Comptroller Agents Confiscate More Than $40K in Tobacco Products

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (October 11, 2018) - Comptroller Peter Franchot today announced that agents from his Field Enforcement Division (FED) made significant seizures of untaxed other tobacco products (OTP) and unstamped cigarettes, and executed an undercover purchase of a single cigarette as a result of a planned operation at Tobacco Heaven, a retail store at 4831 Silver Hill Road in Suitland. 

Following an inspection on October 3, agents seized 38,270 sticks of untaxed OTP with a retail value of $38,270 and representing a tax loss of $26,789 as well as 272 packs of unstamped cigarettes seized with a retail value of $1,754.40 and representing a tax loss of $544.

The two men who face charges are:

  • Mehboob-Ul Haq Chowdhury, 36, of Suitland, owner of Tobacco Heaven, charged with willful possession, sale or offer to sell untaxed other tobacco products; unlawful possession of unstamped cigarettes; and as a Maryland licensed retailer of OTP unlawfully possessing OTP products, excluding premium cigars and pipe tobacco that had not been purchased from a Maryland licensed wholesaler.
  • Mohammed Saiful Islam, 24, of Suitland, clerk at Tobacco Heaven, charged with selling unpackaged cigarettes; willful possession, sale or offer to sell untaxed other tobacco products; and as a Maryland licensed retailer of OTP unlawfully possessing OTP products, excluding premium cigars and pipe tobacco that had not been purchased from a Maryland licensed wholesaler.

“Once again, tax cheats show that they have no regard for the law and no respect for fellow Marylanders who benefit from tobacco tax revenues, ” said Comptroller Franchot. “My FED officers will continue to crack down on criminals who think they are above the law.”

FED Agents and inspectors conduct random routine inspections of retailers of tobacco products throughout the state to ensure that the tobacco excise tax is being paid on all tobacco products sold and all other state laws are followed. Retailers can only be in possession of and sell tobacco products when the tobacco excise tax has already been paid by the licensed Maryland wholesaler that supplied the product to the retailer.

During the inspection, all of the untaxed tobacco products seized were comprised of non-premium cigars. A retailer in Maryland can only lawfully possess and sell non-premium cigars that were purchased from a licensed Maryland wholesaler of OTP. In addition, the retailer must possess invoicing for all OTP inventory they possess from that licensed Maryland wholesaler that must indicate the Maryland excise tax was previously paid to the State by the wholesaler.

To date in fiscal year 2019, FED agents have arrested and charged 28 individuals for various tobacco violations as a result of discovering 31 instances of violations of Maryland’s tobacco laws. These arrests have resulted in the seizure of 4,743 packs of contraband cigarettes and the seizure of 169,712 sticks of OTP. The seized items are valued at $200,297.90 and represent a $128,158.80 tax loss to the State of Maryland.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Joseph Shapiro - 
 jshapiro@comp.state.md.us
410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (mobile)

Alan Brody –  abrody@comp.state.md.us
410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (mobile)

Baltimore Shop Owner Charged Following Comptroller’s Inspection

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (October 11, 2018) - Comptroller Peter Franchot today announced that agents from his Field Enforcement Division (FED) made a significant seizure of untaxed other tobacco products (OTP) as a result of a planned operation at Lombard Liquors, a tobacco retail store located at 1000 West Lombard Street in Baltimore City.

Following an inspection on October 10, agents seized 8,636 sticks of untaxed OTP with a retail value of $8,636 and representing a tax loss of $6,045.20.Store owner Harpal Badwal, 44, of White Marsh, was charged with willful possession, sale or offer to sell untaxed other tobacco products and as a Maryland licensed retailer of OTP unlawfully possessing OTP products, excluding premium cigars and pipe tobacco that had not been purchased from a Maryland licensed wholesaler. 

“My FED officers should be commended once again for stopping cigarette smugglers who are trying to cheat Maryland and its citizens,” Comptroller Franchot said.

FED agents and inspectors conduct random routine inspections of retailers of tobacco products throughout the state to ensure that the tobacco excise tax is being paid on all tobacco products sold and all other state laws are followed. Retailers can only be in possession of and sell tobacco products when the tobacco excise tax has already been paid by the licensed Maryland wholesaler that supplied the product to the retailer.

During the inspection, all of the untaxed tobacco products seized were comprised of non-premium cigars. A retailer in Maryland can only lawfully possess and sell non-premium cigars that were purchased from a licensed Maryland wholesaler of OTP. In addition, the retailer must possess invoicing for all OTP inventory they possess from that licensed Maryland wholesaler that must indicate the Maryland excise tax was previously paid to the State by the wholesaler.

To date in fiscal year 2019, FED agents have arrested and charged 28 individuals for various tobacco violations as a result of discovering 31 instances of violations of Maryland’s tobacco laws. These arrests have resulted in the seizure of 4,743 packs of contraband cigarettes and the seizure of 169,712 sticks of OTP. The seized items are valued at $200,297.90 and represent a $128,158.80 tax loss to the State of Maryland.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Joseph Shapiro - 
 jshapiro@comp.state.md.us
410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (mobile)

Alan Brody -  abrody@comp.state.md.us
410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (mobile)

Comptroller’s FED Director Led NJ Conference on Alcoholic Beverages

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (September 28, 2018) – Comptroller Peter Franchot is proud to announce that Jeff Kelly, director of his agency’s Field Enforcement Division, presided over the 2018 Northern-Southern Regional three-day conference of the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, NJ.

Kelly is president of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators (NCSLA). After serving as first vice president, he was elected to a one-year term in June by his peers at NCSLA.

“Maryland has been a member of the NCSLA since the organization’s inception in 1934,” Director Kelly said. “The NCSLA exists to be an educational resource to regulators and beverage alcohol industry members. I am honored to be serving this year as president and very proud to be the fourth NCSLA president from Maryland.”

The conference’s agenda focused on alcohol regulation in the United States, including APPs, Bitcoin and Tech Factor; bringing the regulator and regulated together to find common ground and solutions; how opioids and human trafficking affect the alcohol industry; the rise of the craft industry and its impact; and enforcement of direct-to-consumer alcohol shipments.

“I am proud of the work my Field Enforcement Division agents do each day protecting Marylanders by investigating unscrupulous business practices involving alcohol sales and enforcing the state’s regulatory statutes,” Comptroller Franchot said. “Hats off to Director Kelly for taking the lead of this national group of administrators and to Mr. Foxwell for participating as a panelist.”

Joining Kelly as one of the conference presenters was Len Foxwell, chief of staff for the Comptroller of Maryland. Foxwell took part in a panel with members from Virginia and Kentucky to talk about taskforces or study commissions charged with comprehensive review of liquor regulations in their states. The discussion included the process, composition, procedures and timelines in group settings, results and implementation efforts. In Maryland, the Comptroller Franchot created a Reform on Tap taskforce to study Maryland’s craft beer industry.

The Field Enforcement Division is Maryland’s regulatory and enforcement agency for the State’s alcohol, tobacco and motor fuel industries. Prior to being appointed director in 2008 by Comptroller Franchot, Kelly worked as deputy director and as a field supervisor.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Joseph Shapiro -  
jshapiro@comp.state.md.us
410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (mobile)

Alan Brody -  abrody@comp.state.md.us
410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (mobile)

Comptroller Franchot’s Statement on Board of Revenue Estimates September Revisions

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (September 24, 2018) - The Board of Revenue Estimates voted today to write up the revenue projections for the State of Maryland for Fiscal Year 2019 by $325 million, representing a 4.1 percent increase over prior estimates. The Board also unveiled the first official estimates for fiscal year 2020, which is projected to be $18.7 billion, representing a 3.3 percent increase over fiscal year 2019 and a $407 million increase over the prior planning numbers.

The actions are primarily influenced by changes in federal tax law – specifically the federal tax cuts enacted by Congress, and the Supreme Court ruling on South Dakota v. Wayfair – as well as positive developments in the state’s economy, such as low unemployment and wage growth.

Following are Comptroller Franchot’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“This action comes just weeks after we closed the books on Fiscal Year 2018 with $503 million above our original projections. Much of this good news is attributable to changes in federal tax law – specifically the federal tax cuts enacted by Congress, and the Supreme Court ruling on South Dakota v. Wayfair – as well as positive developments in our state’s economy, such as low unemployment and wage growth.

Nonetheless, it is impossible to view these numbers as anything other than good news for the health and stability of our state’s economy. Veteran attendees of these Board meetings can attest to the fact that we have never voted on a revenue write-up of this magnitude during my tenure. And today’s projected revenue increases should provide increased optimism for Maryland taxpayers and small businesses that we’re heading in the right direction.

But despite today’s great news, we cannot and must not take our eye off the ball by departing from the fiscally-prudent policies that allowed us to weather through several years of economic volatility.

I think back to my very first BRE meeting that I attended, shortly after I became comptroller-elect in December 2006 … when the economy was doing very well and our nation was experiencing a massive housing boom. This was the environment in which I was elected.

Two years later, when the housing market crashed and the stability of the global economy was far from certain I presided over this Board when we decreased our revenue projections by more than $1 billion.

So, I’ve seen the highs and the lows, if you will, and I can tell you that while we have much to celebrate with today’s revenue projections, it is also incumbent upon us to refrain from fiscal decisions that will compromise the significant progress we have made.

We must continue to hold the line on new and higher taxes … we must continue to hold the line on soaring debt … and we must continue to hold the line on wasteful and unsustainable spending.

If we want to continue the positive trends that our state is currently experiencing, our state’s fiscal and economic policymakers must not veer from footpaths that we have followed in recent years. We must continue to embrace policies that ensure our fiscal stability and security, regardless of what the nation’s economic future may have in store.”

View the data here.

MEDIA CONTACTS:  

Joseph Shapiro -  jshapiro@comp.state.md.us
410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (mobile)

Alan Brody -  abrody@comp.state.md.us
410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (mobile)

Maryland State Fairgoers Find More Than $385,000 in Unclaimed Property

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (September 5, 2018) - Comptroller Peter Franchot today announced that 331 people discovered more than $385,000 in unclaimed funds at his agency’s booth at this year’s Maryland State Fair. One attendee learned about an unexpected windfall of $28,919.

Throughout the summer, Comptroller Franchot’s staff have had a presence at county fairs and the State Fair as part of an initiative to help reunite Marylanders with money they are owed. Once again, more people found unclaimed property at a higher total dollar amount than at last year’s fair, possibly due to higher attendance. More than 1,350 people made inquiries at the unclaimed property booth at this year’s the fair.

“Every day, my staff diligently works to find the owners of unclaimed property and to make sure they get what belongs to them,” Comptroller Franchot said. “County fairs and festivals around the state  – especially the Maryland State Fair –  give agency staffers an extra opportunity to meet residents and help them find unclaimed funds and items that are rightfully theirs.”

Financial institutions, utilities, insurance companies and other corporations are required to report to the Comptroller any bank accounts, security deposits, wages, insurance benefits and contents of safe deposit boxes that have been unclaimed after three years. In addition to his booths at fairs and festivals, the Comptroller’s Office searches for owners of unclaimed funds by searching tax records to try and locate property owners.

Franchot urges anyone who finds their name on the list to contact his office at 410-767-1700 (Central Maryland) or toll-free at 1-800-782-7383 to find out how to reclaim their lost property. Marylanders can also see if their name is on the list through marylandtaxes.gov.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Joseph Shapiro -  
jshapiro@comp.state.md.us
410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (mobile)

Alan Brody -  abrody@comp.state.md.us
410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (mobile)

Comptroller Franchot Seeking Nominations for William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (September 4, 2018) - Comptroller Peter Franchot announced today that his office is once again accepting nominations for the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award. The deadline for submitting nominations is Monday, October 1. Comptroller Franchot will present the award to each recipient, beginning later this year.

Established in 2012, the award honors the unparalleled legacy of public service left by former Mayor, Governor and Comptroller Schaefer and is presented in each of Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City to individuals and organizations with an unwavering commitment to helping people.

“Every day, Marylanders across the state sacrifice their own time to aid at-risk populations or to better their communities,” said Comptroller Franchot. “They don’t seek recognition, but it is the least we can do to honor their selfless contributions. For me, handing out these awards and hearing about their achievements is one of the highlights of my year.”

Award recipients will be selected on their demonstration of:

  • Improving the community;
  • Promptly responding to a citizen problem through effective government intervention;
  • Directly aiding our most vulnerable populations; or,
  • Establishing a public/private partnership to improve the lives of fellow Marylanders.

Nominations submitted in previous years but not selected should be resent. To submit your nomination, print out and complete this form and either fax it to 410-974-2045 or attach it as a pdf file and email it to abrody@comp.state.md.us. For more information or for questions about the award, call 410-260-7300.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Joseph Shapiro -  
jshapiro@comp.state.md.us
410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (mobile)

Alan Brody -  abrody@comp.state.md.us
410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (mobile)

Franchot Announces FY 2018 Closeout Numbers

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 30, 2018) - Comptroller Peter Franchot today released the final closeout numbers for Fiscal Year 2018, which were heavily influenced by strong Capital Gains tax revenues as well as tax policy uncertainty and shifts in consumer finances. Revenues came in 2 percent, or $339 million, ahead of estimates to help the State of Maryland finish the fiscal year with an unassigned General Fund balance of $504 million.

“The good news is we’ve managed to outperform our modest estimates, but that doesn’t mean the state’s economy is out of the woods yet,” said Comptroller Franchot. “Consumers are still cautious about spending their discretionary dollars, and continued political volatility in Washington is likely to persist. I urge our state’s leaders to regard this year-end boost like an unexpected bonus to be saved for future use, not to be spent immediately.”

General fund revenues totaled $17.372 billion in the fiscal year, 2 percent or $339 million above estimates. Read the full Fiscal Year 2018 Closeout Report here.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Joseph Shapiro -  
jshapiro@comp.state.md.us
410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (mobile)

Alan Brody -  abrody@comp.state.md.us
410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (mobile)

MD Retailers Association and Comptroller Franchot Announce Winners of Scholarship Contest

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 28, 2018) – The Maryland Retailers Association (MRA) and Comptroller Peter Franchot today announced the winners of the social media scholarship contest that coincided with Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week.

Grant Handley of Elkton was selected for the $2,500 first-place scholarship for his contest entry on Twitter. Handley is attending Cecil College in the fall with plans to transfer to the University of Maryland in the spring, where he will major in Public Policy with a pre-law concentration.

Melanie Countee, of Prince George’s County, was chosen for the $1,000 second-place award for her entry on Twitter. A graduate of Texas Southern University with a degree in Psychology, Countee is a Mental Health Counseling graduate student at Bowie State University.

“We’re thrilled to once again help promote shopping local and Tax-Free Week by providing scholarships to two students with promising futures.” said Cailey Locklair Tolle, MRA president. “Congratulations to Grant and Melanie, and thank you to everyone who participated.”

“Presenting these scholarships is one of the highlights of my year and I thank the Maryland Retailers Association for providing these funds,” said Comptroller Franchot. “Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week has proven over the years to be a popular end-of-summer tradition that boosts sales for brick-and-mortar retailers and saves shoppers money on back-to-school purchases and other items.”

The MRA and Comptroller Franchot will present the scholarship checks to the winners at public events in the coming weeks.

Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week took place August 12 to 18. Shoppers were encouraged to follow the official social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and post a picture or video that incorporated the theme of “Maryland” and using #shopmdtaxfree to submit an entry on any or all of the social media platforms.

For more information on Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week, visit marylandtaxes.gov.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Joseph Shapiro - jshapiro@comp.state.md.us
410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (mobile)

Alan Brody –  abrody@comp.state.md.us
410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (mobile)

Comptroller FED Agents Arrest NY Man in Eastern Shore Cigarette Stop

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 27, 2018) - Comptroller Peter Franchot has announced that agents from his Field Enforcement Division (FED) have arrested a New York man who has been charged in Maryland as a result of a surveillance operation on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

“My FED agents’ vigilance protects Maryland businesses and taxpayers from those who try to cheat the system with their illegal activities in transporting tobacco products through our state,” Comptroller Peter Franchot said. “I am very proud of their dedicated service and steadfast ability to identify these criminals.”

During the surveillance operation on Thursday, August 23, Nasser Manssour, 55, of Brooklyn, NY, driving a 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe SUV with New Jersey tags, was observed concealing cigarettes in the rear of the vehicle at a discount cigarette retail store on the Lower Shore area of Virginia. Agents said he then drove north on U.S. Route 13 into Maryland and was stopped at U.S. Route 13 and Sheep House Road in Pocomoke in Worcester County.

Agents searched the vehicle and found 2,820 packs of contraband cigarettes with a value of $18,189 and representing a tax loss to the State of $5,640. The contraband cigarettes and vehicle were seized and Manssour was placed under arrest.

Manssour was taken before a Worcester County District Court Commissioner in Snow Hill and charged with a felony count of transporting contraband cigarettes and a misdemeanor count of possession of contraband cigarettes.

A preliminary hearing has been set for September 14 at Worcester County District Court. Manssour was released on his own recognizance.

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Joseph Shapiro -  jshapiro@comp.state.md.us
410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (mobile)

Alan Brody -  abrody@comp.state.md.us
410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (mobile)

Comptroller Agents Arrest Virginia Driver in I-95 Cigarette Stop

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (August 16, 2018) - Comptroller Peter Franchot today announced that officers from his Field Enforcement Division assisted Maryland State Police from the JFK Barrack in a traffic stop on I-95 north in Baltimore County Tuesday night that netted 1,650 packs of contraband cigarettes valued at more than $10,000.

“Day or night, my agents remain vigilant in identifying criminals who try to cheat Maryland citizens and who use Maryland highways in the pursuit of their illegal acts,” Comptroller Franchot said. “Their dedication and hard work along with the Maryland State Police protects our businesses and our citizens.”

Agents said Ebrahim Mukai Mohamed Altairi, 20, of Richmond, VA., driving a rented 2019 Chevrolet Colorado SUV with Virginia tags, was stopped for a traffic violation at mile marker 70 in White Marsh. During the stop, Altairi was found to be transporting contraband cigarettes.

FED agents were contacted and responded to the scene to search the vehicle. They found 1,650 packs of contraband cigarettes valued at $10,642.50 and representing a tax loss to the State of $3,300. The cigarettes and SUV were seized and Altair was arrested.

Altairi was charged with a felony count of transporting contraband cigarettes and a misdemeanor charge of possession of contraband cigarettes. He was released from the Baltimore County Detention Center on $25,000 bond. A preliminary hearing has been set for September 14 at Baltimore County District Court.

For fiscal year 2019, which started July 1, 2018, FED agents have arrested and charged eight individuals for various tobacco violations in eight investigations. These arrests have resulted in the seizure of 1,650 packs of contraband cigarettes and the seizure of 35,938 sticks of Untaxed Other Tobacco Products (OTP). The seized items are valued at $46,580.50 and represent a tax loss to the State of $28,456.50.

MEDIA CONTACTS:  Joseph Shapiro -  jshapiro@comp.state.md.us
                                        410-260-7305 (office); 443-871-2244 (mobile)

Alan Brody -  abrody@comp.state.md.us
                                        410-260-6346 (office); 443-924-1473 (mobile)