette tax stamps; various financial and other records and ledgers; and $18,722.00 in U.S. Currency. Additionally two vehicles were seized as part of the investigation authorities said.
Investigators from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and Special Agents from U.S. Homeland Security Investigations aided in the recovery and processing of evidence at the scene.
Mendez-Reyes has been charged with seven, indictable (3rd and 4th degree), criminal charges concerning the counterfeit stamps, contraband cigarettes, and distribution of same.
A civil penalty of $1,000.00 per carton of cigarettes possessed may also be imposed in addition to any criminal penalties resulting from a conviction.
The New Jersey Cigarette Tax on a pack of cigarettes is $2.70.
The tax in Virginia is just $0.30 per pack. Cigarette traffickers purchase large volumes of cigarettes in low-tax states like Virginia, transport them to higher-tax states like New Jersey and re-sell them—taking advantage of the price difference to generate a criminal profit.
This form of Criminal enterprise is grounds for both criminal prosecution with additional civil penalties.
Interstate 195 is a known as "tobacco road", a smuggler’s route known from the Carolinas to Maine.
Police said some traffickers remove the origin state tax stamp and replace it with a counterfeit tax stamp of the state where they intend to re-sell the cigarettes.
This makes detection by the average individual unlikely. NJ Treasury Special Agents are recognized experts in the identification of such counterfeit stamps and in the investigation of criminal trafficking and distribution networks.
The carjacking incident involving Merysol Mendez-Reyes remains under active investigation.
“I commend the Newark Police Division personnel who investigated this incident and am most appreciative of the cooperation of the NJ Treasury Department, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and the Office of Homeland Security,” stated Newark Public Safety Director Anthony F. Ambrose.
“This type of incident, involving counterfeit cigarettes—commonly known as loosies—has the potential of creating an even greater quality of life issue for both the public and the police.”
These charges are merely accusations lodged against Reyes.
The suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.