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Posted March 5, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Prosecutor seeks to drop case against accused cigarette trafficker defendant

By Joe Beck

A federal prosecutor filed a motion last week to dismiss an indictment against the last of 10 defendants in a cigarette trafficking case, listing 180 counts and sums of money totaling $20.9 million.

The case involved warehouses established by federal and local law enforcements officers in Edinburg, Chantilly and Bristol during an investigation that ran from 2009 to 2011.

The motion to dismiss the sole indictment against Sheena Emmanuel leaves eight other defendants remaining to be sentenced in late May, according to online court records. Prosecutors also filed a motion to dismiss for another defendant, Anjay Ravindrabh, in mid-February.

The motion filed Thursday in Emmanuel's case states she has been under indictment since Oct. 6, 2011 but "has never been arraigned . . . and is currently believed to be residing outside the United States."

The motion to dismiss Ravindrabh's case stated no reason for the prosecutor's decision, but noted that an explanation would be offered later in court.

A decision by Judge Michael F. Urbanski to accept the motions for dismissal would close out the prosecution of a case in which eight of the 10 defendants have agreed to plead guilty to various offenses linked to a conspiracy to illegally sell untaxed cigarettes at a vast profit.

Court records say participants in the conspiracy paid law enforcement officers $20.9 million for 925,329 untaxed cartons of cigarettes over a two-year period. The purchases were made at warehouses in Edinburg and Chantilly established by local and federal law enforcement officials. A third warehouse in Bristol was operated by a cigarette wholesaler enlisted by law enforcement as a confidential informant, according to court records.

The conspirators purchased the cigarettes for resale at much higher prices in states with heavy cigarette taxes such as South Carolina, Pennsylvania and New York.

Paul J. Carey III, chief of enforcement for the Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board, praised cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris for its role in the investigation.

Carey said a large amount of the untaxed cigarettes that were used to snare the traffickers came from a Philip Morris program that provides cartons of cigarettes to undercover law enforcement operations.

"They are the only one of the cigarette makers who are helping law enforcement agencies in stopping illicit cigarette sales," Carey said.

Carey also said some of the untaxed cigarettes sold during the investigation came from arrests made in earlier trafficking cases.

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

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