More indictments issued in cigarette smuggling cases

By Joe Beck

WOODSTOCK — Law enforcement’s efforts to crack down on the smuggling of cigarettes from Virginia to other states continued Wednesday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court with the grand jury indictments of three more men from other states.

The newest cases list the defendants as Tito Llanes and Jin Cho Young of Brooklyn, New York, and Zaher Sameer of Knoxville, Tennessee. All are charged with between five and 10 counts involving crimes such as racketeering, selling more than 3,000 packages of untaxed cigarettes and conducting illegal financial transactions.

Two existing cases related to cigarette smuggling were also heard Wednesday by Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp. The defendants in those cases, Abelis and Ronald Vasconcellos, both of the Bronx, New York, appeared in court with their defense attorneys. New hearings in their cases were set for Oct. 15.

Assistant Public Defender Peter McDermott, who is representing Abelis Vasconcellos, said after the hearing that he expected it would take a while to review the prosecution’s case against his client, who is facing 15 counts.

“There’s a just a ton of discovery going on,” McDermott said of the case.

Llanes, Young and Sameer were not required to appear in court Wednesday, although the indictments now make them subject to arrest by law enforcement officials.

No specific information about any of the cases was revealed at the hearings, but the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office has been heavily involved in other federal and state-based investigations into the lucrative cigarette smuggling trade.

The cases typically involve the transport of cigarettes from low cigarette tax Virginia to high tax states such as New York. The cigarettes obtained in Virginia are then sold at immense profits in New York.

The state court database lists dates from 2011 to 2013 for the offenses allegedly committed by Llanes, Young and Sameer.

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