Delaware State Police
Konstantinos Tsolatis (left) and Panagiotis Tzathas are accused of smuggling cigarettes over state lines.
A simple traffic stop unveiled a multi-thousand-dollar haul of federally regulated goods illegally crossing state lines.
Two men are under arrest after they were found to have more than 200 cartons of out-of-state cigarettes inside an SUV during a traffic stop along South DuPont Boulevard (U.S. Route 113) in Georgetown, Del., yesterday afternoon.
According to Delaware State Police, a trooper pulled over Konstantinos Tsolatis, 63, because the taillights were out on his 1995 Jeep Cherokee. As the trooper approached the SUV, he saw filled trash bags and loose cartons of smokes strewn throughout the rear of the vehicle.
Tsolatis and his passenger Panagiotis Tzathas, 72, were arrested without incident and the SUV was impounded.
An investigation of the vehicle uncovered 205 cartons of cigarettes ranging from Virginia Slims to Kools to Parliaments to Marlboro Reds all with Virginia tax stamps along with more than $11,500 in cash.
The cigarettes could be sold at a profit in many states because Virginia has the second lowest cigarette tax in the country (behind Missouri) at just 30 cents per pack -- well below the national average of $1.51 per pack, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement (DATE) wasn’t sure where the Astoria, N.Y. ,residents planned on taking the smokes, police said.
However, if they planned on selling the smokes in New York where a $4.35 per pack tax is the highest in the country, they could have sold the cigs, which they purchased for $8,815 for around $22,500 -- a profit of around $13,685, according to Del. State Police M/Cpl Gary Fournier.
Police didn't say exactly where in Virginia the cigarettes were purchased.
Tsolatis and Tzathas were each arraigned on conspiracy, possession of untaxed cigarettes and attempting to evade state excise charges and released on $4,500 unsecured bond. Tsolatis also faces driving without a license and operating without taillight charges.