News

Contraband smokes snuffed after crash

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

A strange turn of events led state Liquor Control Board agents to almost 17,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes in the back of a rental truck that would have just passed through Federal Way had the unlicensed driver not rear-ended the car in front of him.

State Patrol spokeswoman Monica Hunter said two men, 18 and 25, were driving a Budget rental truck off westbound State Route 18 onto southbound Interstate 5 about 4:15 p.m. when the truck hit a Jeep Cherokee.

It was a minor accident and no one was injured, but the ball of the Cherokee’s hitch got stuck under the truck.

“It was bad luck for the guys in the truck,” Hunter said.

When police arrived at the scene of the fender bender, they found that neither the 18-year-old driving the rental truck nor his passenger were listed on the rental application, and both men had suspended licenses.

An employee from the rental company, a private outfit called A and G Leasing, had to respond to the crash to recover possession of the truck. Prior to driving away, the employee opened the back to see what the truck was carrying, liquor board spokeswoman Tricia Currier said.

That’s when the 16,679 cartons of untaxed cigarettes were discovered by the employee, who “called us,” Currier said.

Liquor board Tax Team agents are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the transport of the cigarettes and trying to get a bigger picture of where they came from and where they were going, she said.

The cigarettes were worth about $267,675 in taxes and about $229,336 wholesale.

The liquor board said the May 30 confiscation was the second largest since the Legislature gave the board authority to enforce cigarette taxing in 1997. The largest was in 1998, when board agents and the State Patrol stopped a semi carrying 29,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes.

The state taxes cigarettes $14.25 per carton, though the liquor board said the state loses about $175 million annually from tax evasion.

It’s a felony to possess more than 60,000 untaxed cigarette. Penalties include seizure of the cigarettes, the greater fine of $10 per pack or $250, and payment of the cigarette tax and interest.

The liquor board has an anonymous, toll-free hotline to report tobacco-related incidents or complaints, like finding businesses that might be selling cigarettes to minors or untaxed cigarettes. The number is 1-888-838-3956.

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565, ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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