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Rafea Al-Nablisi, a 40-year-old Jordanian immigrant from Woodhaven, is accused of selling 12,000 cartons of cigarettes a week out of his Queens warehouses and defrauding the government of $6.1 million a year in taxes in the largest seizure of counterfeit stamps in New York state history, said Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney.Authorities would not release the location of the two storage facilities in Queens used by Al-Nablis because the investigation is ongoing. Investigators seized $6.1 million in counterfeit stamps intended to be applied to packs of untaxed cigarettes and more than 100 cartons of counterfeit cigarettes from China, the Brooklyn DA said.Al-Nablisi is charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument and numerous tax law violations, the DA said. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted."I know [Al-Nablisi] was acting independently," a spokesman for the Brooklyn DA's office said. "He so far is the only one who has been indicted in this case.""Taxes on cigarettes contribute essential revenue to the budgets of the city and state of New York," Hynes said. "This type of fraud could cost taxpayers in New York up to hundreds of millions of dollars each year in lost revenue."Al-Nablisi allegedly paid undercover investigators more than $500,000 for 37,500 cartons of untaxed cigarettes over four meetings between Feb. 4 and Feb. 29, prosecutors said. During these visits, Al-Nablisi said he could obtain counterfeit, name-brand cigarettes from China, giving the undercover police a carton of Newports and a carton of Marlboros as samples, according to the district attorney."We had to send them to Philip Morris to find that they were fake," said Jonah Bruno, a spokesman for the Brooklyn DA. The counterfeit cigarettes are currently being tested for the presence of heavy metals and industrial pollutants, the DA's office said.After Al-Nablisi's arrest, investigators executed a search warrant on his two Woodhaven storage facilities, where they discovered additional tax stamps from New York, New Jersey, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania, authorities said."During the past year the department has stepped up its campaign against tax fraud, targeting in particular those who traffic in untaxed and counterfeit cigarettes," said Robert L. Megna, commissioner of the state Taxation and Finance Department.New York stamps cost $3 and New Jersey stamps $2.57 if bought legally through the New York State Taxation Department. Al-Nablisi was allegedly selling the fake stamps for 4.5 cents a piece to distributors wishing to evade the state tax, according to the Brooklyn DA's office.Reach reporting intern Aaron Davis by phone at (718) 229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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