A Brooklyn tanker driver was arrested last week while trying to smuggle thousands of gallons of untaxed gasoline into Queens, the district attorney's office and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance said.
Jennadi Okestin, 32, of 8841 20th Ave. was charged with possession of forged documents as well as other tax, vehicle and traffic violations, Queens DA Richard Brown said. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.
According to the criminal complaint, Okestin was followed by a senior investigator for the Department of Taxation and Finance as he crossed the George Washington Bridge in a 1988 Kenworth tractor trailer. The investigator tailed Okestin through the Bronx and Queens, then approached the driver when he stopped just over the Queens line at Rockaway Turnpike and East Avenue in Lawrence, L.I., it said. The truck was carrying about 8,000 gallons of motor fuel that Okestin had purchased in Newark.
The driver was arrested when he failed to produce documents required by law for the fuel and a subsequent search of the vehicle revealed two bogus fuel manifests, the complaint said.
Neither Okestin nor the fuel distribution company he worked for, Zan USA Inc., of 410 Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, could be reached for comment.
Investigators believe Okestin intended to sell the gasoline at service stations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, where, due to higher taxes, pump prices can be as much as 50 cents a gallon higher than in New Jersey.
In a statement, Brown slammed gasoline smuggling as "a criminal enterprise that rips off government and taxpayers alike. It is a highly profitable tax-free cash business that cheats taxpayers who must dip into their pockets to pay higher taxes and the government as well by fueling an underground economy which does not pay much-needed state and city sales taxes."
Although Okestin is the only individual charged so far, a law enforcement source said the action was part of "an ongoing investigation and much larger operation into fuel smuggling and Russian organized crime, traditionally the group that has dominated this illegal enterprise."
The Queens district attorney's office and the Department of Taxation and Finance declined to provide details of the larger investigation. Neither would say whether it involved Zan USA.
Department of Tax and Finance Commissioner Arthur J. Roth promised continued strong action.
"The Department of Taxation and Finance will work vigorously with prosecutors such as District Attorney Brown to bring bootleggers to justice," he said in a statement. "In addition to depriving government of the revenue needed to provide critical public services, bootlegging often fuels other criminal enterprises. Whether it is petroleum, illegal cigarettes or bootleg booze, we will get illicit contraband off of the streets."
©2003 Community News Group
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