Alleged Cigarette Smugglers Caught a 3rd Time

Pair has been arrested three times in three months

By David Tao
|  Friday, Jun 8, 2012  |  Updated 12:22 PM EDT
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Alleged Cigarette Smugglers Caught a 3rd Time

Maryland authorities on Monday arrested two alleged cigarette smugglers -- for the third time in three months, according to the Office of the Comptroller of Maryland.

The pair was traveling north on Interstate 95 in Harford County when a traffic stop caught them with close to 4,000 packs of cigarettes, worth more than $20,000.

In a release, the Comptroller’s office stated that the two defendants, Stephon Leroy Wilkins, 49, and Chaniqua R. Rhodes, 40, both from Bronx, N.Y., were previously arrested in March and April for cigarette smuggling. In two separate traffic stops in Somerset County, state police confiscated more than 10,000 packs of cigarettes with a cumulative value of more than $50,000.

In Maryland, Transport of Contraband Cigarettes is a felony which carries a $50/carton penalty and/or two years in prison, while Possession of Contraband Cigarettes is a misdemeanor that carries a $1,000 fine and up to year in prison. The defendants were charged with both of these crimes in each of their arrests.

Comptroller Peter Franchot however, supports harsher penalties on cigarette smugglers, and highlighted the arrests as an example of the need for more severe sentencing.

“The minor penalties involved in this illegal activity cause some unscrupulous individuals to thumb their noses at state law,” Franchot said in the release. “Penalties for this crime must be tougher.”

This isn’t the first time Franchot has pushed for tougher cigarette laws. After the pair’s second arrest in April, he held a press conference urging the Maryland Senate to increase penalties for tobacco violations. A bill that would have imposed tougher penalties died in Senate committee earlier this year.

Since their arrest on Monday, Rhodes and Wilkins have both been released on full bonds.

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