Cigarette smuggler gets a month in jail

Harvey Luna

WOODSTOCK – A New Jersey man pleaded guilty Wednesday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court to four charges related to the smuggling of untaxed cigarettes from Virginia to the New York City area.

Harvey Saul Luna, 42, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and ordered to pay $45,000 in restitution to the Virginia Department of Taxation. Luna was given credit for 12 days in jail already served, which left him with 2 1/2 weeks to be served behind bars.

Authorities said Luna traveled back and forth between his home in northern New Jersey and Virginia, where he bought cartons of cigarettes from undercover law enforcement officials as part of an investigation launched by the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office into trafficking of untaxed cigarettes.

The transactions between Luna and the law enforcement officials were conducted between January and June 2012 and involved 19,000 cartons of cigarettes containing 10 packs each. Luna is one of many defendants to have been prosecuted on cigarette smuggling charges in the last several years. Some of the cases have involved transactions in which the sums of money exceeded $20 million.

Cigarette smugglers buy cigarettes in bulk quantities in Virginia and other low cigarette tax states for transport to New York and other states with much higher cigarette taxes. The smugglers, once they have reached their destinations, pocket the difference between buying cigarettes in a low-tax state and reselling them in a high-tax state.

Luna’s defense attorney, Charles Ramsey, of Woodstock, did not dispute Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola’s description of the case. Campola told Judge Dennis L. Hupp that Luna’s smuggling did not involve offenses with any of the other defendants who have cases pending in Shenandoah County Circuit Court.

Hupp accepted Luna’s pleas as part of an agreement between Ramsey and Campola in which Campola agreed to drop several other charges. Luna could have been sentenced to many decades in prison on the charges to which he pleaded guilty.

Luna must also serve five years of supervised probation and an additional period of unsupervised probation until he has paid off his restitution, court costs and fees.

In accepting the pleas, Hupp said he had little experience with cigarette smuggling cases and wasn’t sure of what would be an appropriate sentence.

“Your honor, I look at it as akin to embezzlement from the taxpayer,” Campola replied.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com