Subpoenas seek information on undercover cigarette sting

By Joe Beck

WOODSTOCK — A defense attorney in a cigarette trafficking case is seeking to subpoena undercover law enforcement officers and documents associated with the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office anti-cigarette trafficking operations.

Records and testimony obtained through the subpoenas could shed unprecedented light on details of undercover cigarette transactions between the Sheriff’s Office and those involved in smuggling cigarettes, The smugglers buy the cigarettes in low tax states such as Virginia and take them for sale in New York and other high tax states.

The undercover cigarette operations have remained shrouded in secrecy for years while producing numerous arrests in cases involving cigarette sales and purchases totaling millions of dollars.

Judge Dennis L. Hupp is scheduled to hear motions in the case on Aug. 6.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola is opposing defense attorney David Downes’ proposed subpoena of documents.

Downes’ client, John Charles Taveras, is facing 30 counts related to an alleged cigarette smuggling scheme. Authorities accuse Taveras of shuttling back and forth between his hometown of New York City and Shenandoah County. Taveras would buy the untaxed cigarettes in Virginia, take them to New York and sell them at a large profit, according to law enforcement officials.

Campola filed a motion to scrap the subpoena document requests. He called them “overbroad attempts to discover material that might be relevant.” He cited an appellate court decision that warned against attempting to subpoena a document “when it is not intended to produce evidential material but is intended as ‘a fishing expedition’ in the hope of uncovering information material to the defendant’s case.”

Downes’ subpoena is seeking rental agreements, invoices, receipts and billing between a Shenandoah County business, “and all local, state, or federal agencies or the agents regarding an undercover cigarette operation between Jan. 1, 2011 and Jan. 15, 2014.”

The subpoena also asks for transportation, shipping orders, shipping invoices and storage lease agreements from the business.

The subpoena also lists an agent for the business, a man identified in Campola’s motion as “an undercover agent of the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office.”

Downes is also seeking to subpoena records from Michael Palmer, the disclosure officer for the Virginia Department of Taxation.

The subpoena asks for forms and receipts documenting cigarette tax payments from “any and all vendors” in Shenandoah County for several agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, state agencies involved in distributing cigarettes in Shenandoah County and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The document also lists Sheriff Timothy C. Carter, a Sheriff’s Office investigator, and an ATF agent among those Downes is seeking to connect with cigarette vendor forms and tax payment records.

Downes has also filed subpoenas for the three law enforcement officials to appear at the Aug. 6 hearing.

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