By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Five men from New York City face charges in Shenandoah County linking them to an alleged scheme to sell thousands of packs of untaxed cigarettes, according to authorities.
Maj. Scott Proctor of the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office identified the five men arrested Aug. 5 as Jose Daniel Utate-Hidalgo, 38; Jose Edwin Guzman, 38; John Taveras, 40; Vidal Rodriquez, 39; and Jose Peralta, 44.
Proctor said Shenandoah County sheriff's deputies seized at least three vehicles and more than 15,000 packs of cigarettes as evidence at the arrest scene.
Proctor said the arrests grew out of information received earlier this year by investigators about several people believed to be selling untaxed cigarettes.
Investigators "observed this group of individuals on more than one occasion transferring the (cigarettes) from one vehicle to another at a location west of Mount Jackson," Proctor said.
Investigators arrested several members of the group in the parking lot of a utility business Proctor said. The more than 15,000 packs of cigarettes were discovered at the same time the suspects were taken into custody, Proctor said.
"In the course of working that one case, another vehicle pulled into the parking lot to conduct the same kind of transaction," Proctor said.
Those in the second vehicle were also arrested, he said.
Utate-Hildago, Guzman, Rodriquez and Peralta were all charged with felony conspiracy to sell cigarettes without a stamp. Taveras was charged with felony selling of cigarettes without a stamp.
Proctor said all the suspects except Rodriquez have been released on bail. Rodriquez is being held under a U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement detaining order with a $20,000 bond, according to Proctor.
The suspects are scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. Friday in Shenandoah County General District Court.
Proctor said the utility business where the arrests were made has no connection to the crime.
Several recent cases filed in U.S. District Court have involved defendants accused of buying millions of dollars of cigarettes in Virginia and selling them in New York state and New York City.
Federal prosecutors have described the schemes as attempts to make enormous profits from the difference in the price of a carton of cigarettes in Virginia compared to states and cities with much higher cigarette taxes.